Survey: URL schemes for deep links increasing in retailer apps

Analysis by mobile tech firm Pure Oxygen Labs indicates slower adoption for Apple’s Universal Links and Google’s App Indexing, at least among retailers.

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Custom URL-based schemes for deep linking are getting more adoption in retailers’ apps than Apple’s Universal Links for iOS or Google’s App Indexing for iOS and Android.

That’s the recently released finding of New York City-based Pure Oxygen Labs, a tech firm that offers a marketers’ platform for managing deep linking with URL schemes, as well as mobile search marketing and optimization.

Although this finding serves the interests of its author, it also indicates a possible trend in the adoption of deep linking standards, at least among retailers. Conducted in April, it follows a similar study by the firm in Summer of 2014.

The bottom line, according to Pure Oxygen: “There has been slow adoption [of Apple’s] Universal Links and [Google’s] App Indexing among retail apps, but a significant increase in the use of URL schemes over the last year.”

Based on an analysis of 117 retailers’ apps from the Internet Retailer 500 top ecommerce brands, Pure Oxygen found that slightly over a third — 35 percent — employ URL schemes, 15 percent support Apple’s Universal Links, and only four percent have Google’s App Indexing. A number don’t support deep linking at all, and some use more than one kind.

The 2014 survey, chief marketing officer Scott Allan told me, included 50 top retailers, most of which are in the current report. Only nine of those 50 employed URL schemes for deep linking, about 18 percent. This was before the general availability of Apple’s Universal Links and Google’s App Indexing.

Deep links provide a link from a non-app source like a web page, email, or mobile search result to a specific page within an app, or from an app’s internal page to another app’s internal page. While web pages have standard HTML links connecting any page to any page, or to additional assets like PDF downloads, apps are still evolving their methods for interconnecting.

Allan said the increases in deep links among the retailer apps are driven by brands understanding “how important deep linking is.”

Control and search

Announced last summer, Apple’s Universal Links for iOS 9 users allows the launch of a mobile website or app from the same link, originating in a web page, an app page or, with App Search, from a search result.

A tap on a link from a mobile web page about Hawaii to “hotel specials on Oahu,” for instance, might lead to Oahu hotel specials on a page inside the Hipmunk travel accommodations app, if it’s installed. If it’s not, you’re sent to the Hipmunk web page.

Google’s App Indexing, initially made available for any Android app publisher in June of 2014, offers links from Google mobile search results into a page in an iOS or Android app. Other deep linking schemes include ones from Bing and Facebook.

Allan told me that URL-based deep links, such as those enabled by his company’s URLGenius platform, can be managed by a marketer without the support of a developer. By contrast, he said, Apple’s Universal Links and Google’s App Indexing are somewhat complex technically and usually require an app developer’s skills.

He also contended that URL schemes provide more control to the marketer. For instance, URLGenius allows a marketer to offer a choice to a user, when there’s a link from a web page to an app page: if the app is not installed, you can go to a similar web page or to an app store. By contrast, he said, the Apple and Google deep links offer fewer choices to the marketer and therefore to the user.

URL scheme-based links are cross-platform, so they work on iOS or Android devices via a single link. But they do have some drawbacks, notably search engine results.

Apple’s Universal Links and Google’s App Indexing “will ensure your app content appears in relevant mobile search results,” Allan noted, while URL schemes do not. But Allan says that “neither Universal Links or App Indexing are built with marketers in mind,” in terms of ease of use and variety of choices for use cases. Which is why, he said, that some of the surveyed retailer apps are using both.

All of which points to an obvious need for a single cross-platform deep linking standard that encompasses search, email, web and apps and is available via an easy-to-use dashboard that marketers can employ in a wide variety of use cases without calling their app developer.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Barry Levine
Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.

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