iOS 9 App Store Optimization to Improve Discoverability

iOS 9 is going to change the way we think about App Store optimization. I’m confident in that.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about iOS 9 search in recent weeks. The more I do, the more I see Apple’s mindset shifting away from relying on title, keywords and ratings. iOS 9 App Store optimization is going to be about a much deeper search experience: the content within your app and on the web.

Surfacing content within your app through the Core Spotlight APIs is one of the most important things to do for iOS 9. For example, in Winery Passport, we’ll expose all the wineries listed in the app. From Spotlight search on a device, iOS users will be able to search a winery name and Winery Passport will come up, leading them into the app or to download it.

While Apple has said that this will impact only Spotlight search, I have to believe iTunes will be getting smarter about surfacing apps there using the same APIs. It makes sense to have some consistency among the two primary search methods — apps will also be able to tap into Siri.

Another example of Apple changing the way App Store optimization works in iOS 9 is that they’re now crawling the web using something called Applebot. Why does Apple care about your website and not just your app? They care because it’s additional content to understand if your app is relevant, something they’ve struggled with over the years. Apple actually wants better synergies between your website and app.

Apple says they’ll crawl all websites that are listed as marketing pages in iTunes Connect. Applebot will comply with all rules you’ve set in your Robots.txt file regarding search indexing. Basically, if you don’t want Google to index your website, Apple won’t either.

iOS 9 App Store Optimization

If you haven’t used Apple’s search API validation tool yet, definitely do so. They’ll recommend anything not optimized and the changes take no more than 10 minutes. Here’s what they’re looking for:

1. Title – Name of your website

2. Description – A sentence or two about your website

3. Smart App BannerThe existence of their meta tag to display a download/open banner. Include the app-argument tag to deep link.

(Note: These first three you should already have in place — I hope so. The first two, especially, are important for Apple and SEO purposes.)

4. Twitter Deep Link
5. Facebook Deep Link
6. Deep Links

The assigned deep links are used on social media, when your website is shared on Facebook or Twitter. When a deep link is present and the app is installed on a device, a user will be directed into your app rather than to your website. While each page could technically take users to a unique screen, at a minimum you should at least set up the master deep link.

Here’s how:
a. Select your target app
b. Select Info > URL Types
c. In “Identifier” enter a unique name (e.g. com.yourappname.ios)
d. In “URL Schemes” enter a unique name (e.g. appname). This is what will be used as your deep-link “URL:” appname://
e. Build and run your app. Open Safari and type in appname:// (replace appname with your URL scheme).

7. Image – A large image representing your app. Also include the proper tags for width and height.

8. Touch Icon – A 114×114 image that would display as your icon if someone saved your site to their home screen.

Exposing your content in-app and showing relevancy (and adoption of Apple features) on the web, will go a long way in improving discoverability in iOS 9. The fact that Apple cares about your website’s title, description, deep-linking integration and more speaks volumes for how they’ll treat search when iOS 9 is revealed to the public in late September.

While title, keywords and reviews will still matter as part of Apple’s hidden algorithm, the trick to winning with iOS 9 App Store optimization will be deeper than that. Much deeper.

Author’s Note: This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide on iOS 9 search. Instead, it’s a general overview of some of the key highlights of the changes that could impact all iPhone, iPad and iPod touch apps.

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