If You Don’t Care About Deep-Linking, You Probably Don’t Care About Making Money

You’re browsing the web and you see a retargeted web banner from eBay for a pair of shoes. You were on the fence before, but…those shoes really are nice. OK. You decide to buy. You click on the banner with credit card in hand and it takes you to — the eBay homepage?

That would never happen on the web. But it happens every day on mobile.

The answer, said Beth Kindig, senior manager of developer relations at Vserv.mobi, is deep-linking, the process of guiding users to specific in-app pages rather than to an app’s homepage through unique resource identifiers or URIs, mobile’s answer to the URL.

“At the most basic level, a deep link copies the URL backbone of a website and replicates that for mobile,” Kindig said. “In other words, it means you can link to specific pages in mobile exactly like a URL does online.”

There was a time when deep-linking was both an expensive and difficult process, but that’s becoming less and less the case as companies like Facebook and Google have started to make deep-linking resources available to developers. Back in February, big mobile players, including Criteo, TapCommerce, ActionX, Flurry and others, came together to form a working group called the Mobile Deeplinking Project, which houses deep-linking source code guides and materials on deep-linking best practices.

“Prior to 2014, deep-linking was very hard to do on your own and it was mostly the larger companies that had the investment dollars,” Kindig said. “But deep-linking has really started to pick up steam this year.”

Even so, deep-link vendor URX recently found that only about 22% of apps have taken the deep-link plunge.

Related to the slowly growing awareness around deep-linking is Google’s app indexing project, which allows developers to enable their app content to show up in Google search results. Of course, to capitalize on indexing, developers have to invest the time to deep-link their content, something Kindig predicts most app developers will do at least going forward if not retroactively.

Imagine a world where smartphone users could tap Google to search your in-app content. As Google noted in June when it announced that app indexing would be available to any Android developer who wanted it: “Sometimes the best answer is on a website, and sometimes it’s in app.”

ADEXCHANGER: Why should advertisers and publishers care about deep-linking?

BETH KINDIG: First and foremost, awareness is an issue. Developers need to realize that there are huge benefits in going beyond the app homepage. Let’s take an app like Spotify as an example, which is actually a huge leader in the deep-linking space. Say you search for a Bob Dylan song or a Lady Gaga song in the app and you want to share it with your friend. You can’t actually send a direct link to that song. The best you can do is tell your friend to go to the Spotify home page where they then have to search for the song themselves. Nothing exists past spotify.com right now on mobile.

Just like Spotify has a hard time bringing you to a specific song, advertisers are spending money on mobile display without the ability to bring people directly to the point of sale.

deeplinking_edited-1What would be an advertising use case for deep-linking?

Say you’re on your phone and you see a vacation in Mexico advertised on Groupon. When you tap, you should be taken directly to the page with information on the resort you were reading about, not to the home page of the Groupon app — but that’s what’s happening. Groupon spent money on that ad, but users are just being dropped on the app home page if they already have the app or they’re being sent to groupon.com to download the app if they don’t. If you think about it, why would advertisers want to spend more money if they can’t get users to go where they want them to go?

Do you think that accounts for the differential between time spent and advertising dollars spent on mobile?

Mobile is the only channel where there’s a deficit between time spent and ad spend, especially when compared with TV or online. One theory is that a lot of that has to do with the fact that advertisers aren’t easily able to close the sale on mobile.

People are addicted to their phones. There’s great app usage behavior data available and everyone says mobile is the next big platform for advertising. That said, it’s hard for advertisers to see the value in bringing users to a homepage instead of taking them right to the item they wanted to purchase. Deep-linking is about closing that gap. If we can start letting advertisers bring users directly to the right page and let users do what they want to do, maybe users will spend more and, in turn, advertisers will spend more.

What is app indexing and how will it help advertisers?

Spotify, for example, essentially has thousands of pages you can search for in the native app, but none of them are searchable by Google. Spotify and all the other apps out there have spent a huge amount of time on development and they’re not able to reap the full benefits. In November 2013, Google began testing what it would look like to drive users directly to app pages. They chose about 30 apps to start with and now indexing is available to all Android apps.

The reason why we pay for things like push and user acquisition is because there’s no way to get organic traffic or do much other than bring people to the app store, and that’s ridiculous. Developers create hundreds of pages of app content, but all they can do is drop organic users in the app store and hope they download the app.

How will mobile ecommerce benefit from deep-linking?

If a person is browsing on Facebook and they see a pair of shoes advertised by eBay and they tap, the question is: Does the user already have the eBay app? If they don’t, they should be taken to the app store where they can download the app, after which they should be taken directly to what was being promoted. If they already have the app, they should be taken directly to the shoes in-app. This gives advertisers control they never has before — and they know they can track conversions.

Is deep-linking the answer — or least a partial answer — to the app monetization problem?

Developers need to embrace the fact that most apps are going to be free and advertising is how they’re going to make their money. That’s why deep-linking initiatives are so important for developers. They need to empower themselves in order to make money from free apps, and the best way to do that is to help advertisers close the sale on their in-app content.

Hopefully two or three years from now we can laugh and say, ‘There was a time when we were just sending people to the app store over and over again.’

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