Is Deep Linking The New Digital Marketing Battleground?
With the introduction of deep linking in iOS 9, Apple is taking on Google in mobile search. Columnist Alex Lirtsman takes a look at the new turf war.
In a mobile-first era with sinking conversion rates (due to cross-device tracking challenges) and high levels of distraction, most of our time as marketers is spent on understanding and optimizing a disconnected ecosystem and a distracted consumer. By “ecosystem,” I mean the connective tissue that creates seamless experiences for users across devices that is trackable and optimized to intent — the moment that will generate the highest propensity to convert.
Unfortunately, most marketers have not been able to take advantage of that opportunity. By the time they can connect the dots, the user has already moved on. He or she either purchased the product elsewhere or lost interest. Blame the fickle attention span of today’s on-demand mobile consumer.
This got me thinking about deep linking opportunities, especially in the context of Apple’s upcoming iOS 9 release.
Deep linking, in simplest terms, is the ability to link to a specific page inside an app. It’s very much like a Web URL. Each app has its own structure.
For example, a Twitter desktop URL looks like “twitter.com/alirtsman.” A deep link URL for an app would look like “twitter://user?screen_name=alirtsman”.
The Promise Of Improved App Discoverability
To take this a step further, iOS 9 will also introduce a seamless in-app search experience, and according to Apple, “improve its discoverability by displaying your content when users search across the system and on the Web.”
While iOS 9’s search features are still nascent (in fact, they’re in beta as of this writing) they have the potential to challenge Google’s dominance in mobile search and usher in a new turf war over rank. The world Apple is envisioning is a user searching across the Web and apps without having to open a browser, let alone go to Google or Yahoo.
To make this happen, developers will be required to add code to their markup to allow their app content to be found in Spotlight search, and even more language to facilitate their Web URLs to seamlessly open app content. For now, there needs to be a layer in between the link and the content that allows first for detection of the platform, and summarily handles the deep link from there.
A core deep link (like my Twitter example above) can be used in Safari. But if the app is not installed, the users will see an ugly failure, and then they have hit a dead end.
And while most of the big platforms have their own guidelines for deep linking into an app, standardization is a common challenge. Twitter has Twitter Cards, Facebook has App Links, and the list goes on. These are platform-specific versions of deep linking (meaning that if your starting point is not Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc., your users are still lost in the woods of disengagement).
Platforms like Deeplink.me have been making this a bit easier for marketers by mapping out pages that already exist within an app. A Deeplink version of a Twitter link would look like “deeplink.me/twitter.com/alirtsman.” This not only handles launching the app to the right page (if installed) across Android and iOS, but also uses fallback rules, allowing those without the app to land on either Web versions of the content or the app store.
The Next Stage Of The Battle
The next step is for these platforms to begin indexing app content for Apple Search purposes. That will undoubtedly be the next share-of-voice turf war as brands begin competing for rank.
The new opportunity being created is akin to what we had in the late ’90s, with SEO gaining prevalence both as search marketers looked for ways to ensure their products and services were being found, and Google and Yahoo ensured the results offered were relevant to the users. The ecosystem and industry created out of this were massive.
While the future might not create opportunities of this magnitude, the battleground is going to be very similar. Brands will begin focusing on optimizing their apps for more than usability, and instead look for richness and depth of content, or whatever algorithm will be used to power the search results.
One thing is certain, if rolled out correctly, the new ecosystem has a possibility of not just creating real competition for Google as the dominant search for mobile, but it can also provide an entry point for Apple to power all search beyond a mobile device, including desktop, wearables, etc.
[pullquote] “More and more, people are curating their Web or app experiences.”[/pullquote]
“Brands are focused on multiscreen and the tools necessary to simplify the communication,” Noah Klausman, co-founder of Deeplink, told me.
“From a marketer’s perspective, deep linking becomes very relevant because many times, users who have an app on their phone also have the same app on their tablet, their connected home device, their TV — or even their Apple Watches. More and more, people are curating their Web or app experiences.” Apple’s entry into search and deeper ownership of deep linking will only create a more seamless experience.
Along with a fully integrated experience, deep linking could help tackle some of the cross-device attribution issues we’ve been facing. Brands can have a full understanding of the customer journey as their search, email, social, wearable and mobile behavior are fully integrated within this new ecosystem.
And they can also start to engage users at the right place and the right time, or what Google has branded as the Zero Moment of Truth. This new ecosystem can offer intuitive remarketing that goes one step further by targeting the most relevant users who have a higher propensity to purchase.
It’s the sixth sense brands never knew they needed. So there’s browse behavior, purchase behavior, geofencing data, social data, and so on, all employed across devices and experiences. With the advance in deep linking, we can have a 360-degree view to properly model and predict behavior. The question is, however, will Apple begin to share that data as it starts to play in Google’s backyard?
Editor’s note: For in-depth info on optimizing for Apple search, check out this App Indexing series on our sister site, Search Engine Land.