How to enrich your apps and make them more discoverable (//Build 2015 recap)


Earlier last month, we had the opportunity to present our Build with Bing talk as part of //Build 2015, in which we highlighted some Bing technologies to make your apps more powerful and discoverable. With the //Build Tour events now wrapping up in June, this is a great opportunity to recap some of those technologies and what they can do for you.

Data show that apps are 5x more engaging than the browser alone. That creates a huge opportunity for you as an app developer. However, you have to face two main challenges when creating and publishing an app. The first one is to bring more users to your app, and more often. The app discovery and app linking technologies provided by Bing can help you with that. The second one is to keep users engaged once they’re in your app. Research suggests that an app loses almost 80% of its active daily users after only 3 days of being installed. That’s a lot of people that might simply not come back to your app! To tackle that problem, Bing APIs that can help your app to provide differentiated experiences and scenarios to keep users engaged and come back. Let’s explore that first.

 

The Bing Search API

The Bing Dev Center enumerates a series of Bing-powered services and tools that Bing makes available to developers, such as Maps, Synonyms and Translator. One of the most essential yet powerful of those services is the Bing Search API. The idea is simple: you can programmatically consume and embed Bing results in your app, from web page results to images, videos, news, related searches and spell suggestions. Even better, you can get started for free. As of June 2015, the basic sign-up tier enables you to make 5,000 transactions per month at zero cost.

There’s a multitude of app scenarios that you can enable with the Bing Search API. Here are some ideas to get you inspired:

  • You’re developing a recipes app, which enables users to search for recipes. You can use web search results to complement your recipe search results, which is especially useful when no recipe results are found and you don’t want to leave users with a dull “sorry, nothing was found” message.
  • You’re developing a travel assistant app, which enables users to plan trips. You can use news results to show fresh news about the cities your users are planning to visit.
  • You’re developing a chat app, which enables users to create chat groups to keep in touch with their friends. You can use image search results to let users search and pick an image to use as a group’s icon.
  • You’re creating a “time killer” app, which enables users to spend some spare time exploring content about the topics they enjoy, from soccer to puppies. You can use video search results to display videos that relate to the user’s interests, in order to improve user retention.
  • For any app that receives text input, you can use spell suggestions to help users with correcting and narrowing down their input.

Content apart, a lot of cool Bing features also comes with the Bing Search APIs. For example:

  • The API automatically identifies the user’s market (e.g. English-US, Portuguese-Brazil, etc.) to display the most relevant results for that specific market.
  • You can apply (or let your users specify) many powerful filters to narrow down the API results, such as filtering web pages by file type (Word docs, PDFs, etc.) or domain (such as wikipedia.org), filtering news by category (business, entertainment, health, politics, etc.) or even filtering images by color or by whether faces are recognized.
  • Query alteration enables your users to get results back even if they didn’t fully express their intent correctly. For instance, searching for “billy gatas” will automatically return results for “bill gates”. Of course, you are in full control as to enable or disable that behavior.

Those are just some examples. Pagination, safe search and many other Bing features are also available for developers as part of the Bing Search API.

 

App linking and discovery

Instead of requiring users to search among thousands of apps to do something with a piece of content, such as a movie or (audio) book, Bing lets users to search for the content first, to then show the apps and actions that can be performed on that content, even if the user is not explicitly searching for a specific app. As an app developer, you can partake on that more intuitive model too.

Imagine that you are developing a recipes app and a corresponding website. When that website is returned as part of the Bing search results, your recipes app can also be displayed along with that result, as long as you mark up your web site with some special markup tags from applinks.org. That’s called “app linking”.

“Deep linking” is even more interesting. You can markup a web page with the specific actions that your app supports on the content related to that web page, such as listen to an audio book, watch a movie or buy a hat. That enables Bing to direct the user into a “deep”, specific action in your app, associated to some content (the book, movie or hat) instead of simply opening the app.

Besides marking up your web pages, on the app side you just need to do two things to enable app/deep linking. First, register a protocol handler for your app, such as “recipes://”. This is typically done in the manifest file of your app. Then, in the app’s code, implement logic that detects when your app is activated by a deep link (in other words, activated via a URI invocation such as “recipes://gluten-free-guacamole”). That code should then launch the app in the right app page corresponding to the desired user action.

In short, markups, a protocol handler and URI activation code is all you need to make your apps more discoverable and more deeply engaging to millions of Bing users out there. Of course, to improve the chances of surfacing your app in search results, use comprehensive app descriptions when you submit your app to the store. We’ll use that information to start surfacing your app in relevant search results in the Windows Store and on Bing. Your app can show up on Bing not only when someone searches for it, but also when someone searches for a related category, like “movie apps”.

 

To know more

To get more details on the Bing Search API and the app linking/discovery features, including demos and code, check out our //Build 2015 talk Build with Bing: Use Bing APIs and Tools to Enrich Your Apps and Make Them More Discoverable. Like our Bing Solutions page on Facebook so that you won’t miss any updates related to Bing-powered technologies we’re making available to developers worldwide.

 

About the author: Andre Furtado is a Senior Program Manager in the Bing Developer Experiences team and Product Lead for Bing APIs, where he envisions, ships and supports APIs consumed by both internal and external Microsoft customers such as Office, Apple, Amazon and Yahoo.

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