February 14, 2012, 5:02 PM

How retailers can increase app visibility on Google

An expert offers tips that can lead to more app downloads.

Lead Photo

After SEO changes, a listing for REI's mobile app page in the App Store now appears in the No. 2 position on the mobile search results page on Google.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for retailers launching a mobile app is getting consumers to find it. There are more than 500,000 apps in Apple Inc.’s App Store and hundreds of thousands in Google Inc.’s Android Market. So how does a consumer not actively hunting one down by name in one of the app stores know a retailer even has an app?

One answer is search engine optimization, and many retailers are not taking advantage of this important tactic: one look at a retailer’s app’s name or app promotional material on the merchant’s e-commerce site tells it all, m-commerce experts say.

Google made improvements to the way in which it indexes app store description pages and the manner in which it presents these pages in search results, and retailers with mobile apps should employ a few simple tactics to enable shoppers to more easily find the little programs, says Brian Klais, founder and president of m-commerce consulting firm Pure Oxygen Mobile.

First, the name of an app should include the name of the retailer, Klais says. This may seem like an obvious tactic, but it is one many brands with mobile apps do not follow, he adds. In the Apple App Store and Android Market, the name of an app doubles as the link anchor text for the app download page, which Google crawls.

“Both the Android Market and the App Store have huge link equity with Google’s search algorithm, in part because you have links to app download pages coming in from all over,” Klais explains. “When you get those tremendously important store pages linking from all sorts of other pages like e-commerce, m-commerce and social sites, Google will almost by default rank that app download page very high.”

On that note, retailers should be placing links to their apps on important pages on their e-commerce and m-commerce sites—pages that Google gives added weight to, such as the home page and category pages, Klais advises.

And when it comes to those promotional links, some merchants are missing the mark regarding search engine optimization. They make the app download promotion a graphic, not a text link. Google cannot read text that is part of a graphical image.

“You have to be explicit in text links, such as ‘Download the REI Android App,’ so that when the search engine crawls that link it will see that link is all about the brand REI,” says Klais, who recently helped outdoor gear and apparel chain retailer REI with SEO for its app. “That’s a huge missed opportunity that many brands have not capitalized on yet.”

Recreational Equipment Inc., No. 62 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, made changes to the way it optimizes for its app: a search today of “REI” on the Google desktop site put the merchant’s Apple App Store page in position eight on the first page of search results, and the same search on the Google mobile page put the app page listing in position two.

And mobile is a realm where retailers can do other simple things to boost search engine listings. The biggest tactic concerns a web site function known as user agent detection. This tells web servers what kind of device is making a page request. Retailers looking to get more app downloads should have promotional copy served up atop the m-commerce site home page telling iPhone users to click through to the App Store page and suggesting Android users do the same with Android Market, Klais says.

The same tactics used for desktop site URLs apply to mobile site URLs: make sure the name of the retailer appears within the name of the app and within the link, and make sure the promotion for downloading the app includes text, not just an image. Google recently launched Smartphone Googlebot, a system that emulates a smartphone crawling the web, so Google now turns up relevant mobile-optimized pages when a Google search is conducted on a mobile device. This makes it all the more important that an m-commerce site home page app promotion follow these search engine optimization techniques.

“SEO,” Klais says, “is your free promotional opportunity to drive incremental visibility to your app.”

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