How To Take Advantage Of The Recovery Search Opportunity On iOS 9


Apple’s launch of iOS 9 has sparked renewed attention on Apple Search, including the way Apple places more importance on app content in search results on iPhones. 

In an iOS 9 world, the more you interact with an app on your iPhone, the more likely it is for that app to appear higher in iOS Spotlight, Siri and Safari search results on your iPhone. So how should brands think about Apple Search? The answer hinges on how you use search to acquire and service customers.

Recovery Search With iOS 9

With iOS 9, Apple Search has become a far more powerful tool for “recovery search” by drawing upon a number of local data sources, including app content. Author John Battelle introduced the concept of recovery search in his book, “The Search.” 

When consumers conduct recovery searches, they already know about your brand, are more likely to be doing business with you and seek to recover information such as your street address to contact or visit you. “Janet Smith, Chicago cardiologist” or “Burger King, Western Avenue” would be considered recovery searches.

Battelle contrasted recovery search with “discovery search,” which consists of initial searches for businesses in a category, such as “cardiologist near me” or “restaurants near me.” Discovery searches are more likely to be conducted by someone who is not yet a customer of a particular establishment.

To help customers find the location of a company they’ve done business with, it is important that enterprises improve the recovery search experience by making their location data accurate and easily findable.

Improving Findability In Apple Search

iOS 9 has taken some big steps to make business location data more findable by casting its search net more broadly across multiple data sources. In doing so, Apple has become a stronger tool for recovery search.

Businesses that wish to improve the user experience for their customers need to make sure they are present for recovery searches conducted via Apple Search.  

For your brand to be findable via recovery searches in the Apple Search universe, you should ensure that your location data is present and accurate on the following data sources, which I have ranked by how likely each source is to appear in a recovery search:

  • Contacts app content. Apple assigns the highest preference to apps that people use most frequently. When someone does a search in Spotlight or Safari, Apple places a heavy premium on the Contacts app. I asked 20 co-workers with iOS 9 installed to take out their phones, type the first two letters of any word they could think of in Spotlight and tell me what the top result was. In all cases, Contacts information dominated results, as shown here:


  • Apple Maps databases, including publishers such as Yelp and Foursquare, as well as aggregators like Localeze, which distribute location data to publishers. An enterprise that does a good job syndicating its data with data aggregators is more likely to appear more prominently in Apple Maps databases. Are you working with one or many of the companies that submit data directly to Apple? If not, it’s time for you to form relationships with them immediately.
  • Bing search suggestions via “Suggested Website” results. Enterprises with limited time and resources are tempted to put a lower priority on optimizing their content for Bing. With iOS 9, it’s much more important to improve Bing indexing and results.
  • Frequently used third-party apps. Although there are multiple ways that app content can be indexed by Apple Search, to appear in search results, enterprises need to do more than make their data available to be indexed. The frequency with which people use an app to perform a search is the overwhelming factor determining whether that app content becomes available for users performing searches on their iOS devices.

Considerations For Digital Marketers

These data sources underscore how iOS 9 is designed more to enable recovery searches than discovery searches. So how should digital marketers be thinking about iOS 9 and Apple Search? I recommend that brands do the following:

  1. Examine whether and how Apple Search should be a priority at your organization. Is your primary mandate to acquire new customers, those who are more likely performing discovery searches? Then devote your time and resources elsewhere. Is your goal to improve your existing customers’ mobile experience? If so, put a higher priority on Apple Search.
  2. Identify a partner that will allow you to send data directly to Apple. As with Google, authenticated data directly from your business will generally trump other data sources.
  3. Have strong relationships with data aggregators, which perform the crucial role of providing your location data to publishers such as Apple and Facebook. Publishers are constantly launching new apps, and those businesses usually first turn to aggregators as their sources for location data. Apple started using data licensed from aggregators two years ago, and perhaps Snapchat or some other popular app will soon launch an app that connects consumers to local businesses. If you want to make sure your business is part of that launch, be there when they acquire that data.

Apple clearly wants to call the shots when consumers use iPhones to conduct searches. To improve your brand visibility in an Apple world, understand first how your customers are using Apple Search to recover information about you. Focus on people first, apps second.

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