March 31st, 2016
Apple introduced a powerful new feature for developers in iOS 9: Spotlight Indexing for app content. As the name suggests, app developers are now able to list their in-app content in Apple’s Spotlight. It’s completely free, and developers can list as much content as they want.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few limitations. The biggest problem is that the indexed content only remains in Spotlight while the app is installed on the phone — it’s completely wiped during an uninstall. This means that Spotlight search can only be used for re-engagement and not for user acquisition or re-engaging users who have uninstalled the app.
Let’s take a look at an example from the hip hop music enthusiast app, Audiomack. Audiomack lists actual music tracks on Spotlight. (If you’re a fan, you can check them out at audiomack.com).
When you load up the Audiomack app, it immediately shows you a wide array of music that you may be interested in. Note the Young Thug album at the top. Now suppose that I listen to a few tracks before I close the app and go do something else.
Later on, I’m told that I have to check out the Slime Season 3 album. I head to my iPhone’s Spotlight Search and search for the album. Lo and behold, it’s there! And because Audiomack has set up deep linking, it routes right to the specific album in the app.
We wanted to see how much traffic apps receive from the Spotlight search. To do this, we performed a study with data from over 100 randomly selected apps using the Branch platform. Before we share the results, a quick digression on methodology.
The metric that we’re reporting on is the percentage of each app’s users who clicked on a Spotlight search link on their iPhone. Apple, unfortunately, doesn’t provide analytics around search volume or how many times a link appears in a search result, so all we can report on is clicks.
Back to results: we found that around 0.3% of users click on Spotlight links. So, for example, an app with 100k users could expect approximately 300 of them to click on a Spotlight link at some point while they have the app installed on their phone.
Obviously, this is a pretty poor result. But why is it so bad? Our guess is that the main reason this channel doesn’t perform well is that most iOS users don’t interact with Spotlight for search. Instead, they use Safari for their main search bar, and only happen to view Spotlight when they accidentally pull down the slider. Keep this in mind for future development! If it’s going to take you a long time to optimize your app for Spotlight, it may not be worth it.
Let’s say you’re still interested in setting up Spotlight search. Doing so can be a painful process but fortunately, Branch can help. In fact, it would be hard to use Spotlight without Branch! Once you’ve set up Branch deep linking, you can immediately list your deep links on Spotlight with a single line of code using our iOS SDK. Plus, deep linking will work from Spotlight search immediately.
And if that wasn’t enough, Branch will also automatically report how many clicks and installs you get from Spotlight search. You can see your totals right on our dashboard summary page. Want to know which content inside your app is drawing the most Spotlight search traffic? We’ve got you covered: our content analytics page shows how much traffic each piece of content generates for your app.
For instructions on how to set up Spotlight Indexing with Branch deep links, check out our integration guide here. If you still feel you absolutely must use Spotlight Indexing, our Spotlight search best practices are for you.