It’s Time For Deep Linking To Move Past The Plumbing

Guest author Matt Thomson is the chief product officer at Bitly.

We’ve heard a lot about deep links so far this year. from Google at I/O and Apple at WWDC. My employer, Bitly, threw its hat in the ring, too. But I feel like the industry is stuck talking about how to implement deep links—and not why.

With 70 percent of mobile commerce taking place inside apps, marketers need to take control of app re-engagement—with deep links. Similarly, deep links make it easier to move users from app to app. 

A classic example: Google Maps not only provides driving times but also offers Ubers—redirecting you right into the Uber app. The promise of integration is huge, but this is a one-off example. The question going forward is how we can enable these linked customer experiences all the time?

A Frothy Investment in Plumbing

A majority of initial and current hype around deep linking comes from the investment side. Venture capitalists hope indexing app content will be monumentally different than indexing Web content—and that the unindexed content within mobile apps will somehow be a Trojan Horse they can roll into Google’s citadel.

The current problem: Deep links are being used for plumbing—if they’ve even be implemented. In many cases, they haven’t even been installed, making app interactions hard to track. Many app developers and product pros are looking at deep linking as an afterthought. According to URX, only 28 of the top 100 apps even have deep links in place.

While some strides have been made, the deep-link market is still nascent. This poses a threat for startups because big VC money goes toward educating the market and the “capturing value” part of the conversation is either too far out or imminently dominated by a larger player. It’s important for companies to spend time educating customers about what deep linking is and why it’s valuable.

To accomplish this, startups need strong use cases to point to so the industry can move beyond deep linking implementation details and into customer experience.

Deep Links And The Mobile Search War

Deep-linking adoption got a boost when Google and Apple made it more enticing for all apps to name, expose, and index deep links. At its I/O developer conference, Google announced Now on Tap and recently unveiled ways for locations inside of apps to surface in search results via App Indexing. At its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced Spotlight for iOS, and it’s expected that 70% of all iOS devices will have the new deep-linking capabilities within five months from rollout—which could happen as soon as this month.

Apple and Google are giving developers more incentive to create deep-link locations in their apps, while simultaneously educating the market.

App-To-App And Word-Of-Mouth Links Will Win

Beyond search, there are many other ways for the industry to locate hidden content within apps—for example, mobile-Web-to-app or app-to-app. The latter is particularly interesting, with users spending 84% of mobile time in apps.

The app-to-app experience is the market many power startups are pursuing. URX, Button, and Quixey are attempting to enable app discovery and engagement from within other apps. Like Google and Apple, they’ve built robust search and ad-serving technologies by scouring deep links to understand what inside an app is worth surfacing to users. These companies will have long lives, but the company who combines its technology with an ad form factor that feels more native will prosper.

Additionally, a huge opportunity exists for marketers to leverage other digital channels to drive app engagement. As many as 52% of consumers discover apps via social media—so deep linking within posts and tweets is imperative to capitalize on that massive opportunity, both organically (word-of-mouth) and inorganically.

When it comes to customer experience, it ultimately falls on the marketer to give customers the best ways to move in and out of a product, including enticing users into apps. Yet direct marketing such as email, SMS, and even paid media are still stepchildren when it comes to deep linking. These channels are key to reengaging customers over long periods of time on the Web.

Given the increasing need to trace the customer journey in and out of apps and solving problems such as sustaining app engagement, locking in high-lifetime-value users and making the app’s value clear to them, there’s a huge opportunity for the deep-linking industry. First, though, we have to move the conversation past the plumbing and into where the money flows.

Photo courtesy of Picbasement.com

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