What can app makers like you and me gain from incorporating deep links into our apps?
How can deep-linking help with App Store Optimization (ASO)?
2015 was definitely Deep-link Year. Pinterest announced in February that it was allowing users to install apps directly from App Pins, without ever leaving the Pinterest app. Google announced its new Search API for iOS 9, attempting to help search engine marketers surface deep content from within apps. In March, Facebook announced its own version of deferred deep-linking for App Install Ads. Apple phased out URI-schemes for deep-linking and introduced Universal Links instead, in an attempt to smooth out the deep-link ecosystem.
Deep-linking is turning into a Wild West rodeo. How can we ride this bronco and make the most of it?
Deep-linking: The Internet Of Apps
Deep-linking is as old as the web itself. Without knowing it, you’re using dozens of deep links every day. Type in a search term into Google, click on a link on the results page and you’re deep-linked directly into the heart of another website.
In other words, deep links allow us to reference content on the web without using a logical or hierarchical structure. Instead of navigating the front page and categories of a single blog, you search with keywords through a multitude of blogs and directly navigate to the most relevant article.
Deep-linking for apps is not any different. Apps you install on your smartphone are essentially airtight “containers;” they all live on their own little island. Except for communicating with the app’s back-end, no information goes in or out of those island, especially not between apps.
Deep-linking breaks through the barrier between individual apps, creating an “Internet of apps”. Let’s look at some examples:
- The phone number link:
tel:1-408-555-5555. This has been around since the first version of iOS. When you’d open a webpage and Safari recognized a phone number, you could tap it to start the Phone app and make a call.
- The YouTube video link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIDEO_ID. Looking just like an ordinary URL, your smartphone recognizes you’re about to open a YouTube Web page and instead attempts to open the YouTube app.
- The Twitter App Card:
myapp://recipe/50427.This is where the opportunity lies for app marketers. You can essentially connect a deep link URL with a tweet, which will show your app right below the tweet in a user’s timeline.
How can deep-linking benefit App Store Optimization?
Although deep-linking isn’t exactly part of ASO, it can greatly influence your rankings by driving downloads. Just like content marketing, search engine optimization and influencer outreach help your app move up the charts, deep-linking should be part of any good app marketing strategy.
Let’s first look at three kinds of deep-linking.
Content-based deep links
Say you’ve got a blog and a visitor is about to share one of your articles. A deep link URL scheme is embedded in the OpenGraph meta tags of the article Web page, connecting the article on the Web with the article in your app.
When a Facebook (or Twitter or Pinterest) user sees the article share in their timeline, instead of navigating to the article on the Web, they will navigate to the article in your app. If they don’t have it installed, they can install your app from within the Facebook app, without ever switching to the App Store.
What if you want to drive installs through other channels? Only a small segment of apps supports installing new apps without going through the App Store first. This poses a problem: you lose the connection with the shared content.
When Alice wants to share a recipe with Bob, but Bob first has to install the Recipe app, the Recipe app doesn’t remember what recipe was linked to in the first place! This problem can be solved using a technique that’s often called “deferred deep-linking”.
Instead of deep-linking directly into the app, an intermediate Web page is used that places an attribution cookie on the user’s smartphone. The Web page is personalized with a preview of the content and includes a strong Call-To-Action (CTA) to install the app. When the user returns to the app, after installing it, the attribution cookie is read and the app shows the deep-linked content.
Note: with the release of iOS 9, Apple introduced Universal Links, which essentially circumvents the “app installed or not” problem by using a real web URL that contains information about its counterpart deep-link content.
This is perhaps the most straightforward method of deep-linking. Instead of working with the web, advertising-based deep links directly link between apps. An advertiser creates an ad with a deep link and distributes that in its app channels. When a user has the advertiser’s app installed, it will show the advertisement. A click-through will take the user to the advertiser’s app.
Of course, this only works if the advertiser’s app is installed on a large number of smartphones and the network’s reach is high enough to drive click-throughs to its advertisers. Depending on the network and its technological solution, these deep links can have a Web-based fall-back, too.
Based on these three kinds of deep-linking, you can virtually come up with an infinite amount of deep link-based marketing methods.
- If you have a blog or content-based website, and an app, make sure you match the Web page with the content in your app based on a deep link. When a user sees your content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or the Google results page, they can install your app and open the content as if it were an ordinary hyperlink.
- Even if you only have an app sales or landing page, it pays to connect it to a deep link. Many businesses rely on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to build organic content around their products. Just like you would put a Call-To-Action on your Pinterest board, or pin a high CTR post on your Facebook page, you can mix deep link-enabled posts, tweets and pins with ordinary organic content.
- The age-old marketing method “Tell A Friend” is hotter than ever. Using deferred deep-linking, you can send a deep link to the networks of your app’s users. Instead of sending a simple app invite, your app’s users can contextually link to content that might interest their friends. Thanks to deferred deep-linking, the connection with the shared content remains intact, which results in a higher click-through rate and higher in-app engagement.
- With the same deferred deep link method you can essentially run all kinds of promotions on your app. Got a game with in-app money? Create a deep link intermediate Web page that gives a discount on the game money, and share it on your Facebook or Twitter page. Existing users can benefit from the offer, resulting in higher engagement for you, and new users are introduced to your app and can install it from the same Web page.
- Rumour has it Apple is moving away from web-based advertising, indicated by the introduction of content blocking. If that’s true, native advertising with deep links will be deeply impacted. It could be advantageous to enroll in a native advertising network. If you have a smaller audience, you could lend your app to advertisers, and if you have a bigger audience, you could benefit from native advertising to drive engagement in your own apps.
What’s next? Even though it appears every player in the app industry has its own approach to deep-linking, there’s much to be gained from incorporating it into your app.
Deep-linking simply connects the Web and its content discovery aspects to your app, which in turn is a big driver for app installs and engagement.
If you wish to dive deeper into what deep-linking can do for your apps, check out one of the following articles.