What is deep linking?
Deep linking is the ability to link into a specific page inside of a native iOS or Android mobile app (as opposed to a mobile website). Deep links let you open up specific content pages (as opposed to a front page of a website), and pass through custom data (like promo codes, etc.)
Why are deep links needed?
Apps were built to stand alone. They weren’t built for inter-operability. Think of the early apps as the entrance to a house. Apps were built for a single entry point, like a front door. The mindset was that every one of an app’s users would open that app from the home screen of their phone, in all cases. So everyone would funnel through that same front door. There was no thought given to engaging a user from other places, like email, SMS/iMessage, social media, or other apps.
The simplest form of deep linking, core deep linking allows you to open specific pages in your app with no SDK, and no in-app integration of any sort. As long as your app has a scheme and a router in place, you’re good to go.
A service like Deeplink enables you to just prepend your URL’s with ‘deeplink.me/…' and routes the traffic through Safari or Chrome, which will detect if the app is installed or not. Based on that, the user is then either routed to the correct page inside the app, or the mobile web version, or the App Store (based on what the developer sets in the Deeplink portal). This is the simplest deep linking solution, that requires no SDK.
Not everyone will have your app. And driving a download is great, but why not let them proceed right to the relevant app content once the app is opened for the first time? That’s where Deferred Deep Links come in.
When a deep link is tapped, your new customer will first be redirected to the relevant App Store or Play Store page to drive an app download, and then take the user to the specific page upon first app launch. Passing data through the install allows you to create custom flows for each user, remove UX friction, and attribute downloads and conversions properly.
Most apps can handle a simple link structure that looks a lot like a web URL. For example, if you have the Facebook app on your iOS device, open Safari and type fb:// into the address bar, and then press “Go.” The Facebook app will open right up. That’s because apps have a unique local address. On iOS, this is a URL Scheme that is declared in your app’s info.plist file.
Apple's answer: Universal Links
In iOS9, Apple unveiled Universal Links, a solution to make launching app content from a web link as seamless and clean as possible. Universal Links check when tapped to see whether the app is installed or not, and don’t require a browser window to open. That’s fantastic from a UI perspective. However, there are inherent issues with Universal Links, including the lack of visibility and tracking, the need to make changes to both your app and web codebase, and the fact that the end user can easily (and accidentally) turn off the deep linking component, which is virtually irreversible on a device.
Android Deep Link
Much like Apple’s Universal Links, Android’s App Links will open an app right to specific content inside an Android app. However, custom URI Schemes remain the larger driver of deep link interactions on Android devices.
Virtually everyone and their mother has released some sort of protocol for deep linking. Facebook had App Links, Twitter had Twitter Cards, and some ad companies even got together to create a deep linking standard for advertisers. There were also some startups that tried to create a standard. But none of them stuck, and all of them are either dead or remain rarely used.
The problem with a standard is that it requires all platforms to agree. But when dealing with massive competitive brands like Apple, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, cooperation is a lofty goal. So we built Deeplink to address all needs, handle all environments, and work from wherever.
Anywhere where you place a link, you should place a deep link instead. Email certainly jumps to mind as a key use case. Social media posts, SMS marketing, advertising… The use cases are endless! But they all drive the same general result: better app retention, re-engagement, and conversions (whatever that metric is for you).
Two reasons… First, because it offloads the operational headache of managing your deep linking launcher. Each version of each OS brings new challenges and a different approach to deep linking. It’s not something most companies want to worry about. Think of it like email. You could build your own email server, and add in many of the features of an enterprise email platform. But isn’t your time better spent paying for Gmail and building your own product? (Spoiler alert: the answer is “Yes”)
Secondly, we’ve built tons of stuff atop our deep linking solution. Not only do we have the best deep links in the world, but we also provide all sorts of analytics and reporting, the ability to white-label the launcher screen, Deferred Deep Links, and of course, AppWords to help drive search and retention.