Deep linking is beginning to attract some attention and may gain momentum in 2015 as brands continue to look for new ways to leverage their existing mobile assets. Deep linking is the process of linking directly to content or pages within a mobile app. Apps differ from webpages as they do not have an inherent lining protocol creating demand for deep linking technology that supports a more connected experience. Markers will benefit from this technology as it enables the ability to connect campaigns to specific content in an app. Push messaging campaigns can feature “call to actions” that link a user to specific content within a app. Multiple apps can also be linked together to support more seamless processes and navigation. For example a dating site can provide a link to Open Table so singles can reserve a table for their rendezvous without leaving the dating app. Leveraging deep links, content within apps can also be searched so users can find apps on their phones quicker. Really, deep links can link almost anything digital to mobile app content including, SMS messages, other mobile apps, push messages, web pages or QR codes.
Unlike in the web, there is no defined way to link to specific content within a mobile app. While this creates challenges it also presents opportunities. A number of players are creating standards and infrastructure to support deep linking.
- Quixey is a search engine for mobile apps and has created AppURL, their standard for deep linking.
- Tapstream is an open source framework that has developed “deferred deep links” a specialized link that once tapped will defer directing a user to a landing page until after an app has been downloaded.
- Mobiledeeplinking.org is a consortium of mobile advertising and technology companies that are building tools and standards for easy deep linking.
Leading internet companies are also putting forth frameworks for deep links.
- Google as created App Indexing a technology that enables Google to index content in apps similar to the way they index sites on the web.
- Facebook is supporting App Links an open source cross platform solution that includes a central depository that tracks whether a URL can be deep linked on mobile.
- Twitter has launched Cards which enables users to link to content in other apps such as Pinterest from within a Tweet.
Platforms that make it easier for developers to implement deep links are also coming to market.
- me is a cross platform deep linking platform that has created a proprietary database of mobile apps.
- URX has also brought to market Omnilinks which is a platform based on Tapstream that helps developers implement deep links.
While solutions are coming to market, a number of challenges are hindering adoption. The existence of a variety of approaches and databases is creating confusion and fragmentation. The triggers for launching an app via a link also differ across operating systems, causing redundant work for developers.
Determining best practices that support superior user experiences also needs to be worked out. What is the right way to handle a situation when a user links to an app that they have not downloaded? What is the fall back location that will not disappoint or frustrate the user? Should the users be required to download the app risking abandonment and frustration?
Regardless to challenges ahead, deep linking will prove to be a disruptive force in the future. As deep linking becomes more common, the walls that separate apps will come down and users will be free to migrate from one app to another. This will spark a battle war to keep users within an app or group of affiliated apps. Facebook’s deep linking service only supports links to apps that are already integrated with Facebook. This is one example of how market players will try to maintain walled gardens on mobile. While walled gardens work in the short term, eventually they eventually come down.
As adoption of deep links accelerates, new partnerships and acquisition strategies will emerge as brands look to retain user’s attention and loyalty. This trend may bring new life to almost dead apps.
New business models will presumably resemble tried and true web strategies but the unique aspects of mobile may provide new innovations. Dynamic links could be presented based on context to drive better conversion. With analytics tracing behavior across apps, links could better anticipate user’s intensions and present more targeted content. One example might be deep links that would take users directly from a dating app to a recommendation for a romantic restaurant in Open Table. We can also envision a real time bidding model that allows apps that are already installed on a phone but rarely used bid for deep links within frequently used apps.
A more connected experience is sure to drive innovation and disruption. Deep links have the potential to trigger shifts that realigns influence, business models and revenue streams throughout the ecosystem.