Acquisition & Engagement

Is Paid Search Coming to the App Stores?

Becky Doles

The future often takes a lot longer to occur than many people in technology wish. Somehow, though, the future often comes faster than many people expect. Take driverless cars as an example: we’ve been wishing for them since the 1950’s, but now the technology feels so real that Google believes we’ll achieve that vision in under 5 years. That’s an incredibly long time since the 1950’s, but way faster than I would have expected even just 3 years ago.

The same feeling is true for app search: it’s taken a lot longer to become mainstream than I would have liked 5 years ago, but now that’s it happening, it’s happening faster than I could have imagined. We’re seeing innovations like Google App Indexing, Facebook’s AppLinks, and the convergence of mobile web and mobile apps.

One remaining difference between web search and app store search is the absence of paid search in the app stores. But over the past few weeks and months, we’ve seen a few developments that I think signal the start of paid search in the app stores. Let’s take a look.

Apple’s Organic-Non-Organic Mix

In March, Apple released an update to the App Store, which now promotes internal Apple apps for search terms they care about. It’s very clear that they don’t have any problem mixing organic and non-organic results, from a philosophical perspective. It also became very clear that they believe search matters. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother taking over the first result of important queries.

Fast forward a little bit and we see Apple releasing Related Searches and Trending Searches. These are both going to play key roles in the App Store in iOS 8. Labeling these features this way may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a perfect analogue to Twitter’s Related Users and Trends features, both of which allow for paid placement (and command a good price!).

Google’s Paid Mobile Shift

On the other side of the ecosystem, Google continues to work on their AdWords mobile app units as well, which they call Mobile App Extensions. Mobile App Extensions make it easy for marketers to purchase AdWords paid search results on mobile searches, though not in the app store… yet. But it’s clear they think this is an important place for them to put focus in the future.

Each of these announcements may not seem like a lot individually, but together they capture a feeling that the future is fast approaching — and that future includes paid search results within the app stores. People have been predicting this for years now, and it hasn’t come, but I wouldn’t be surprised for it to come faster than anyone thinks today.

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

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