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Google Search Apps

Websites pushing users to install apps will be penalised in Google search results

By Stephen Kenwright, head of search

September 2, 2015 | 4 min read

Brands that push their mobile apps too aggressively using their mobile websites will fail the mobile friendly test from 1 November.

Web pages using banners to encourage visitors to download a mobile app will suffer in organic search results when Google deems that this has interrupted a searcher’s experience.

The mobile-friendly algorithm is page level and only one of hundreds of ranking signals, which suggests that a homepage banner is unlikely to affect a brand search term, but banners on deeper pages that are reached through searches for non-brand keywords are likely to be affected on some level.

In a post on the Webmaster Central blog yesterday, Google software engineer Daniel Bathgate said:

“Our analysis shows that it is not a good search experience and can be frustrating for users because they are expecting to see the content of the web page.”

Bathgate may be referring to a case study Google published in July explaining the decision to remove the app interstitial previously shown on Google+ pages.

This move ties into Google’s overall strategy for organic search: natural results are treated as content discovery, with brands wanting to sell directly to consumers via search encouraged to invest in AdWords.

Most brands would agree that showing an app interstitial for a page reached via a mobile search ad is going to cause visitors to bounce and increase cost per acquisition – as part of Google’s mobile first approach it makes sense that a similarly bad experience in organic results would be penalised.

In a previous article for The Drum I stated that the so-called 'mobilegeddon' update in April wasn’t likely to have much of an impact – yesterday’s tightening of the criteria to be considered mobile-friendly and avoid disappearing from mobile search results is also unlikely to change many verticals either.

Unlike the mobile-friendly algorithm’s initial launch the change required to meet the new criteria is relatively quick and cheap – it’s as simple as removing a pop-up.

Our own tests show that websites that fail the mobile-friendly test and are demoted in search results can recover within a couple of days following the launch of a responsive version of the website: the mobile-friendly label is applied quickly and search presence improves, so any brands falling foul of the changes have a simple fix in order to recover.

Google does not often announce changes to its algorithm – the initial launch of mobile-friendly was the exception rather than the rule – but it makes sense to clarify the criteria to pass the mobile-friendly test as the change required is so simple and can have such a positive effect on user experience.

The changes on 21 April did more than just demote some sites that failed the mobile-friendly test – more fundamental changes to the mobile search results came in the increased number of app results available.

Bigger changes are afoot in mobile search results – apps again are the culprit. It is already possible to display mobile apps in search results in the same manner as a mobile website when the searcher already has that app installed, or display an install button when the user does not already have the app. It’s just a case of relevant content and correct infrastructure.

Google’s recent acquisition of app-streaming startup Agawi suggests that we will soon see content from apps we do not have installed on our devices directly in search results. Soon brands will not have to use their mobile websites to push their apps – they could replace their mobile site with an app completely.

Stephen Kenwright is head of search for Branded3

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