How does having a mobile app impact my mobile rankings?

There are two things to consider here. First, if a mobile search query is highly correlated with mobile app listings (the app “download pages” in the Google Play and iOS App Stores), your app could see significantly more visibility within mobile search results pages. This is because Google has started treating apps as a new kind of universal search result, returning an “App Pack” of Google Play results for certain searches on Android devices (shown at the right), and adding an Apps drop-down to the main nav-bar on iOS devices (not shown).

An “App Pack” is a group of related apps that rank together for a given query, shown together in a box separate from the inline organic search results. It has different formatting and an “Apps” header. These often float to the top of a mobile search result, pushing the second or sometimes even the first organic result below the fold. This is also discussed in Justin Briggs’ article about apps. Currently, there is a high correlation between Google Play “App Pack” rankings and exact-match keywords in the app title. Google also seems to be evaluating app quality here and tries to serve only higher-than-average rated apps in the App Pack (this generally tends to be around a 3.5 – 4 star minimum for common keyword phrases).

If Google starts to serve these App Packs on iOS device searches as well, all apps that have keyword-optimized titles and have high-quality ratings and reviews could jump up to the top of the mobile web SERPs, increasing their visability and likely downloads. Conversely, mobilewebsites that currently enjoy an above-the-fold #1 or #2 organic ranking may get pushed below the fold in mobile SERPs, especially for queries that are highly correlated with mobile app results. This could cause a negative impact on mobile website visibility (without necessarily changing standard numeric rankings), in cases where a query returns a mobile App Pack—regardless of whether or not an app within that pack is yours.

Second, Mariya Moeva (Google Webmaster Trends Analyst) recently announced at SMX West that Google will be considering “high quality” apps to be a positive ranking factor in mobile search. We took this to mean that Deep Links between your website and your app will improve your website rankings in mobile search. Deep Links are different from app store listings in the App Store or Google Play, because they link directly to a specific screen within your app experience. They look just like regular links in the mobile search result, but when you click them, you are given the option of opening the link in on the web or in the app.

Currently, if you add Deep Links to your Android mobile app and associate your app URIs with corresponding (content-matching) webpages, Google will recognize the connection between your app content and your web content (and allow users who have your app installed to access your content directly in the mobile app). As it is now, the only way for Deep Links to your app contents to appear in search results is:

  • For app screens to have a 1-1 content parity with webpages
  • For those screens to have proper Deep Link coding that associates them with the corresponding pages on the website, AND
  • For your app to be installed on the searcher’s device. If the app is not installed or there is no corresponding web content, the links in the SERP will just behave as normal, web links.

Mariya didn’t state exactly how Google will be evaluating the quality of apps, but we can guess that Google will be considering signals like star ratings, reviews, and +1s. And if what we assume about the 4/21 update proves to be true, it is possible that app URIs without corresponding Deep Linked web content may rank independently in a mobile SERP from information that Google aquired via app feeds. In this case, “app quality” could be a positive mobile ranking signal for its own URIs/ screens, and not just the website it is associated with. This would be a great boon for app descovery.

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