Deeplinks: The End of the Road for the Mobile Web
We’ve all seen the stats about the amount of time spent online, on desktop versus mobile. And then drilling down into mobile we’ve seen the stats about time spent in browser versus all other apps. Without being too dramatic, it would seem the end is nigh for the mobile web. On mobile, the web has run out of places to go, the road is coming to a dead end.
The power of the world wide web was the ability to easily connect people and information in a many-to-many fashion. Connecting people made sense. You had to give them a node in the network, but from there the connecting would nearly take care of itself. That’s the nature of people. We connect, share and communicate. The size and the density of the network intensified as getting your own node in the network became easier. (geocities–> wordpress–> facebook page.)
Connected data isn’t quite as straight forward. Data isn’t social in it’s very DNA like people are. Data isn’t organically going to expand its reach. Data has to be intentionally moved. Trails have to be blazed, tools have to be developed, behaviours have to be taught. Despite all that, the very structure of the web made the big-bang-esque spread of data possible. Building a two way bridge between any two web pages was less than trivial. Additionally, browsers developed a navigation paradigm that though simple in concept was crudely effective: the back button.
In a stark contrast to the web, building a bridge between two mobile apps has been near impossible until very recently. A virtual wall exists between each piece of software. Every time a user wants to go from one app to another they have to stop by their home screen on the way. The back button exists at a hardware level on Android but is virtually unseen in iOS. The ability to double-tap the home button is still a well kept secret on iOS, and not as useful.
The power of the web was the connectivity. The ability to create meaningful relationships between two separate entities by linking them together. Now with the rise of deep links apps are finally starting to embrace that connectivity. The walls are coming down.
So what’s a deep link (often shortened to deeplink in mobile lingo)? It’s a bridge between one app and another. Or more accurately, a bridge connecting content within different apps. In web terms, it’s a link that works like links are supposed to work.
Consider Amazon. If every link ever created to Amazon.com had landed directly at http://www.amazon.com they’d still be selling only books, not trying to deliver pizza via drones.
The reason Amazon (and ecommerce as a whole) worked was because of links.
- It makes advertising and retargeting possible; without links, ads for products on Amazon.com would convert terribly as each customer would end up on the home page instead of the product page.
- Organic Social Discovery: I could find shoes that weren’t right for me but perfect for my friend- and send him a direct link.
- Amazon could send an email with a recommended product and link me directly to them, not to the homepage where I’d have to copy and paste the name product before scouring search results.
- Amazon’s footprint grew tremendously because of content based performance marketers connecting their readership/viewership with a direct link and easy purchase flow while earning affiliate commission in the process.
The times are a changing.
Google is going deep (pun intended) on linking. Despite the self driving cars, balloon powered internet and failed wearables, Google is at its core a search company. And if there are no links to in-app content, there’s nothing for their spiders to crawl. There’s no search, and there’s no Google.
One of the first prominent examples of deeplinking was Uber’s
integration with Google maps. In fact, Uber is leading the charge on interconnected apps with their API release last summer. And then they went even deeper with their Button integration. Uber wants you to have access to Uber no matter what platform you use, or what apps you spend your time in.
Besides Google, there’s another big push from a major player in the mobile space: Facebook with their App Links. They claim more than 3 billion App Links created to date, and though that sounds impressive it seems mostly contained to their significant launch partners. Nonetheless, when all the elephants in the room get into the same clown car you have to wonder where they are headed.
At this point there’s very little doubt that the future of mobile apps involves deeplinks. Like most of the mobile infrastructure ecosystem, the technology becomes truly powerful when it’s designed into the core experience, not as an afterthought bolted on to grab Techcrunch coverage.
So where are we headed?
Right now mobile deeplinking is a messy space.
Button, URX, deeplink.me, Quixey and Tapstream are companies making waves, many of them working together on new standards and server-to-server interoperability. And that list doesn’t include the previously listed efforts from Google, Facebook and even Twitter to move the ball forward.
These providers can be divided into two camps: those providing Deferred Deeplinks and those providing deeplinks at scale. Deferred deeplinks are the extension of standard deeplinks that solve the last piece of the puzzle – they work even for first time users who clicked on the link before the app was installed. Standard deeplinks only work if the destination app is already on the device, a profound limitation of an otherwise powerful technology.
In 2014, Tapstream was the first platform to announce deferred deeplinks that worked both on iOS and Android: the ability to pass intent from a link click pre-install to an app immediately post-install. This opened up vast opportunities for developers to personalize and customize the experience for brand new users, create in-app landing pages, pre-fill registration forms, populate shopping carts, etc. In effect, deferred deeplinking was the missing piece that deeplinks needed to finally bring the app experience as close to the web as it’s ever been.
To get deeplinks integrated in every app they have to bring a substantial value to developers. Not hypothetical, someday-maybe-wouldn’t-it-be-cool value, but legitimate move-the-needle, bottom-line value. Deeplinked apps have to undeniably drive more revenue than similar apps left out in the storm all alone. The apps that have taken the leap are seeing night-and-day differences in their user retention and engagement.
What does deep linking value look like across verticals?
Typically they still don’t care about deeplinks. With games designed as they currently are there’s honestly not much upside. This is interesting because games drive the majority of innovation in the mobile ecosystem. They make more money, pioneer new technology and are generally willing to try anything to reduce COCA or increase LTV. Deeplinking’s total ubiquity won’t happen until there’s a clear case for using them in games.
These apps need standard and deferred deeplinks in a bad way. See the bit above about Amazon. The mobile first amazon doesn’t exist yet because deeplinks haven’t matured yet. Expect this to change fast – the ecommerce companies need (and are currently actively implementing) deeplinks.
We’ll get to a point very soon when social apps without deeplinks seem useless. It will be the primary reason for churn and why users will install then abandon your app. It’s obvious why any app with a profile and a social nucleus will benefit from strengthening the ties that bond users through deeplinks, especially deferred deeplinks.
The ability to connect users new and old to specific points of value, whether those are people, products or information inside an app is universally useful. Consider these very carefully before giving up on deeplinking.
Redirect pages are a key part of what makes standard and deferred deep links work. They are also the last stand of the mobile web. Native apps are more powerful, richer in features and now an ingrained paradigm in consumers’ heads- their total domination of mobile has been halted by the lack of natural network effects amplifying connected content. With the rise of deep links, the last barriers are gone, the native app bridges are built and the mobile web is left alone in the desert.