Most local businesses and search marketers have focused primarily on their visibility within Google Maps. With Apple’s iOS 9 set to become available on Wednesday, it’s time they focused their attention on Apple Maps as well. The reason: Apple’s integration of deep linking into the core functionality of its mobile operating system.
Fragmentation has long been a problem in the mobile app universe. Having to manually switch between apps to complete a task negatively affects the user experience (UX) of individuals and the productivity of employees. Deep linking promises a fast, intuitive way to connect users from information to action.
How does this work? iOS 9 will seamlessly link apps so that a user searching for information on concert tickets will automatically be able to buy tickets on StubHub. Or a customer scrolling through Foursquare check-ins posted to Twitter will be able to get Apple Maps directions to a business without having to close the app, remember the business name, and type it into Maps.
Instead of the user having to perform a complicated sequence of actions just to complete a single task, iOS 9 will route users through installed apps to get them exactly where they want to be. It even includes a back button so you users can backtrack with one tap.
With iOS 9, Apple delivers the sort of fluid user experience that its fans crave. Apple also is hoping to steal some thunder from Google and its next-generation personal concierge, Google Now on Tap.
Google Now on Tap leverages text-based user input to offer personal assistance. If a user is looking at restaurant reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor, Google Now on Tap will open a pop-up that might let the user make a reservation using OpenTable or Resy, click-to-call the restaurant, or see the restaurant’s Google+ Local page.
Apple is betting that deep linking will help create a more seamless experience than Google Now on Tap. That’s great for end users, but the real strengths of deep linking lie in the possibilities for search, making it particularly important for local businesses and marketers.
At the moment, search is limited to what’s on the web – and what’s been indexed by Google. Now, companies jostling for king of the hill on Google have a new place to stand out, one that comes with its own dedicated user base.
Apple’s new APIs give app developers, marketers, and local business owners a chance to profile their app content, keywords, and data and make that content searchable by iOS. Developers supply a deep link, relevant keywords, and content. Apple indexes this itself, bypassing Google.
Developers can also index an activity (which might be useful for health-tracking apps or local gyms) or specify relevant web content that should be linked. Unlike Google’s current protocol for app indexing, Apple does not mandate a related web presence, Search Engine Land notes. It’s fine if you have a website; fine if you don’t.
With this new focus on a deeply linked UX, businesses can put their services, products, and content in front of iPhone and iPad users by making sure the business is listed correctly in Apple Maps. With Apple’s upgrade to its watchOS (watchOS 2) and the Apple Maps experience in general, the Apple Watch is due to feature local business info as well. The ROI for local businesses could be huge. Users rely on their mobile devices to identify businesses near them, find services they need, and get around, whether they’re at home or traveling. iOS 9 offers businesses another way to get noticed by consumers.
With deep linking, Apple has closed the loop on phone, web, and app data, giving users all the information they need in a manner that’s smarter, faster, and all around better at fulfilling user needs. iOS 9 even makes indexed information discoverable regardless of whether the correlated app is installed. iOS search will recommend useful apps based on search terms and allow users to click to install.
Google Maps has long been the most visible directory on the web for local business listings, thanks to the data Google is able to supply via search. Countless companies have tried to dethrone Google Maps by attempting to improve the experience for searchers and businesses alike, to little effect.
The debut of iOS 9 and its commitment to deep linking could put a dent in Google’s hegemony. Apple’s user base is massive, and its fans are loyal. By sticking with what it does well, which is UX, and leveraging the power inherent in deep linking, Apple is betting that its local search game will upend Google’s. The bottom line for local: Businesses that don’t care “deeply” about Apple Maps may soon fall behind competitors.
Mark Sullivan is director of analytics for CallRail, a call analytics company currently integrated with Slack and HipChat for a complete SMB dashboard. He is passionate about arming small business owners and agencies with the right tools to create exceptional sales success in an extremely tough and often treacherous online environment. He can be reached via Twitter.