How We Built Deferred Deep Links


Update: We have just released the second generation of our Deferred Deep Linking technology – called Onboarding Links. Mobile marketers can now do more to engage and retain new users than ever before. Read more about the industry’s most powerful deferred deep linking platform.

Yesterday, Tapstream announced something new for the world of mobile deep links: deep links that work even for apps not yet installed. Unlike other deep link services, Tapstream deferred deep links go a step further and work through the App Store barrier.

The opportunity

Deep links are the mobile equivalent of web URLs: they take a visitor from an ad click on a mobile device to an exact location inside the app. This is useful if you’re advertising a specific product, upsell, or content piece within an app.

It’s especially powerful for apps that are mirrors of websites with large amounts of content, social information, or other complex sitemaps. With deep linking, a mobile web user can discover content via web search engines and then be taken to that exact content with the website’s app. Google’s App Indexing takes this even further by allowing websites to link directly from Google’s search engine results to their Android app.

But all of this is predicated on one assumption: that the user has the app installed.

If the app isn’t already on the user’s device, there’s nothing listening to the app intent or handling the registered URL. And simply kicking the user to the app store to download the app is a terrible user experience: when the user installs your app, when they finally open it, they won’t be sent to the deep link destination. Tapstream Deferred Deep Links fix this broken UX.

So how does Tapstream fix this problem?

When promoting their app, developers use Tapstream’s taps.io shortlinks as their ad destination URLs. When a visitor taps on one of these shortlinks, Tapstream records a snapshot of their shortlink session, including the ad’s source and their intended deep link destination.

Then, the taps.io redirect handler attempts to send the user to the deep link destination. If this fails, it means the app is not present on the user’s device; the user is then redirected to the app store but the actual deep link is stored on our servers.

Once the user installs and runs the app for the first time, the Tapstream SDK sends an installation event to the Tapstream event API. This tells our attribution engine to find a mate for the SDK session among the pool of eligible shortlink sessions.

When the attribution engine mates the shortlink session to the SDK session, we credit the shortlink with a conversion.

Now, back to the app. The Tapstream SDK allows the app developer to register for a callback that provides the app with the user’s entire context, including which campaign brought them to the app, what deep link was attached to it, and more. The app developer can now grab the intended deep link destination and move the user there.

Tapstream’s attribution engine makes conversion decisions in near-real time at massive scale, allowing us to push the conversion data down to the SDK in time for the developer to meaningfully alter the user experience based on this data.

Deferred Deep linking is a feature available in every Tapstream account (including our generous Free tier). Setting up a registered URL handler on iOS is easy, and Android intent URLs don’t require any extra work – start using Deferred Deep Links now to make your marketing even more effective.