How to Put Deep Linking to Good Use

I love cooking and therefore I’ve subscribed to a number of recipe websites. Every day I go through email digests on my smartphone to explore interesting recipes I’d like to try. Inevitably I click to view one or two that look appealing and am then taken to the mobile site. There is usually a banner giving me the option to view it in the app. When I initially clicked the link in the email, I hoped it would automatically open in the native app, but alas went straight to the app store. This is the crux of the deep linking issue. It’s annoying to view a recipe on the mobile site when I have the app installed on my phone, allowing for a better interface. Why didn’t the link detect that it was installed and forward me there automatically? No doubt, many who feel exactly the same way.


Deep Linking Basics

What is deep linking, and how should you use it? In simple terms, it’s the ability to link within apps and between them. The problem of mobile apps is that there are no URLs. Instead, we’re dealing with screens. Whether it’s a link in an email or an ad, it needs to forward the user to the correct app screen. And if the app isn’t installed on the mobile device, the link needs to forward the user to the appropriate app store, known as deferred deep linking. Regular deep linking is when the user already has the app installed, clicks on an ad, and is transferred to a specific app screen. 

Deep linking is important for mobile app advertisers, too. When it comes to ads, users don’t want any surprises after they click. Instead, they want to get the content they’re expecting, in the interface they’re expecting. If you’re not using deep links in your user acquisition campaigns or your retention campaigns, then you might be wasting both time and money. 

User Acquisition

You create a promotion to grow your user base and you include the critical link. Have you ever thought about what happens to your potential users after they click, when you’re not using a deferred deep linking solution? You have to hope and pray they’re getting to the right place. They could potentially end up in the wrong app store or even worse, end up on the landing page of another app.

The ideal scenario is:

  1. A user will click on an ad for a specific promotion
  2. The link will detect their device type, meaning iPhone, Android, etc
  3. The user will be transferred to the correct app store, meaning iTunes if they have an iOS device or Google Play if they have an Android device
  4. They will be taken to your app’s landing page in the app store
  5. Successthey download the app
  6. The app will automatically open to the screen associated with the promotion in the ad

While I boiled this down to six simple steps, this will only happen if you’re using a deep linking solution in your campaigns. This case specifically highlights deferred deep linking, which directs the user to correct app store and then the corresponding screen from the ad. When everything is working properly, it’s a seamless experience for the user. 

User Retention and Retargeting

Beyond your user acquisition campaigns, there’s no doubt you invest a significant portion of your ad budget on retention campaigns. It’s critical to keep the users you’ve worked so hard to bring. Savvy marketers that you are, you’ve analyzed the data on your users and you’re using it to target them to use the app again or make an in-app purchase. No doubt this is starting to feel a bit familiar. 

It just may not work as you anticipated. In September Venturebeat reported on a failed OpenTable campaign, where users clicked on an ad expecting to be taken to another ad about their favorite restaurant, but instead were driven to an another company’s ad for mobile games. This is a great example of how the deep linking problem leads to mobile marketing issues and a disruptive user experience. Users were clearly taken aback by in this campaign because of the expectations of what they would see. As a mobile marketer, would you want this to happen to your campaign?


Let’s consider another example, a gaming app would like to A/B test out two different types of promotions to keep users playing. They send out an email to their users to see if a 100 coin or 150 coin promotion is enough to entice users to reopen the app. Without the use of a deep linking solution the marketer wouldn’t be able to properly attribute the user’s actions to the link in the email campaign. 

Wrapping Up

If you never put much stock into deep linking, I hope this has helped you reconsider. Don’t underestimate how critical it is to use it in all you mobile ads. Don’t miss an opportunity to get a new user or retain a loyal one. For instance, AppsFlyer’s OneLink can be used on Android, iOS, and Windows devices to both detect and attribute your users’ actions. You’ll then know if they came from an email campaign, a QR code, social media, or another medium.

About the Author: 

deep-linking-florence-broderFlorence Broder is the content manager at AppsFlyer and has 10 years of digital marketing experience. She loves all things social and content-related and is thrilled that she can now work in the mobile analytics field, after dabbling in it in her previous position at Como.