Deep links have been a mainstay in the SEO community for more than a decade. Rather than pointing an external link to a home page, deep links point to a more specific internal page, such as a product page or a blog article.
This establishes greater diversity in your link profile, increases the page authority of individual pages, and gives users greater opportunities to explore more of your website’s content.
Traditionally, deep links have relied on networks of other Web pages, because until recently, that was the only place for them to exist. They might be embedded in an article, included in a forum comment, or even mentioned in a social media share.
Today, there’s a new kind of deep linking emerging, and it might pave the way for the future of link building — and SEO in general.
Instead of deep linking to an interior page of a website, the future of the industry could establish the importance of app-based deep linking. Basically, instead of having a link pointing to a deep internal page of a website, you’d have a link pointing to a specific area within a mobile application.
In theory, this is simple. Let’s say a user has your app installed, and he or she performs a Google search on their mobile device. One of the results is for your content, which exists both on your website and in your mobile app. If your app is indexed, clicking the result will take the user to not to the page on your website, but to the corresponding location in your app instead.
For users who don’t have your app installed, Google might surface results urging users to download and install your app from the associated app store.
For the past few years, Google and other Web giants have been slowly shifting their attention and priorities to mobile users. Mobile is responsible for a larger and larger percentage of all online activity every year, and companies are pushing to make that transition complete.
As a result, Google is already indexing apps, similar to the way it indexes websites. Because apps rely on different structures and different environments, Google actually produced a guide for developers that specifies how to properly format and send this information to Google for proper indexing.
Once indexed, Google is theoretically able to provide app information to anyone conducting a relevant search on a mobile device. For example, someone searching for “transportation app” on a mobile device might find a link to download the Uber or Lyft app.
Why might this be a game-changer for SEO?
For businesses whose end goal was once getting people to visit a website, a new contender emerges: getting people to download an app. And if the end goal is getting people to download an app, the rules of SEO will need to be rewritten. You’ll need to take actions and implement strategies that get your app to be more noticeable in search results, but how exactly do you do that? With in-app content? With popularity ratings through superior functionality?
Little is known yet about how Google ranks deep links, although Emily Grossman and Cindy Krum have done a great job summarizing what we know so far in their recent article on app indexing for Google search.
While the technical complexities are intimidating and the notion of traditional websites becoming obsolete is somewhat alarming, it’s impossible to deny the potential benefits of this kind of deep linking.
First, it represents a new means of increasing the visibility of your app in general. Much in the way that deep Web links have diversified traditional link building strategies to pass more authority, new app linking strategies could similarly boost rankings for apps in both web search and (possibly) the app store.
Second, because deep linking will lead people to specific sections within your mobile app, you can consider it a kind of shortcut for your users. You can get them to a checkout screen faster than ever before — and because you know they’re on a mobile device, you can cater to them even more specifically.
The long-term potential for this type of link building means that link building itself is likely to stick around for a while longer — it’s just going to evolve to meet the new demands of consumers.
It will probably be a few more years before the mobile-using population grows to an overwhelming majority and URI formats for app content become more streamlined. As a result, it will be a while before this strategy hits its peak. Still, it pays to look forward and prepare for the changes that are coming down the road.
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