Deep linking is a big deal, but not in the way you think.
For most people, deep linking is a way to drop a mobile user into a specific, indexable place within an app. As new as deep linking is, it's already taking off. According to URX, one of the top deep linking companies, 33% of the top apps contain publicly accessible deep links. That includes everyone from ESPN to Fandango and YouTube.
That's a nice start, but adoption is about to hit overdrive, given strong support by Apple and Google. In fact, Amit Singhal, SVP of search at Google, recently claimed that Google has indexed 100 billion pages within mobile apps and that 40% of mobile searches on Android return app results.
And yet...that's just the plumbing. It's not even where the most innovative work in mobile app deep linking is being done.
To uncover the potential of deep linking, I sat down with Mike Fyall (@mikefyall), head of marketing at URX.
A business or a feature?
With both Apple and Google pushing to make deep links part of the common fabric of mobile infrastructure, it's somewhat surprising that there are companies dedicated to deep linking: URX, Deeplink.me, Branch Metrics, and more.
But, as Fyall describes, no one is really focused on building standalone deep linking technology businesses. Not anymore. Instead, they're leveraging the data buried in those links to solve other problems within mobile:
There is an enormous opportunity in helping developers build distribution, engagement, and monetization tools for mobile apps. App discovery is still a huge problem. Mobile commerce is still in its infancy. And, publishers are struggling to find advertising solutions that make money without compromising their user experience.
URX, itself, is heavily focused on contextual discovery and monetization. While developers may use its technology to provide "a single-click shortcut to relevant content," as Fyall writes in a separate blog post, the real gold comes from "building a discovery layer for mobile that recommends relevant content to users based on their context."
Playing it safe
Some developers, however, have steered clear of deep links—worried, among other things, about IP issues.
As Fyall points out, however, "The question really isn't about deep linking, it is about app indexing. Deep linking is simply the ability to link inside an app. App indexing is indexing apps just like websites so they can be discovered via search. There are many benefits for both users and developers to be able to navigate directly to where they want to go."
IP issues aside, the biggest concern for most developers is the potential for "losing their relationship with their customers" because, as Fyall continues, "Increasingly, Apple, Google, and social platforms like Facebook and Twitter want to use publisher content without linking back to their own site."
Developers are stuck with having to decide between a great customer experience or one that is more easily monetized.
There are no easy answers, Fyall warns. "Developers need to seriously weigh the tradeoff between discoverability and control. Over time, I'm confident that the search engines will find the right balance and that everyone that enables web crawlers on their desktop site will also enable app indexing."
To his point, it won't matter very much if publishers retain absolute control over their content if no one reads it due to poor discoverability.
The future of deep linking
So, where do we go from here?
According to Fyall, there are two huge opportunities for deep linking that will make it essential:
First, when search or discovery tools drive significantly more traffic to indexed apps. The reason that every website allows Google to search them is because so much traffic comes from search. The same thing doesn't happen yet on mobile, of course, but he reasons "If Google Now or Spotlight starts driving tons of traffic, everyone will do it."
Second, he suggests, "the retailers that enable deep linking are going to crack mobile commerce first." Apps convert at 3x the rate that mobile websites do and create a more seamless experience with an easier way to pay. They need to be able to shorten the path to purchase, and deep links can help them do it.
Every company needs to be thinking about mobile, which increasingly means they also need to be thinking about deep linking. That said, publishers need to figure out how to balance their urge for control with the need for discoverability. There are no easy answers here, but there is plenty of opportunity.
- How deep linking can fix mobile (TechRepublic)
- Pro tip: Manage your Google Now cards history with ease (TechRepublic)
- Does there need to be an app for that? (TechRepublic)
- Here's how to start on your company's mobile strategy (TechRepublic)
Matt is currently head of the developer ecosystem at Adobe. The views expressed are his own, not those of his employer.
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.