If you’re developing a mobile app for today’s market, you’ll need to know about deep linking. Rarely has an advancement had the potential to universally improve the 2.5 million apps on the market, regardless of the operating system or category of the app. The concept is simple: Navigate a user seamlessly through native apps on the mobile device just like the Web, without sending the user back to a site or app store.
Since the Internet works off of the structured URL, there is a backbone for everything that happens (commerce, advertising, content, links, search crawling and indexing). All Web developers build their sites to accommodate this standardized structure.
In mobile, the native app space developed differently, with apps popping up as “one-offs” to offer the best possible controlled user experience. Although “deep linking” has existed in a developer’s lexicon since iOS first premiered, there has never been a standardized cross-platform vehicle to link from app to app, which meant that each developer used different formats for their paths and custom schemes. Any effort to “link” was for a singular purpose, thus creating several solitary, distinct environments.
The LinkedIn Problem and The Amazon Solution
The lack of a standardized backbone in mobile, coupled with the isolated environments, is most evident when tapping a link to access content within an app. The only way to access in-app content is to go to the home screen, launch the app and follow through to specific content, or to use the mobile Web as the engagement tool, negating the massive benefits of native apps.
For example, users don’t want to tap a link they see while checking email on their mobile devices only to land on the mobile site version of content, especially when they have the app already installed on device (The LinkedIn Problem). This is because once a user has an app, he or she has already “opted in” to that app’s content. By sending the most engaged app users to the Web, developers immediately lose the ongoing conversation with the user and break the connection.
Deep linking, on the other hand, opens app content directly from a link and removes the silo to make it immediately accessible for the user.
A great deal of deep linking applies to user acquisition and user engagement, but there is also a unique revenue opportunity for developers. Here, we have the Amazon solution. Amazon would not have been such a successful retailer if when a customer tapped on an ad for shoes, they landed on Amazon’s home page (amazon.com). Instead, the user is taken directly to the product within the Amazon app store, making for a far smoother transition that holds the user’s attention.
App conversions work off the same premise. By placing users on specific in-app product pages, a developer is removing purchase friction and making conversion easier (and more likely). Since these users are already opted in to an apps brand and engaged, this means that the developer has found a shortcut to the lowest possible spot in their funnel interactions. For ad-supported apps, a shallow funnel can lead to an increase in ad spend for developers. This is key for monetization as free apps continue to dominate the market.
The problem is not new. Walled garden, silos, native vs. Web apps have been in the mobile discussion for some time. The solution is not new either. On the most basic level, URLs have been around for decades since the advent of the Web. What is new, however, is the evolution of using URLs to standardize native links.
One company that is
making headlines is deeplink.me, which provides a platform for developers to standardize the process of linking between apps. The company is creating a standard framework that allows an app to link
into its content via a Web URL, with those that don’t have the app falling back to either Web content or the app store. The company also launched the deeplink.me platform to move mobile users
horizontally across apps installed on their devices.
Then there are companies like Quixey, offering a Web-based search for apps across platforms, and URX, which is trying to help advertising reach users faster by sending them from an ad directly to the right page within an app. Another recently announced initiative to create an open-source movement around deep linking is mobiledeeplinking.org, which aims to simplify deep link development with open-source SDKs, lending a more standardized approach as the practice reaches widespread adoption.
Major companies like Flurry, MoPub, TapCommerce, Criteo and ActionX have already joined the initiative in an effort to provide mobile app publishers with the best resources as they try to heighten the cross-media user app experience.
All of these products aim to transform the way that mobile app developers engage with their audiences in more thoughtful, useful ways that may even lead to greater monetization practices. As users continue to turn to their mobile devices for everyday purchases and browsing, millions of apps will continue to be downloaded each day.
If more of these apps utilize the opportunities of deep linking, there is no end to the benefits that mobile app developers can reap.