Over the past few years, many top startups have elected to go mobile first and build app only experiences. While some have had success, mobile first companies such as Uber and Hotel Tonight have missed out on the large opportunity of SEO. Soon, pages within an app will be as easy to search for as pages on a website, and mobile-only companies will be able to compete directly with websites via search. SEO is about to see the most dramatic change in over a decade.
Google has introduced several changes over the years to improve search quality, including Panda and Penguin, and many have claimed that old school SEO tactics are dead. However, by and large, successful SEO tactics remain largely unchanged. Tactics range from building algorithms to writing thousands of articles to creating tens of millions of pages to paying people to link to your website. New search companies have attempted to compete in search, but the incumbents — Google, Yahoo, and Bing — remain dominant, controlling over 97 percent of search within the United States.
Despite the rise of Facebook and social media, most organic acquisition comes from web-based search engines. Everything is about to change.
Times Are Changing
Google is actively working to closely integrate its search engine with its Android operating system. Over the past few months, it has released several related changes, including app indexing, deep linking, and Google Now On Tap. Companies like URX, Branch, and Tapstream have created tools to make it easy for app developers to integrate these new technologies. These changes mean that users can now search for app content directly from Google search and even have app content pushed to them within the Android operating system. Apple recently announced its own search engine, launching with iOS 9 and El Capitan this fall. Users will be able to search for content directly from their devices via Spotlight and Safari search.
All these changes signal that Google and Apple are actively working to move search from the web directly to your device and to make app content as easy to discover as a web page.
Apple vs. Google
In the new world of SEO, those who own the operating system own the search experience. Google’s Android operating system will give Google further leverage to increase its share of search. And with 43 percent of mobile users powered by iOS, Apple will immediately become a major player in search. The biggest losers will be companies like Microsoft, which has struggled to gain traction with Windows mobile devices, and Yahoo, Ask, and AOL, which have no mobile operating system strategy.
The Best Products Will Dominate SEO. No, Really
Google has always encouraged webmasters to focus on building great products in order to grow their SEO. However, oftentimes it is companies with the best marketing and PR that rank high, not companies with the best products. As a result, it is common for great new products to struggle against entrenched competitors.
This is a difficult problem to solve because once a user leaves a web-based search page, the search engine largely cannot track whether a user’s experience was good or bad. When users search directly from their device, the operating system has access to engagement data, which means that it can and will use this information to rank search results. Apple’s new search algorithm will consider factors like how long and how often you spend engaging with a piece of content. In fact, engagement is one of Apple’s most important ranking factors and will only become more important with time. For example, if a user searches for a poutine recipe, Apple can not only track which recipes are clicked the most but which recipes people actually use the most. These changes will mean that the best content will win, and startups with great new products can better compete against larger competitors.
Overall, the biggest winners of the new SEO will be end users, who will now be able to easily search and discover the best web and app content in the right place at the right time.
Ethan Smith is VP of Growth at Yummly, where he leads general marketing, SEO, and product management. He advises several companies on their SEO and growth, including Thumbtack, Wanelo, and Mucker Capital. Prior to Yummly, he managed marketing and product at Wize.com (acquired by Nextag).