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The what, how, and why of deep linking

Building an app isn’t as difficult as it seems. But what comes next - attracting users - has proven to be the most difficult task of all. Once you’ve built an app, you need to explicitly target the right audience, drive engagement by making the right offerings, and ultimately increase revenue by directly leading users to the right place in your app.

Luckily, our ability to do that with hyper-targeted precision has just gotten better - with the emergence of ‘deep linking’ as a way to empower app developers to more quickly, seamlessly, and effectively answer specific consumer needs.

Below we decipher the what, how, and why of deep linking. We look at exactly what it is, how you can apply it to your app, and why it can benefit your mobile strategy.  

What is deep linking?

A deep link is a hyperlink that, rather than linking to an app’s main page, links to a specific piece of content or page in an app. Deep linking is a way for you to display your product more precisely, and therefore effectively, by directing your user past your app’s homepage and into the specific pages containing the relevant content that they engaged with.

In order to increase conversion, apps utilize deep linking to generate traffic to pages with in-app purchases or special offerings. Deep linking, for example, allows for a retail app to show an ad for a dress on mobile web and, upon clicking the ad, the user is taken directly to the page within the app where the dress is made available for purchase - seamlessly converting mobile web users to app users, as well as driving revenue - all through the use of deep linking.

In another example, a gaming app can promote today’s ‘special deal’ on weapons in an ad, which will then take the user directly to that specific IAP offering, as opposed to the game’s main page or general IAP Store, where they would need to look for that specific IAP package. In other words, by simplifying the conversion process, targeting content discoverability and seamlessly optimizing the app’s user flow, it can directly lead potential buyers to what they would like to buy. 

1. Traditional deep linking

This is the basic hyperlink that links to a specific page within an app. The issue with traditional deep links is that they won’t work if the app has not previously been installed in the user's’ phone. The phone will look for the app content and, if not installed, will show an error. This means this kind of deep linking won’t work as a way to drive new installs of your app.

2. Deferred deep linking

With deferred deep linking, access to specific content in an app is simply ‘deferred’ until after a user installs the app. The user can click on a link that points to a specific page or content inside an app which they haven’t actually installed. In the meantime, the deep link will direct the user to the relevant app store to install the app and then, once installed, will instantly redirect the user to the specific content they wanted and were expecting - no search required. In other words, deferred deep linking allows for seamless and precise movement across mobile web, apps and the app store.

3. Contextual deep linking

Contextual deep links take deferred deep linking one step further. While the user is immediately directed to the content of the links within the app whether or not the app has been installed, contextual deep links can also store and pass referring information through the app store - bringing the app relevant information about who the user is, where they came from, which ad campaign they clicked, and where they want to go. 

Contextual deep links are useful for both sides of the exchange. They can improve a developer's app personalization process by incorporating features such as personalized welcomes (where you see your friend's recommendation in the app if they share an item with you), while providing the user with a better experience, more personal ads, and highly relevant information.

How can you apply it to your app?

1. In-app ads

In-app messages can appear as a part of an app’s onboarding process and also function as a great re-engagement tool for people already using your app. According to Localytics, apps that utilize in-app messages increase user retention by 2-3.5 times. Add a ‘buy now’ button in a banner over relevant mobile content, instantly delivering the user the same content in-app to give them a continuous experience.

2. Push notifications

Promote any special deal or content offered in your app using push notifications.You can utilize push notifications to bring back users who don’t frequent your app very often. Limited in length and quantity, this method can be very effective for immediate messages that deep link to a specific page in your app (for example, a push notification for a Sale announcement that will open to your app’s ‘discounted items’ page).

So your users will see an ad promoting a new IAP offering, and will then be brought to the specific page with that offering. Push notifications can also be used to spur users to download a new feature of your app - bringing them straight to the app store for the download, and then back to the last page they were at in your app.

Why is it beneficial?

1. Deep linking boosts user acquisition

Instead of expecting a new or potential user to move from a browser (where they saw an ad) to the app store and conduct their own search for your app, you can use a deep link to direct them straight to a specific screen in your app. This gives you more control over your app's targeting process, with the potential to reach an entirely new audience that is experiencing your brand for the first time in a more effective way. You can track what these potential users liked, and direct them to pages within your app that they are more likely to engage with.

2. Deep linking eases your app’s onboarding process

Normally, clicking an ad promoting a specific feature or offering within an app would lead a user to that app’s generic homepage, its mobile website, or to the app store to download the app. This takes a potential user away from the app, putting in an extra step that might deter them from completing the installation process. Even once installed, a user would have to navigate to the specific page or special offer that was shown in the ad by themselves.

These links tend to dump the user at the front door, leaving him or her to sift through countless pages within the app to find what they were looking for in the first place. By linking to specific pages within apps, deep links allow you to place the user directly within reach of the content, product or functionality they want - providing you with one of the most effective ways to get your content in front of the right consumers.

3. Deep linking optimizes user engagement

Every app page is now a potential home or landing page, as every section in your app is now an area you can deep link to. By allowing potential customers to go directly to specific or relevant landing pages rather than simply opening the app, you create an invaluable and highly personalized user experience - increasing efficiency and improving your app’s UX by optimizing the browsing experience for the user and engaging with them on their terms.

4. Deep linking increases revenue 

Deep links allow developers to drastically improve ROI by driving traffic to specific pages based on different user interests - building a shortcut for users looking to make a purchase or convert on an in-app offering. Specific pages, when linked to specific users at a specific time, will lead to greater opportunity for revenue.

With more of our time spent in mobile apps, providing targeted navigation between apps and within pages in apps is becoming more critical. Deep links provide exposure for the content inside your apps, and shorten the distance and time between new users and the content they will enjoy. Through pinpointed navigation based on specific user interests, deep links allow you to bridge the gap between you and your users by building app experiences that directly and precisely fulfill their needs.

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