Improve User Engagement through Contextual Deep Linking

In the mobile app world, as your native app might provide a better user experience on small screens or provide extra features that aren’t possible on the web, you should consider funneling your traffic to apps from multiple touch points. However, what matters more than just funneling the traffic to your mobile app is doing it by directing users to relevant content in your app. This is basically done through deep linking and deferred deep linking
 
 Non-deep linked content in applications provides a poor user experience, making it hard for the app to not just acquire new users, but also retain the existing ones who seek instant gratification.

Just to back with some data why I believe deep linking has become very important for any app developer to consider, refer the Google trends graph below which shows how interest in deep linking has grown manifold in the last couple of years.

Google trend graph for “Deep link” keyword

What is Deep Linking?

Mobile app deep linking is a link when tapped, directs a mobile user to the specified page in the app instead of directing the user to the app’s homepage. It is URL equivalent for mobile apps.

How deep links work.

Image Source

What is Deferred Deep Linking?

This comes into picture if the user doesn’t have the app installed. Deferred deep linking directs a user to the specified page once the app is installed.

How deferred deep linking work.

Image Source

What are the various touch points to contextually deep link traffic to your app?

  1. Google Search Ads & SEO links — A user search on Google with an app installed for the company/brand which is ranking in SEO links or Adwords ad, app indexing will direct user to the relevant page in the app instead of opening the same in web browser. To do that, you need to add meta tags to your web pages. For example, a Google search for shoes with Jabong app installed will be something like this.
Google App Indexing

In addition to app indexing, you can also specify an intent filter (domain path to filter while the same is getting invoked on mobile web) in your Android app’s manifest file. If the domain is defined in your manifest file and the same gets invoked from web, user will see an intent to open the same in app/browser.

Intent Filter Pop up

More details on how to implement this can be seen here.

2. Google Search app or Native phone search — This allows Android to show custom auto complete results for our app’s users in the Google search app. From there a user can be directed to the deep linked page in the app. An example of how this works — Searching for travel has bubbled up a deep link for MakeMyTrip app and clicking on that will open the relevant page in app.

Google App Indexing API deep linking

More details on how to implement this can be seen here.

3. Mobile website — Directing mobile site traffic to your mobile app makes a lot more sense if you can provide a good user experience in app as compared to mobile site. For example, you are reading an article on medium on m-site and a user already has the app installed, clicking on open in app should take the user to the same article in app. However, if a user doesn’t have the app installed, s/he will be directed to play store/app store to download the app and then directed to the same article page in the app (deferred deep linking).

You can refer branch.io in case you are looking a 3rd party solution to solve for deferred deep linking.

4. App Install campaigns — On boarding experience in app should be customized depending upon the source user has been acquired through. Some of the app download sources for apps could be:

a. Play store/App store

b. Facebook App Install campaign

c. App Install from mobile website

d. App install from display campaigns

e. App install through referral campaigns

f. Contextual app installs from other apps

The on boarding experience for a user who has downloaded the app from a paid download campaign (after seeing a banner ad) should be different from the user who has downloaded directly through play store/app store. The communication seen by the user on the ad banner can be passed to the user before an app install through Deepviews and after an app install through deferred deep linking.

How deepviews work.

More details on how Deepviews work can be seen here.

5. iOS 9 Universal deep linking — Apple introduced a new deep linking API in iOS 9.0 called “Universal Links”. It provides a better user experience than the hacky deep linking options that existed in iOS 8.0 and below. I recommend that you only implement Universal Links and don’t implement support for iOS 8.0 and below if you can possibly avoid it. Not only is this a lot less work, but the older deep linking solutions for iOS 8 constantly break in iOS 9 updates. Of course, that means deep linking won’t work for users still on iOS 8. Apple provides estimates of how many users have upgraded to iOS 9. Right now, around 85% of users globally have upgraded.

Now when you tap that website link, iOS 9 intelligently routes you to that exact place inside of the app bypassing Safari altogether. On top of that, it throws in a handy back link so you can go back to your web link with just one tap.

The experience is exactly what you would expect when two apps work seamlessly together. One caveat is that all of this only works if the developer creates the URL path mappings between its web and native experience.

6. Spotlight search on iOS — Apple laid out a set of powerful APIs that are intended to solve this problem. The first API lets an application developer tell iOS about her content. The developer specifies the content, the keywords associated with that content, and a deep link to that content. Once she does that, iOS indexes the content and gets it ready for a potential search by a user. For example, when searching for hotels in Jaipur, MakeMyTrip can offer up a deep link inside its app for hotels in Jaipur.

Deep linking in iOS Splotlight search

7. App to App Deep linking — Contextual 3rd party integration is really powerful to drive relevant traffic to your app. Google Maps integration with Ola and Uber is one such example.

App to App Deep linking

There’s URX, which lets an application developer search and display relevant deep links on her application. There is also Button which allows an application developer to embed deep actions to other third party apps. Another is Parse.

8. Email Marketing — Email marketing is a very commonly used marketing tool to engage with users or re-activate dormant users. However, by using deep links and deferred deep links in those mailers, users can be directed to relevant content in the app thus improving user engagement. You need to use a smart URL in those mailers which can detect whether a user has clicked on that mailers from desktop, Android or iOS app. Depending on the platform, the user should be directed to the appropriate web link or deep link. To achieve this, you can use branch.io which solves for this.

9. Push notifications — Push notifications can be used for promoting a special deal or relevant content in the app, to bring back existing users. This technique is very effective for delivering immediate messages that link to a specific page in the app.

All these could lead to increased and contextual traffic in your app which in turn could significantly improve user engagement.

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