Get set for Apple Search in iOS 9

Deep Linking Blog Post

When we mobile search, what do we most want to find? Apple is betting the answer is apps and app content. With iOS 9, Apple has enhanced the platform’s built-in search and deep link handling capabilities to enable a more seamless search experience across web and apps.

Doesn’t to “Google” mean to search?

Yes, Google is the number one search engine in the world. Knowing that apps were a treasure trove of unindexed data, Google has made moves to index apps — even those without web parity — in order to prioritize prompts to download, or deep links to screens within, Android apps, and even some iOS apps.

The new Apple Search will do the same for iOS users. With new API’s from Apple, app developers will be able to “index” native app screens to appear in iOS Spotlight, Siri, and Safari search results. As users engage with apps, their activities will be recorded to improve rankings in either private or public indexes as appropriate.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Applebot has been hard at work combing through billions of web pages in order to build an index — just like any other search engine — enabling web results to appear in Apple Search as well.

To the degree Apple is successful, iOS 9 users will be able to quickly find the most relevant content within apps they have, find the best new apps to download, or find the web content they need — all without ever using Google.

Ok, so what?

Users love mobile search — we know that much — and search results are nothing without links, right? Between improved native search and deep linking capabilities, Apple’s iOS 9 has the potential to greatly reduce the friction and increase the value and relevance of the mobile search experience. That’s good news for users, and it’s good news for your app.

In the past, search result or other shared links delivered users to web pages, period. At best, app promoters hoped to lure clicks to an app’s promotional page to gain a subscriber. With iOS 9’s new deep linking support, any link will deliver users to the best, most appropriate destination for them — whether a web page or a screen within an app experience. Deep linking means that if the app is:

  • Installed: Links take users directly to to the screen the user wants within the app.
  • Not installed: Links take users to corresponding web content and prompt them to download the app.

Apple Search has the potential to be a transformative experience. Until iOS 9, iOS users coped with a “manual” and web-heavy mobile search process. They tapped to open Safari or the Google app, entered search terms, got web-link-dominated results, chose one and waited for a web page to load — then pinched and zoomed or whatever else to piece together what they were trying to find out in the first place.

With Apple Search, the experience is magically simplified. Enter a search term directly in Spotlight. Get categorized results that prioritize your own app data, other apps that might help, or to web content. Deep linking delivers the best experience for the device, no matter what!

Apple Search results may even meet users’ needs without requiring them to open an app. At launch, iOS 9 will offer a small set of “search actions” that will deliver native ability to:

  • Dial a number
  • Get directions
  • Play an audio or video file

More customized search actions can and will be opened up to enable common app activities right from iOS 9 search results. Imagine Apple Search results allowing users to:

  • Check a sports outcome or account balance
  • Check into a flight or request an Uber
  • Make, confirm, or cancel a reservation

As iOS 9 users experience Apple Search, their expectations for the fluidity and seamlessness of mobile search will be dramatically changed.

What’s the Opportunity?

In a sense, Apple Search your app’s new interface and marketing channel. Brands should make moves to capitalize on Apple Search to keep up with evolving user expectations and amp up both app engagement and app discovery.

  • Interface: Every screen in your app can be a search result. Rather than tapping an app icon and recalling how to navigate to a desired screen, users will be able to immediately engage with app features they want via search. Even better, a search result could meet the user’s need by surfacing key content or actions.
  • Marketing Channel: App discoverability is a huge challenge. By integrating a public index into search, Apple offers a new channel for app marketers to acquire users. As users who don’t have your app installed search for popular content they’ve seen or heard about, they will be able to discover it on the web and be prompted to install your app.

What are the action items?

With Apple Search, Apple has made a deep commitment to user privacy and search relevance. The ways in which brands can improve their rankings in iOS 9’s native search are unknown. To prepare to take advantage of these new capabilities in iOS 9, think about the following:

  • App Strategy: Review app content and screens to determine which should be indexed, and whether the content should be accounted for in private or public indexes. Private content is helpful when your subscribers want to quickly re-engage with your app. Public content is helpful when users are searching for value, and can discover your app.
  • Web Strategy: Think about which app content should have web corollaries to aid discovery as users search for popular items they’ve seen or heard about. Ensure that Apple Banners are enabled to prompt mobile users to subscribe to your app.
  • Marketing Strategy: Make sure you’ve got deep linking enabled so that as your campaigns and content get links out into the world, users are directed to the best experience for their device, and are prompted to get your app as they discover the value you have to offer.
  • Choose Your API’s: Apple has three new API’s to help developers submit app content for indexing. Use up to two of them to promote app content, depending on the nature of the content involved — public or private. Check our infographic to get an overview of the process.

Meanwhile, watch to see how Apple Search SEO strategies emerge and be sure to avoid known issues that would get your content excluded from Apple’s index.

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