How Deep Linking Can Change The Way We Search On Mobile

Deep links for mobile apps were designed to mimic Web links by letting users click into different parts of an app and not just its home screen. But they’re also changing the way we discover new things.

The deep-linking startup Deeplink has launched what appears to be the first intent based and keyword driven mobile search. Called AppWords (a play on Google AdWords), the new service basically prompts new links for app users to click on—ones that will take them from one app directly into another that’s already on their phone.

See also: Don’t Look Now, But Deep Linking Just Got Hot

“Query-based search has become a secondary surfacing tool in mobile,” said cofounder Noah Klausman. “AppWords uses context to predict what people want to search. What we’ve built is what Google should have built a long time ago.”

Link Like The Web, Sort Of

Deep linking is a strategy for making links on a mobile device work the way users expect links to work on the Web. Desktop browsing has accustomed users to clicking from page to page, regardless of where they’re hosted.

On mobile devices, however, users spend much of their time in apps, which don’t naturally link out to other apps the way websites do with one another. Rather than force users to change their behavior to conform to mobile, developers have been building out deep-linking systems intended to make mobile apps behave more like the Web.

Deep linking might seem like a Band-Aid for the mobile linking problem, but Klausman sees further potential for the technology. In order to mimic Web links, deep links contain information about where a user came from.

See also: Bitly Wants To Make Deep Linking Easy

Armed with that knowledge—and’s massive index of links—the company can predict what users will do next, and skip over search queries to lead users to content inside of the apps they already use and like. Sort of like Google Adwords for apps.

Putting AppWords Up For Adoption

“What we noticed is that a lot of the time you use an app, it’s usually single purpose,” Klausman said. “If you want to buy a movie ticket, you end up with a confirmation page and then you leave. AppWords puts links on the confirmation page to related apps like a taxi service, or an app for finding restaurants near the movie theater. It’s predictive search to monetize the app’s end points.”

AppWords’ biggest challenge ahead is adoption. If developers don’t use its SDK and opt into the service, it obviously won’t help users—or other sales-minded app developers—very much.

One consolation for Deeplinks, however, is that only one app on a user’s phone needs to be enrolled in AppWords. In many if not most cases, that app will be able to direct users to other apps on the phone using a database of deep links the company has compiled by crawling apps and “mapping all the deep links that exist,” as Klausman puts it.

That alone won’t spread the AppWords gospel—it would be entirely possible for those other apps to freeload off the traffic generated by an AppWords app. Deeplinks offers one incentive, saying it will guarantee return traffic to apps that install AppWords (although it doesn’t say how):

Why host deep links in your app? Because we’ll drive qualified traffic back in to your app!. For every 2 clicks out, we’ll send 1 right back in from another app on the marketplace. 

Another hurdle is the fact that only 28% of the top 200 mobile apps supported deep linking as of February, according to deep-linking technology startup URX. But that number is up from 22% just six months earlier, so the practice appears to be catching on. Expect to see more interesting innovations pop out of the deep-link field as it does.

Photo by dcJohn

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