People searching the Web through Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) on Android devices may soon be prompted to install a new app on their phone. In the latest extension of Google's app indexing project -- which aims to make the content within apps searchable -- Google will display results from apps that aren't installed on the user's smartphone or tablet. Clicking on the result will take a user to Google Play to download the app, and then open the app to the search result upon completing installation.
The new feature should increase the adoption of app indexing among Android developers, as it now leads to more app discovery and downloads. Additionally, it could lead some developers to invest more in content than app advertising on platforms such as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). Moreover, it could eventually lead to more app-install ads within Google search results -- taking ad spend away from the competitors.
In the early days of the iPhone and Android, it was really easy to make a hit app: You just uploaded it to the app store and watched it compete with a few thousand other apps. Now, with over a million apps in Google Play and the Apple App Store, it's a lot harder to stand out. That's why app-install ads have been such a huge boon for Facebook and other mobile advertisers; they make it easy to stand out.
App indexing aims to solve an issue of discoverability as well, by delivering search results that include the way people use the Internet on their smartphones and tablets -- through apps. In other words, some app developers can apply similar tactics to getting discovered on mobile that webmasters use to get their Web pages noticed on the Internet. Considering Google's share of mobile search queries is even higher than its share of desktop search, it makes a lot of sense for developers to invest in getting their apps noticed through Google.
While Google isn't charging for app installs through its mobile search results, the cost comes from spending time creating content to rank highly in search results and get people to click the install button. That could mean less money spent on app-install ads on Facebook (or at least less of a need), which analysts believe account for about half of the company's mobile ad revenue.
Searching for apps
What's most interesting about this feature for developers is that more and more people are using Google to look for apps as well as searching the app stores. With the number of global search queries on mobile surpassing desktop search queries, app discovery through mobile search is a growing trend, and Google is helping developers take advantage of it.
To that end, Google may be able to increase sales of its own app-install ads featured in its mobile Web search results. If more people get used to installing apps through Google's search results, they'll be more likely to click on app-install ads in search results as well. And as developers start to see more installs coming from Google, they'll be more likely to find interest in buying app-install ads.
A growing market
The market for app-install ads is certainly growing rapidly. eMarketer expects 80% growth in app-install ad spend in just the U.S. this year. In more developing markets, the growth could be even higher. But Google's strategy with developers could cut into Facebook's and Twitter's growth.
It's important to note that Facebook and Twitter typically see more time spent on their platforms than Google. After all, Google is designed to send users away from its website instead of keeping them on it. As a result, many apps that don't lend themselves to a lot of search queries -- particularly games -- will probably advertise on Facebook and Twitter still. And game developers are often some of the highest spenders on app-install ads.
But for apps that target a specific niche -- travel, real estate, and so on -- Google can provide some highly targeted traffic. As such, the company may be able to win an outsized portion of the growing app-install ad market.