With 70 percent of mobile commerce taking place in-app, marketers need deep links in order to take control of app re-engagement. Similarly, deep links make it easier to move users app-to-app. A classic example: Google Maps not only provides driving times but also offers Ubers, redirecting users right into the Uber app. The promise of integration is huge, but this is a one-off example. The question going forward is, how can we enable these customer experiences all the time?
Moving Beyond Implementation
A majority of initial and current hype around deep linking comes from the investment side. VCs hope indexing app content will be monumentally different than indexing web content. As a result, the unindexed content within mobile apps could end up breaking Google’s current dominance in search and digital discovery.
The current problem: Deep links are being used for plumbing and in many cases aren’t even implemented yet. An even bigger issue is that many app developers and product pros are looking at deep linking as an afterthought. According to URX, only 28 percent of the top 200 apps even have deep linking tags in place.
So while we’ve seen the deep link market make some strides, it’s still nascent. For startups offering deep link solutions, that means a lot of their VC money will go toward educating the market, while the opportunity to capture the market is either too far out or could be dominated by a larger player.
In order to push the market forward, startups need to showcase strong use cases so the industry can move beyond deep linking implementation details and into how deep links improve the customer experience.
The Emerging Frontier
Deep linking adoption got a massive boost when Google and Apple made it more enticing for all apps to name, expose, and index deep links. At I/O this past May, Google announced Now on Tap and unveiled ways for locations inside of apps to surface in search results via App Indexing. Apple announced Spotlight for iOS, and it’s expected that 70 percent of all iOS devices will have the new deep linking capabilities within five months of the planned fall 2015 rollout.
Apple and Google are giving developers more incentive to create deep link locations in their apps, while simultaneously educating the market.
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 given that users spend 84 percent of mobile time in-app.
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 that 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 percent of consumers discover apps via social media — so deep linking within social media posts and other content is imperative to capitalize on that massive opportunity, both through word-of-mouth and experience.
When it comes to customer experience, it ultimately falls to marketers to give customers the best ways to move in and out of a product, including enticing users into apps. Yet deep linking is rarely implemented within direct marketing channels such as email, SMS, or even paid media. This has to change because these channels are the channels that are key to re-engaging 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 LTV (lifetime value) users and making the app’s value clear, there’s a huge opportunity for the deep linking industry.
Matt Thomson is chief product officer at Bitly.