Mobile Web vs. Mobile Apps – The Never-ending Battle

The debate about apps vs. the mobile web is tired. I can’t help myself though. For now, apps seem to have won but nobody can predict the long-term outcome. I’d recommend you run from any charlatan who speaks in absolute terms about this topic (or most topics for that matter).

That being said, there is something brewing inside iOS 9 that is under-appreciated in terms of its potential impact on apps maintaining dominance (at least for the foreseeable future).

Ethan Smith, Yummly’s VP of Growth, highlighted the issue in his recent Venture Beat article:

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.

In case you missed it, Apple’s new app search will include engagement as an important factor in its new search algorithm:

To give users the best search experience, the system measures how often users interact with app content and with Spotlight and Safari results. Because iOS measures the level of user engagement with search results, items that users don’t find useful are quickly identified and can eventually stop showing up in results.

Apple developer docs

The ultimate result of this will be the best content rising to the top. Not the most heavily optimized SEO bs.

I’m taking a lot of liberties here but the implications seem important. Both developers and users can (and will) go wherever they have the best experience. For developers, being able to focus on creating quality content that has a shot at rising to the top of search based on meritocratic factors is very appealing. For users, the benefit seems obvious. Better content eventually bubbles to the top. I (and I suspect many users) will gladly shift to using Spotlight search on our iOS devices if the quality of results begins to surpass the often over optimized SEO junk that rises to the top of web search.

Ethan’s VB article did an excellent job of highlighting the how SEO is set to change and I suspect these changes will have wider implications on the mobile app ecosystems.