The rise of native apps is one of the biggest threats to Google's dominance, but the search giant isn't sitting idly by.

In fact, slowly and sometimes quietly, it's increasingly working to extend its influence into the apps Googlebot can't reach.

When Mobilegeddon occurred earlier this year, most of the discussion centered on the impact Google's mobile-friendliness algorithm update would have on mobile websites.

But Google's mobile-related algorithm updates went beyond the mobile web, with the search giant announcing that apps allowing the search giant to index their content through its App Indexing API would rank better in mobile search.

Now, Search Engine Land has revealed that Google is giving an extra boost to apps that have enabled App Indexing.

"Mariya Moeva, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, announced today at SMX East that in addition to the app ranking boost Google announced on February 26, 2015, Google has launched an additional ranking boost for those apps that utilize the new App Indexing API," Search Engine Land's Barry Schwartz detailed.

"Mariya explained that when an app utilizes this new API, Google is able to gather additional engagement data from that app to help determine how useful the app is to users."

Carrots...

While Google hasn't made a formal announcement about the ranking boost for apps participating in App Indexing, and Moeva indicated that much is subject to change as Google's mobile algorithms are still rapidly evolving, it's becoming clear that Google is working hard to incentivize companies with native apps to give it access to their native app content.

In addition to ranking boosts, there are a growing number of other Google services and features, like Now on Tap, that require integration with the App Indexing API.

With app discovery top of mind for companies challenged by mobile churn and high user acquisition costs, and marketshare for Google's Android OS exceeding 70%, it is clear that Google has a variety of ways to reward native app publishers that give it what it wants.

...and sticks

But Google also has less pleasant tools for protecting its interests as it grapples with the challenges posed by native apps.

Case in point: the search giant recently announced that starting on November 1, mobile sites with prominent interstitials intended to drive mobile app installs will no longer be considered mobile friendly and could find themselves penalized in mobile search results. 

Companies like LinkedIn were quick to suggest that Google's views on the efficacy of interstitials were flawed, and Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of online reviews site Yelp, pointed out that Google still uses prominent interstitials to promote its own apps and offers a full-screen app install interstitial ad product.

With that in mind, some suggested that Google's interstitial crackdown was part of a broader strategy to "[try] to replicate its Web search position with apps."

How should companies react to Google?

Logically, Google does not want to cede its dominance on the web to others in the apps market.

Whether it can dominate apps the same way it has dominated web search remains to be seen, but companies should be paying close attention to Google's app-related initiatives. 

Just as Mobilegeddon forced publishers to address mobile user experience, the rewards Google is offering app publishers who integrate with the App Indexing API and the penalties Google might dole out to companies that don't adhere to its guidelines could in the near future have the potential to make or break a company's native app success.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 October, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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