What Google’s acquisition of Agawi means for SEO

It was recently announced that Google had confirmed their acquisition of technology start-up firm Agawi. Here’s what they said in their confirmation to TechCrunch a few weeks ago:

“The Agawi team has joined Google. We aren’t sharing other details,” a spokesperson said.

Google have historically been renowned for keeping their cards close to their chest, but this takes it to another level. Ok, it’s still early days and they are well within their right to withhold information at this time, but what do we already know about Agawi?

In a nutshell, their technology specialises in streaming mobile apps. That means rather than having to go through the pain of installing an app, users can effectively load the content directly on their smartphones, like they would with a video on YouTube (whether or not they have the app installed).

What’s more, that technology will be likely integrated into Google’s search offering somewhere down the line and, with the recent strides in app indexing that Google have been making, the Agawi acquisition poses some interesting questions for SEO.

As part of their recent mobile update in April, it became common knowledge that Google would begin focusing some of their attention on surfacing content from indexed apps in their search results. This was arguably the biggest news that came from the mobile update, especially since the ranking impact it was supposed to have didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Last year, app analytics provider Flurry released some stats on app usage vs mobile web usage. From their research, it is apparent that app usage is continuing to grow at an exponential rate; so much so that, comparatively, mobile web usage dropped in 2014 vs 2013:

Apps v Mobile web graph

How we consume content on our smartphone devices is changing and it’s Google’s mission to ensure that our needs are taken into full consideration when we turn to our phones and proverbially ‘Google it’.

Currently, Google’s app indexing capabilities allow users to jump straight into their installed apps from the search engine; some users are also prompted to install a relevant app if they don’t already have it installed. Yes, this potentially answers the query, which is something that has always been Google’s core focus, but it also takes users away from the mobile web.

A user being taken away from the mobile web comes with a couple of potential problems, one of those being specific to SEO;

  • eMarketer predicted that Google generated $38.4 billion in search ad revenue in 2014. Considering Google’s total revenue that year was $66 billion, search ad revenue is still very much where they make most of their money. For this reason, Google would much rather you stay on the mobile web
  • Secondly, it hinders Google’s ability to measure engagement with search results. Clicks aren’t the issue here as Google will still know which app results have been clicked on. However, what users do next will be harder for Google to gauge as they can’t measure things like dwell time, long clicks etc.

User engagement is becoming more of a ranking factor and this is backed up by last year’s ranking factors study by SearchMetrics, as well as some recent click-through testing that Moz’s Rand Fishkin has been carrying out. Our own Stephen Kenwright spoke on this exact topic earlier in the year at April’s brightonSEO – you can check out his slides here.

With their current app indexing setup, Google have a real problem on their hands as they become ignorant to user engagement signals. The streaming of apps, which would essentially keep users on the mobile web, would go a long way at gathering this data once again. In addition, it may help Google to better rank app results, which is something that they have been relatively ambiguous about in terms of how they go about doing this currently.

Obviously, this is all quite speculative at the moment as we don’t actually know what Google are going to do with Agawi’s technology. If they do start allowing users to stream apps straight from the search results, it also begs the question on how Google are going to ensure a good user experience is maintained, as the success of streaming content would very much depend on a good internet connection.

It’s fair to say that it’s an exciting time for app developers, marketers and brands alike as Google give more real estate to apps in their search results. In my opinion, it will only be a matter of time before further developments are made to the way in which Google rank these types of results.

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