Deep links are just links

Blurring the lines between web and apps


Android was the star of this year’s Google I/O. With Google+ but a distant memory, Google announced how Android would take over our watches, our cars, our homes and even our cardboard boxes.

The demos showed off new Android features, but Google Search was a key part of the underlying technology. Search is still very relevant in an increasingly mobile world.

Deep links are appearing in search

After a quiet beta period, Google announced that deep links in search would be available to all partners. Its easy to enable— just submit a sitemap to Google that lists a matching app deep link for each of your web pages. When Android users see pages from your site in search results, they’ll have the option to open that page up directly in your app if they have it installed.

Okay, so what? People who don’t have your app don’t see anything and neither do those pesky iOS users (full disclosure: I use an iPhone).

Here’s where it gets interesting. Google’s crawler actually emulates requests to these deep links and parses the responses returned. This means, at some point, they won’t need the sitemap. Googlebot will be able to parse app content directly. This makes “pages” of your mobile app equivalent to standard web pages, PDFs, images, videos or anything else that Google Search currently indexes.

What we’re currently calling “deep links” will start to be treated like regular links. And those users who don’t have your app installed? This is a new opportunity to advertise to them.

Automatically unbundling app content

Google also announced the “Recents” feature in Android: the ability to switch between multiple sub-sections of the same app at the OS level (for example, switching between tabs in a browser application or chats in a messaging app). It’s a small feature in itself, but hints at something bigger.

By making it easier to directly access individual portions of an app, Google is unlocking app content in the same way they unlocked web content. There was a time when the homepage was the only way to navigate through a site.

This takes the trend of app unbundling to its logical extreme. Instead of unbundling specific features of an app, what if every screen within an app was directly accessible and searchable? This makes it easier for users to find what they’re looking for and easier for Google to tailor ads to the content.

Conclusion

No matter which side you’re on in the native apps vs. HTML debate, it’s undeniable that native apps currently house a wealth of content. And the Play Store and the App Store are the current kingmakers for app discovery.

But as search becomes more capable of unlocking content within apps, native app content will be accessible via Google just like everything else.


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