During the middle of last month Apple released their latest mobile operating system update. While iOS9 boasts a number of features designed to improve usability, there are some takeaways that are shaking up things for site owners and Internet marketing folks:
1. New/revamped non-Google Search referral sources.
2. Blocking code/scripts from web pages viewed in Safari.
3. Increased Mobile app indexing and accessibility.
Let’s dive into each area a little bit more.
Reduced Dependency On Google Search
With the two companies competing on a number of fronts, it comes as no surprise that Apple continues taking steps to decrease the level of involvement/reliance of Google within their ecosystem. Because of “improvements” within iOS9 two primary pockets of search traffic that could be impacted are:
While branded search results within Google will remain the same, Safari’s suggested search has gotten even better at recommended domains to skip the extra step.
As you can see from the example screenshot below, Safari recognizes a branded search for Greenlane then suggests the site URL that takes up over one-third of the search screen:
Similar to the suggested website area of branded searches, Safari suggests Maps for searches it qualifies as having local intent. Just to note, this has been seen with searches for terms that contain a location based terms and ones without. An example screenshot can be found below (left side).
Also seen below (right), once the user clicks on the Map they’re greeted with pins for local stores, service providers, etc. Additional details about each location are accessible from their pin result, including phone number, web site and even third party reviews in some cases.
1. Organic branded search visits from Apple devices could decline, though you could see a boost in direct visits via these devices as a result.
2. For businesses that rely more heavily on localized search, be sure to submit/claim/correct information with Apple’s map service. Local SEO best practices continue to apply (accurate citations, locally relevant content, etc.).
3. Like with branded search, localized Google search visits from Apple devices could decline.
4. If iOS represent a large portion of your site’s traffic and you experience a drop off in local and/or brand search visits in reporting, explore advanced Google Analytics setup. This Moz article walks through a process of decoding referral strings.
Blocked Codes & Scripts In Safari
The loudest concerns being made about this point are coming from online content publishers whose ads are being blocked. While Apple hasn’t created blocker apps/software, the gate has been opened for third party developers to fill this void.
In addition to ads, these code blockers can also block tracking codes for analytics, testing, dynamic content and marketing automation software. Look at the codes on neat.com for example:
For a more in-depth discussion on this point, please reference this article on Marketing Land.
1. Ad code can be disabled, meaning a loss in ad impression/revenue. The outcome for tracking software is the loss of data. No data, including marketing and web analytics, will be available.
2. For advertisers, ad blocking software can impact display and retargeting campaigns as impressions may be limited due to ad blocking.
Mobile App Indexing & Visibility
With the release of iOS9, Apple’s latest mobile operating system offers new opportunities for app indexing to surface deep app content for Apple users.
Typically when tapping any links on a mobile device via search, the results presented are primarily web content that Google has crawled. However, in this day and age, there is a ton of useful content that also lives inside of apps, completely inaccessible to Google or any other search engines.
Apple Search is a set of APIs that are intended to crack into the content WITHIN the apps. There are three important APIs that have been developed to crawl app content.
The first API allows developers to tell iOS about the app content by specifying the content and keywords associated to it. Developers can also add a “deep link” to that content. Once this has been identified, iOS is able to crawl and index the content and serve to a potential user.
The second API allows app developers to specify any web content that iOS should index via Apple’s web crawlers. This will display content for apps that users DO NOT have installed on their devices. When clicking one of these links, a user is prompted to download the app.
Finally, the third API allows for any activity type to get indexed (e.g. steps inside a health app).
For example, the “Health” app indexes its sections to make each area available to users. When searching for “steps”, an item is displayed that shows the number of steps a user took. By tapping that result, you are automatically taken to the Steps area of the Health Dashboard.
Apple gave this great example of what this all means when adopting iOS search:
“Imagine that your app helps users handle minor medical conditions, such as a sunburn or a sprained ankle. When you adopt iOS 9 Search, users searching their devices for “sprained ankle” can get results for your app even when they don’t have your app installed. When users tap on a result for your app, they get the opportunity to download your app. Similarly, users can get results for your app and related web content when they search for “sprained ankle” in Safari. Tapping on a result in Safari takes users to your website, where they can download your app from your App Banner.”
1. Apple Search will bring deep content to the top of mobile search results. This could become a key part of any SEO strategy if surfacing app content is a brand priority. Optimizing your app could have a positive impact on app visibility and on engaging users.
2. Before taking action on making any updates/creating an app, a definitive plan on how to implement, the expected impact and how to measure that impact should first be put into place.