The URX Debrief - July 1

URX Developer Spotlight

Marquee, Directlyrics, and Night Out are three of the latest developers to use URX AppViews to connect users to other relevant apps. — URX Blog

Search, discovery, and marketing

What we’re really seeing is a trade-off between two problems. You can have a list, solving discovery and recommendation ... or you can have a searchable index of everything... — Benedict Evans

Apple and Google race to see who can kill the app first

Our dumb, siloed apps are slowly but steadily becoming smart, context-aware services that link, share, and talk to each other without us having to necessarily see or touch those little squares. — Wired

Return of the search wars: The rise of contextual awareness

Search is still a fundamental part of the computing experience. It’s just that search is no longer just about going to a browser and entering a search term – even though that is likely to be many a user’s reflex action. — Extreme Tech

Deep linking & search in iOS 9 will change everything

In iOS 9, apps are cohesively linked together via deep links and the experience feels magical. For the first time ever on iOS, there is a fluid system in place to help you navigate between apps. — Nirav Savjani

How Google is Taking Search Outside the Box

But app indexing is not just Google introducing another corpus into its search engine.The mobile app-sphere is where people live these days, not so much the web. — Backchannel

Developer Spotlight: Marquee, Directlyrics, Night Out

Developers are using AppViews in new and creative ways all the time to connect users to relevant content or help them take action. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a growing network of partners and wanted to take a moment to highlight a few:

Marquee: a movie discovery app that let’s you find your movie’s showtimes, learn more about your favorite actors and locate the closest theater. Now with URX, once you find your movie and theater, you can book a ride directly in Lyft from the Marquee app.

 

Directlyrics: a destination to find lyrics to your favorite songs and read about the latest music releases. Using URX, Marquee is able to surface actions in leading native apps -- like Youtube, Spotify and Rdio -- related to the artist and the song a user is presently reading about.

 

Nightout: a lifestyle app for discovering experiences and finding tickets to thousands of events, or creating an event of your own. Using URX, Night Out shows an eye-grabbing Lyft button on its digital tickets on iOS, Android and on the web. When event goers double-check their tickets via their mobile device on email or through the Night Out app they’ll have an easy way to book a ride, even before having to think about transportation.

 

Integrating URX into your app or mobile site is easy. Check out the 3-min video tutorial below on adding our latest pre-built widget: Buttons. And head over to our developer docs for more info.

The URX Debrief - June 4

Google I/O deep linking announcements

Google made several announcements that show how important deep linking is to the company and how they plan to connect users to app content.

Now on Tap

One of Google’s most talked about announcements was Google Now on Tap, which enables users to search based on page or app content.

Bing Starts Indexing Apps for Search Results

Bing is using Facebook's App Links standard to crawl apps and eventually add them to Bing search results. — Bing Blog

How Google, Microsoft, and URX Search Apps

This blog post walks through how deep links and meta tags enable search engines to index the content inside mobile applications. — URX Blog

Deep links + knowledge graphs

Now On Tap generated a ton of buzz at I/O as a new way to find information your mobile phone.  At the core, Now On Tap is performing a Google search without a user needed to actually type a query.  It uses contextual signals from the app or website to figure out what the user is doing, and then provides information based on their knowledge graph and links into apps from their App Indexing initiative.  

If that sounds familiar, its very similar to how AppViews works.  Publishers pass contextual information and we recommend the most relevant user action.  The video below gives a basic explanation of how a knowledge graph is used to interpret context and match it to an index.

The primary difference in our vision compared to Google Now is that our goal is to enable developers to build discovery into their own experience, rather than mediated by Google.  

Finally, we're starting to see discovery and navigation tools built for mobile first rather than bringing existing tools over from desktop - exciting times lay ahead!

Mike

How Google, Microsoft and URX Search Apps

The last month brought huge developments in mobile search.  Google and Microsoft announced that content from inside mobile apps will start showing up in search results (in addition yesterday Google extended App Indexing to iOS.)  This isn’t a surprise - Google’s App Indexing and Facebook’s App Links initiatives were designed for this purpose - but it is still a huge milestone.

The implications of using of search (interface to the internet) to find information inside apps (the interface to mobile devices) are many but that is a discussion topic for a different post.  The goal of this post is to help you understand how it is actually happening.

How a Search Engine Works

We’re all familiar with the basics of what a search engine does - a user enters keywords that describes what they are looking for (a query) and then the search engine replies with links and information to help them find it (result).   Underneath the hood, there are 3 primary pieces to how a search engine works:

  • Web crawler: this software program visits page after page on the internet and brings back all the information that exists on those pages.  A crawlers job is never finished; billions of pages are crawled and re-crawled every day to stay current.  (Our science team posted articles on Deduplication, Freshness, and Prioritization.)  

  • Index: this is a massive database that stores all the information brought back by the crawler.  The index needs to be organized so relevant pages can be found quickly.

  • Query engine: this program is what takes the user’s query (e.g. “important Ireland vote”) and then fetches the best results from the Index.

While that’s a dramatic oversimplification, those are the basics that power Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and others on the internet.

Mobile Apps Broke Search Engines

There are two fundamental problems that prevent web search engines from crawling, indexing, and returning results from apps.

The first is that mobile apps don’t have URLs.  Without these links, we are unable to navigate to specific places inside the app or understand the content that lives there. The best we can do is extract information from the description (e.g. you can buy things inside the Amazon app), but we have no idea what you can buy inside it or how to send someone there.  This is why search in Google Play or the App Store is so bad.

The second problem is that native apps aren’t part of the web.  One of the huge benefits of the web is that it’s open and discoverable by all - this has enabled all sorts of innovation.  However native apps live behind app stores of platforms (e.g. Apple & Google) and can’t be freely crawled or accessed like the web.   

Enter deep links and markup

Deep links solves the first problem.  They are analogous to web URLs and help us understand how to travel to different locations inside an app, just like subdomains let us travel directly to pages within a website.  

The solution to the second problem is to add markup to your web page that connects web content to app content.  In other words, it links a URL with the corresponding deep link into an Android or iOS app where the user can find the same content.  Google’s App Indexing and Facebook’s App Links both provide markup that webmasters can use to make this connection.

After an app developer has 1) added deep links to their app and 2) added markup to their webpage, the traditional search engine approach described above works perfectly.  Web crawlers visit pages with deep link markup, adds those deep links to an index, and then results can be surfaced to users alongside web results.  

Challenges Remain

Using the methodology above, search engines can now add app content to search results on mobile devices.  However the ecosystem has a ways to go before Google, Bing, or anyone else can return results from apps as well as they do for website.  These include:

  • Deep link & website markup adoption: developers need to add deep links when building their apps and webmasters need to add tags to their pages.  Great progress has been made here, but < 30% of the top 200 apps have done both of these things.

  • Multiple standards: there are several competing markup standards being pushed by various companies and deep links are handled differently by the operating system iOS and Android.  

  • Apps without websites: how these apps share their content is still a largely unsolved problem.  APIs let you share deep links directly with a particular company but need to be used for each platform you want to share information with.

  • Apps have different functionality: mobile apps are often built to help users take action in the real world (e.g. order a cab).  Developers may need to help search engines understand their functions and capabilities differently than websites (e.g. schema.org) and this needs to be thought through.

Early days

Apps have replaced the web browser as the primary user interface, but we haven't figured out what will replace the search box as the primary discovery mechanism for mobile.  Regardless of whether this happens through your News Feed, Google Now, Cortana, Spotlight, App Stores, or something brand new, each technology player needs to be able to index the information inside apps to create a relevant and useful experience.

Mike

 

Keeping Up with Google’s Mobile Ambitions

Google’s mobile announcements are coming so fast and furious its hard to keep track of everything.  They recently announced that > 50% of queries come from mobile devices - mobile is no longer the future but the present as well.

In advance of I/O, I put together a recap of recent news regarding Google’s mobile advertising and search initiatives.  On the advertising side, Google is trying to quantify the full value of search clicks to justify higher CPCs while taking on a new challenger in Facebook:

Google has also been actively making changes to search experience to prioritize content that works well on mobile devices and is finally starting to show app content in results (go deep linking!):

Google Now is one of Android’s most promising features and they are now integrating third party apps that lets users take action directly from the stream.  Its the best example of how the engagement model with apps is evolving:

Below are articles that investigate some of the challenges and opportunities:

Enjoy I/O!  

 

Welcoming Lauren Nemeth to URX

I’m thrilled to announce that Lauren has joined the URX team as Chief Revenue Officer.   

Lauren has spent the last decade at Google, Doubleclick, and AppNexus helping digital media companies increase their revenue with programmatic buying and real-time marketplaces.  She’s sold everything from video to mobile to social and will be working closely with our partners to help scale their business.

I’m also personally excited to work with her to evaluate the wide range of opportunities for our deep link search technology across the mobile landscape.  Bringing contextual relevance to mobile will require partnering with the most innovative companies in the industry and Lauren is the perfect person to lead our efforts.  

John

The URX Debrief - May 19

Facebook: Deep linking for app install ads

When a person taps on a mobile app install ad on Facebook, the developer can choose to send them to a specific place in their app after it's downloaded, such as a product page rather than the homepage.— Facebook Developer Blog

Facebook launches instant articles

Publishers can have the same tools as an app developer. They’re not stuck with what the mobile web can offer. — TechCrunch.

Facebook’s new in-app search could be a Google nightmare

“We’re piloting a new way to add a link that’s been shared on Facebook to your posts and comments,” a Facebook spokesperson confirmed to WIRED. Simply put: This is Facebook’s in-app, in-house search engine. — Wired

Google adding buy buttons from search results

Google will launch buy buttons on its search-result pages in coming weeks, a controversial step by the company toward becoming an online marketplace rivaling those run by Amazon and eBay. —Wall Street Journal

Google touts mobile marketing tools

Google launched a host of mobile marketing tools including cross-device attribution, new bidding tools, and custom mobile units for the auto, hotel, mortgage industries. —Inside AdWords

URX launches deferred deep linking for AppViews

Users can now install an app from inside another app and then be taken directly to the most relevant destination after the download completes. —URX Blog

Deferred Deep Linking with AppViews

One common problem of linking users to other apps is dealing with the fact that they may not have the app installed.  Today, we've added a new way for iOS developers to link to other apps using AppViews called deferred deep linking.  The user can install the new app from inside the current app and then be taken to directly to the right spot when it is finished downloading.

When a user wants to download a new app, a modal view of the App Store opens inside the publisher app.  If the user decides they aren’t interested, then they can close the modal and return to their current experience.

If the user decides to download the app, it begins to download in the background.  The user can then continue browsing in the current app.  When the download is finished, the user is given the option to enter the new app at exactly the right place.

Our SDK makes it easy to customize the entire experience other than the App Store download page (StoreKit).  It posts notifications about the progress of the download so you can modify the loading screen, opening screen, and call to action when the app is ready to open. It’s also important to note that no changes or code are required in the destination app to get this working - deferred deep linking will work for any iOS app in the URX index.

Deferred deep linking is available for our iOS Widget SDK and general iOS SDK. Existing AppViews developers can upgrade easily by updating a single method.  Now, any iOS developer enabling AppViews to let their users listen to music, find event tickets, or book a ride will be able to leverage deferred deep linking to give their users a better experience.

Rob