Back when people still commonly used the term “World Wide Web,” search engines were generally said to send out “spiders” to “crawl” the web. Though we do still talk about crawling, the arachnid metaphor has been swept aside by robots — search robots, to be precise. You might remember us talking about the importance of your site’s robots.txt file; that’s one of the main ways that these bots get information about your website that is then used on search engine results pages.
Though you won’t be surprised that Googlebot is the main robot out there, it may interest you that there’s a new bot on the block: Applebot. Though some search experts and webmasters had noticed a search bot that clearly came from Apple (based on the IP address in their logs) as far back as November 2014, the company only officially announced the existence of Applebot this May. So what is Applebot, and what does it mean for you—and for the bigger world of online search engines?
Though Apple makes both hardware and software products, prior to Applebot it hadn’t made any real forays into search. If you used an Apple device — whether a desktop iMac or your iPhone — to perform a search, you’ll get results both from your device (e.g., when you use the Spotlight feature to find a file on your Macbook) and from the web (“Spotlight Suggestions”). Both Spotlight and Siri had been using a third-party search engine — Siri’s default was Microsoft Bing — to deliver the web results.
Now, however, it appears that Applebot is what’s feeding Siri and Spotlight their information. It’s not clear how long this has been going on, but that’s what will happen moving forward. Something a little bit provocative: When Applebot crawls a site that doesn’t have robots.txt instructions that are specifically for Applebot, it will follow the Googlebot instructions instead. Given Google’s dominance, this is something pretty much every site has, allowing Applebot to commence crawling even before webmasters have caught up.
WHAT APPLEBOT MEANS FOR YOU
You might think that this isn’t a big deal, since Siri and Spotlight aren’t search engines per se — they’re features native to Mac products. But don’t forget that mobile keeps growing. Apple is the biggest player in the mobile market, with iPhones making up about 42% of the American smartphone market. Applebot is building a search data index that it can use to provide search results with Siri, and when an iPhone users asks Siri to “find a Chinese restaurant near me,” Siri’s not going to be using Bing anymore.
In addition to the Applebot results, search experts have also noted that when it comes to local search, Siri is quick to suggest businesses with listings in Apple Maps Connect. Created in October 2014, Apple Maps Connect is pretty much Google My Business for the Apple ecosystem. Businesses will have pages automatically created, which they then can (and should!) claim. These pages include contact information, business hours, reviews from Yelp and social media, and a drag-and-drop pin tool that lets a searcher instantly map your business’s location. Your Apple Maps Connect page is a bit like a landing page on steroids: It gives a visitor everything he or she needs to go to your website, call you, or pay you a visit. Adding Apple Maps Connect to search creates a seamless user experience that cuts out the middleman — the traditional search engine.
SIRI VERSUS GOOGLE
We decided to put Siri and Google Maps to the test on some of our own clients. The bad news is that if you haven’t claimed your Apple Maps Connect business listing, your likelihood of being found by Siri is hit-or-miss at best. Siri often incorporated results from a third party (usually Yelp), and in some cases, search results rankings were not strikingly different between Apple and Google Maps. In some cases though, businesses that ranked well on a Google Maps search did not even appear when searching with Siri. The good news is that Applebot definitely isn’t through crawling the web.
Google’s definitely still the main power player when it comes to search, but few Apple users are likely to reset Siri’s default browser (so that Siri would search Google, for example, rather than Applebot results). Though iPhone users can still use other apps for search, Siri’s integration into Apple products’ functionality does make Siri the likely default for Apple users. The bottom line is that whether you’re concerned specifically about your business showing up in Apple Maps searches or you want NAP consistency to back up your local SEO strategy, you should claim your business’s Apple Maps Connect listing.
There’s some debate about what exactly Applebot means for the future of search. On one hand, it could just be a new way for Siri to gather data. It could be that Apple is just trying to improve and fine-tune its existing integrated search. On the other hand, it could mean that Apple is gearing up to take on Google. Though this would take years, given the antitrust rumblings against Google in the EU, it could be an opportune time for Apple to step up. Apple isn’t exactly the underdog in this fight — after all, they’re dominant in mobile — but it wouldn’t be a huge shock if they made a move toward search. It’s been noted, however, that given the dismal initial rollout of Apple Maps, the company is likely to be pretty cautious about launching any major new ventures.
Between the surge in mobile search and the ubiquity of the iPhone (not to mention all of the other Mac devices that incorporate Siri and Spotlight), the only issue to worry about right now is simply claiming your business’s Apple Maps Connect listing. If you have questions about claiming that listing — or any of your other local listings, from Google My Business on down — call us today at 760-881-4736.
robot image by jamarmstrong