Apple iOS owners can now reap the benefits of accessing handy deep links in search results that take them directly to relevant pages in apps. There’s just one catch: They must search using Google.

Google Inc. is now indexing Apple Inc. apps and will soon display in mobile search results on Apple devices links to specific, relevant pages in an Apple app housed on the device. That is, if the consumer searches with Google, not Apple’s Safari.

Google announced in a blog post yesterday that Apple iOS users who conduct a search on their device using the Google iOS search app or Google Chrome mobile browser or app will soon see deep links to apps in their results.

Here’s how deep links work: If a consumer searches for red stiletto heels, Google can detect that she has a relevant app, for example, the Nordstrom app, on her mobile device. Google then may serve up a search result with a deep link to the Nordstrom app. A click on the deep link will automatically open the app and take the shopper directly to a relevant page inside the app, such as a search result or product page for red high heels.

Such a direct path to purchase could be a boon for retailers as consumers are more apt to purchase via an app they have as they are likely a fan of the retailer. Plus, checking out is speedy if the consumer has her billing and shipping information stored in the app.

Google, which develops Android mobile software, has already been showing such mobile results on Android devices, but adding such relevant search results to Apple mobile devices is new.

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“We’ve been helping users discover relevant content from Android apps in Google search results for a while now,” Google says in its blog post announcing the feature. “Starting today, we’re bringing app indexing to iOS apps as well. This means users on both Android and iOS will be able to open mobile app content straight from Google Search.

Google says in the coming weeks it will begin displaying such deep links in search results from an initial group of apps, including restaurant reservation app Open Table.

Showing up in such search results takes some work on the mobile app developer’s end. App developers will need to add deep linking so that Google can index, or crawl an app by labeling each page for deep linking. For example, an indexed page for a pair of stiletto heels on a retailer’s e-commerce site might have a link to http://www.retailer.com/shoes/stiletto/productnumber. To instead send a consumer to the product page in the app the link might look like this: RetailerApp://shoes/stiletto/productnumber.

Once that is done, the merchant must resubmit the app to an app store for approval. Additionally, even consumers who have the retailer’s app will have to download the new version to realize the benefits of deep linking. However, most industry experts say that’s not a big obstacle because most iOS and Android mobile device users with the latest versions of the operating systems use the now-default setting to automatically update apps in the background whenever an update is available.

“What’s happening here is huge for retailers,” says Brian Klais, president of mobile marketing firm Pure Oxygen Labs LLC and a mobile search engine optimization expert. “It reminds me of retail SEO 8 to 10 years ago when brands had un-crawlable URLs preventing their content from being found by searchers.” At that time he says those brands that invested in rewriting their URLs to be crawlable noticed a major boost in their search results rankings, particularly for long tail or niche keywords or keyword phrases. “It created a powerful first mover advantage over their competition,” he says.

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This is the same opportunity, Klais says, but for mobile. Instead of consumers searching their mobile device for the one app they think may contain what they are looking for, opening the app and then searching again within the app, Google will do the work for them by locating the relevant app or apps the consumer has, and taking her directly to an appropriate page in the app within a single tap.

“The caveat is that the update only applies to iOS users who use Google search,” Klais says. “In other words, this won’t be visible to most iOS users who rely on Safari as their method of searching Google,” Klais says.

Still, he says retailers with iOS and Android apps should put in the work to seize this opportunity. However, it appears many aren’t, based on early results from research on deep linking Pure Oxygen is conducting for the forthcoming 2016 Internet Retailer Mobile 500.  “Very few retailers are optimized for app deep linking,” he says.  “Most web marketers are surprised to learn that app pages do not have URLs naturally.”

Additionally, 82% of the top 50 e-retailers in the 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide have Apple iOS apps that are not compatible with deep linking, according an August analysis by Pure Oxygen.

 

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