The news of Apple ramping up its search engine efforts is exciting news in my opinion. I was always hoping that Microsoft could compete with Google… and was disappointed that Bing never really attained a significant competitive edge. With their own hardware and embedded browser, you’d think they could grab more market share. I’m not sure why they haven’t but Google absolutely dominates the market with 92.27% market share… and Bing has a mere 2.83%.
I’ve been an Apple fanboy for a decade, thanks to a good friend buying me one of the first AppleTV’s. When the software firm I worked for wanted Apple adoption, I (and my friend Bill) where the first two people in the company to use Mac laptops. I’ve never looked back. Most people I know that criticize Apple will focus on a specific product and miss the big picture… the Apple ecosystem. When you’re using a variety of Apple products in the home or work, the seamless experience, integration, and usage across them is unparalleled. And it’s nothing that Google and Microsoft can compete with.
The ability for Apple to increase the accuracy of my search results based on my iTunes, AppleTV, iPhone, Apple Pay, Mobile App, Safari, Apple Watch, MacBook Pro, and Siri usage – all of which are interconnected through a single Apple account – will be unparalleled. While Google focuses externally on ranking indicators… Apple can harness the same data, but then combine the results with their customer’s behaviors to drive far better targeting and personalization.
Apple’s Search Engine Is Already Live
It’s important to state that an Apple search engine is no longer a rumor. With the latest updates to Apple’s operating systems, Apple Spotlight offers internet searches that display websites directly – without using any external search engine.
Apple actually confirmed that it crawled web sites back in 2015. While there’s no browser-based search engine, Apple had to begin building the platform to enhance Siri – its virtual assistant. Siri is part of iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, and tvOS operating systems using voice queries, gesture-based control, focus-tracking, and a natural-language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions.
Siri’s superpower is that it adapts to users’ individual language usages, searches, and preferences, with continuing use. Every returned result is individualized.
You can use your Robots.txt file to specify how you’d like Applebot to index your site:
User-agent: Applebot # apple Allow: / # Allow (true if omitted as well) Disallow: /hidethis/ # disallow this directory
Apple Search Ranking Elements
There are hints of this already published by Apple. Apple has adopted search engine standards and published this vague overview of its ranking elements on its support page for the Applebot crawler:
- Aggregated user engagement with search results
- Relevancy and matching of search terms to webpage topics and content
- Number and quality of links from other pages on the web
- User location-based signals (approximate data)
- Webpage design characteristics
User engagement and localization will provide a ton of opportunities for Apple. And Apple’s commitment to user privacy will ensure a level of engagement that doesn’t make its users uncomfortable.
Web to App Optimization
Perhaps the greatest opportunity will be with companies that provide both a mobile application and have a web presence. Apple’s tools to interconnect the web to iOS applications are quite good. There are a few ways that companies with iPhone apps can take advantage of this:
- Universal links. Use universal links to replace custom URL schemes with standard HTTP or HTTPS links. Universal links work for all users: If users have your app installed, the link takes them directly into your app; if they don’t have your app installed, the link opens your website in Safari. To learn how to use universal links, see Support Universal Links.
- Smart App Banners. When users visit your website in Safari, a Smart App Banner lets them open your app (if it’s installed) or get the opportunity to download your app (if it’s not installed). To learn more about Smart App Banners, see Promoting Apps with Smart App Banners.
- Handoff. Handoff lets users continue an activity from one device to another. For example, when browsing a website on their Mac, they can jump straight to your native app on their iPad. In iOS 9 and later, Handoff includes specific support for app search. To learn more about supporting Handoff, see Handoff Programming Guide.
Schema.org Rich Snippets
Apple has adopted search engine standards like robots.txt files and index tagging. More importantly, Apple has also adopted the Schema.org rich snippets standard for adding metadata to your site, including AggregateRating, Offers, PriceRange, InteractionCount, Organization, Recipe, SearchAction, and ImageObject.
All search engines find, crawl, and index your content in a similar manner, so utilizing best practices for implementing your content management system or ecommerce platform are critical. Additionally, though, optimizing your site and mobile application combined should vastly improve your ability to be found with Apple’s search engine.
Register Your Business With Apple Maps Connect
Do you have a retail location or office where regional customers need to find you? If you do, be sure to register for Apple Maps Connect using your Apple login. This doesn’t just put your business in an Apple Map and make directions easy, it also integrates with Siri. And, of course, you can include whether or not you accept Apple Pay.
How to Check Your Site with Apple
Apple does offer a simple tool to identify if your site can be indexed and has basic tags for discovery. For my site, it returned the title, description, image, touch icon, publish time, and robots.txt file. Because I don’t have a mobile app, it also returned that I didn’t have any app associated:
I’m looking forward to Apple providing a search console for businesses to track and optimize their presence in Apple’s search results. If they could provide some Siri Voice performance metrics, it would be even better.
I’m not holding out hope as Apple does respect privacy more than Google… but any tool to assist businesses with improving their visibility would be appreciated!