The Crucial Role Deep Linking Should Play in Your Mobile App
Published: January 25, 2016
Hyperlinks exist everywhere on the Web—in articles, email messages, social-media posts, you name it. In theory, they should provide one-click access for those who seek additional information. But every now and then, users encounter a link that leads only to a Web site’s landing page, an app’s home screen, or completely unrelated content—basically, nowhere useful.
While most Web-site creators have mastered the art of effective hyperlinking, the mobile community has yet to catch on fully. Sure, many apps feature hyperlinks—but they’re not deep links.
Deep links provide direct access to specific content. While generic links might go to a Web site’s homepage—for example, http://www.website.com—deep links send users straight to a particular page or section within that site—for example, http://www.website.com/page/section/.
In a mobile context, deep linking means one app uses a URI to link to a certain location within a different app—rather than just opening the app and requiring users to navigate to the content they want or need. In other words, it leads a mouse straight to the cheese instead of dropping it into a maze. Speed and convenience are the obvious benefits to the user, but deep linking can also facilitate strong partnerships between brands.
Why Do So Few Apps Go Deep?
Internet users hope and even expect to be able to follow a hyperlink right to the content they need. However, while the app-development community likely recognizes their desires, three main factors prevent app developers from fully embracing deep linking:
- Deep-linking processes on iOS and Android are quite different. At present, there is no clear standard or easy way to extend the feature across both of these popular platforms. App creators must manually create separate deep links for each unique device operating system, which is a time-consuming and burdensome task.
- The topic of deep linking isn’t incredibly exciting or inspiring. Deep linking is a feature that is so simple and so seemingly obvious that it’s often overlooked by brands that are more likely to invest in complex email-marketing or social-media campaigns.
- Because deep linking is such a small feature, users may not realize its value, so there’s little demand to implement it. However, the absence of deep links adds to user frustration and fatigue because users must constantly search for specific content rather than an app’s leading them directly to it.
The Advantages of Deep Linking
Deep links improve user efficiency and reduce the likelihood of users’ deviating from their tasks. Whether users intend to buy a product, watch a video, or read an article, deep links minimize the time it takes them to follow through with their original task. Brands can avoid losing users’ interest by eliminating the need to search high and low for content and, instead, readily providing exactly what users need.
Deep linking is, therefore, an effective means of delivering content or products directly to consumers. It guarantees visibility and increases the odds that users will perform all of the necessary steps to complete a process.
Deep linking offers significant sales potential to app developers—especially ecommerce app creators. Supplying a direct path to a certain product that the user wants to purchase enables that user to complete the transaction with minimal hassle. For example, if a user finds a product using a mobile Web browser, but prefers to use the seller’s app for a more convenient checkout experience, deep linking ensures the app will open to that exact product’s page.
The Best Deep Linkers
Although the trend toward deep linking hasn’t yet gained nearly enough traction, several major brands are already harnessing and capitalizing on the power of deep linking, as follows:
- Yelp—When you Google a restaurant on your smartphone, a Yelp review usually appears as a top result. Clicking the Yelp link immediately opens the app—or prompts you to download it if you haven’t already done so—then takes you directly to the restaurant’s page, instantly providing all the information you were seeking. Plus, clicking the restaurant’s address takes you straight to Apple Maps to get directions, making the entire process quick and seamless.
- Uber and Google Maps—These apps work together to make finding your way a breeze. When you search for directions in Google Maps, you’ll notice that the app provides the options to get there by car, foot, public transport, and now Uber. Not only does the app tell you how long the wait will be and approximately how much it will cost, it also deep links directly to Uber’s app and automatically inputs your destination information. You can request a ride with just one tap.
- Google Search (Android)—Deep linking has been a staple of Android devices for some time now, and the Google Search app is excellent proof of that. A search for Beyoncé, for example, yields a number of results, all of which are deep linked. You can click one of her music videos and the app will redirect you to it in your YouTube app. Or, if you click one of her many social-media handles, Google Search will immediately open the appropriate social-networking app.
- Yummly—This food-and-recipe discovery app has partnered with Instacart, a one hour–grocery delivery service, to perfectly illustrate just how useful it is to deep link between apps. If you find a recipe you like on Yummly, the app will take you directly to the Instacart app to shop for its ingredients. Even more impressive, the app automatically fills your cart with the ingredients on your Yummly shopping list, making it incredibly easy to buy those ingredients to make a meal. The partnership used the third-party, deep-linking service Branch and, according to a case study, has seen positive results thus far.
How Deep Should Mobile Apps Go?
Whether Internet users realize it or not, deep linking is a familiar tactic that has become ingrained in their preferred browsing behaviors. App developers need to recognize the key role that deep linking can play in boosting the quality of an app’s user experience, as well as the significant potential for growth and partnership it offers.
According to a Google study, deep linking is vital to app re-engagement and keeping users coming back for more. Users need not make the decision to open the Yelp app over and over again. Their normal search habits automatically direct them to the content they need.