What is Deep Linking and Why Should It Be Important to Your Mobile App?

Part 1 of a 2 part-series on Deep Linking by Applico CTO, Matt Powers. Part 2 will evaluate the main Deep Linking vendors. 


Image courtesy of FierceDeveloper

Deep linking is a concept that allows mobile apps to reach outside of their respective walled gardens so that users can search and navigate between specific places within them.

It’s a relatively new concept that extends the web’s standard of indexable and searchable web elements through a URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) to mobile through a series of specific SDKs.

Functionality and data can be exposed in a similar yet very different way than the web.

 Deep linking is important because it:

  • opens up a whole new space of tight app integrations, offering a new ability to create unique user experiences
  • empowers marketing and data teams to get a 360 degree view of clicks to installs to referrals
  • offers unique monetization opportunities
  • and ushers in a world of further hyper-targeted analytics 

On Android, deep linking capabilities have been nascent to the platform since the beginning while iOS has only recently extended their software development tool kits to include such capabilities.

That’s great, why is it different than web links?

The web is based on a very specific set of guidelines with HTTP distinctly at the center.  Most savvy users of the web know how to create a link, share and track link analytics. It’s a world that is built on standards and very mature toolsets.

tbb0afe_wild_west_wallpaper_1Mobile is more like the wild wild west, with standards changing and governance dictated by the mobile OS.

Deep link formats are dictated and exposed by the individual development teams making setup, formatting and discoverability a challenge.

Web is open and ubiquitous while mobile is sandboxed and its openness is dictated by development teams.

What are the core components of a Deep Link Platform?

Most deep linking platforms are consistent and standardized across their offerings, with some focusing on simplifying link generation for the developers while others offer more comprehensive analytics.

Here is a brief overview of the main components of the current deep linking platforms as well as the opportunity space:



Discoverability of 3rd party deep link offerings has been an issue necessitating the need for developers to know what deep links are available usually through the analysis of API documentation.  By providing marketplaces, deep linking platforms are attempting to ease the burden of discovery.

Discovery without deep linking:

A developer and product owner of an application where an ancillary value of the platform is facilitating the booking of restaurant reservations (think Resy and OpenTable) would have to evaluate the space and find the right API (or deep link), which can be terribly time consuming.

Discovery with deep linking:

A deep link marketplace could potentially be a one-stop shop for app developers and product owners to identify third party services to integrate with.  Additionally, a marketplace opens up an entirely new monetary strategy for products to monetize their deep links.



Having a 360-degree view of how applications are being installed and how data and functionality is being accessed is important for marketers and product owners alike.

Analytics without deep linking:

Most platforms have the 10/10/80 rule.  10 percent of users generate content, another 10% share and proliferate content and the remaining 80% consume content.

Without deep linking analytics, identifying who your rock star platform users and “sharers” are requires a substantial amount of custom analytics.  Identifying what users on your platform are driving the most installs becomes tough and even harder to continue promoting.

Analytics with deep linking:

Identifying the aforementioned 10/10/80 groups becomes much clearer. This allows marketers to drive growth and be more targeted in their messaging and tactics.

It’s also possible to improve network effects by being able to relate sharers, to consumers to content generators.

Loyalty Marketing 


App owners can build trust and loyalty with their user base through a referral and loyalty program that encourages content sharing and creation.

 Loyalty marketing without deep linking:

Rewarding individual users and installers is cloudier. Just because individuals share a lot of content doesn’t necessarily mean that they are driving growth of the platform and rewarding them as such may be misinformed

Loyalty marketing with deep linking:

Measuring CLV (customer lifetime value) and an individual user’s value to the platform becomes much easier to identify and much easier to incentivize. Any entirely new space of targeted advertising becomes very prevalent.

Data Tools

The ability to avoid vendor lock in and export your data to 3rd party platforms enables the possibility of combining multiple business intelligence data sets across your web and mobile properties.

Without deep linking:

Without deep linking tools your data sets can get lost in the noise of your other analytics packages (Localytics, Google analytics, etc.).

With deep linking

Specialized analysis of link generation and content sharing can drive additional marketing initiatives.  Some platforms allow the flexibility to export these data sets to include in any customized BI tools your business may have



Easing the burden on development teams as well as providing them customizable tools to capture the data when they want and how they want it is imperative.

SDKs without deep linking:

Developers have to bastardize existing platform to track installs, loyalty and advocacy; tools that may not be designed for deep linking thus driving up development costs and leaving out portions of the dataset cross installation.

SDKs with deep linking:

Marketers and developers have SDKs and APIs to track KPIs relevant to the business as well as drive new marketing initiatives.

How Deep Linking works?

Image courtesy of Branch Metrics

The above illustration is a high level overview of how deep linking generally works.

  1.     Link Creation

Every deep linking platform has a twist on this; some make it easier for the developers to generate the links while others just want you to submit the links you define by hand to their portal.

For instance, exposing Uber’s booking functionality requires the developer to create a unique URI that references the booking feature.  The developers would have to expose that data similar to how they would an API and provide a link reference that is something like “uber://book/location=”foo_address”.

 Either way, the main concept is that the team needs to decide which data and functionality their app is going to expose, decide on a URI scheme and ultimately code it.

  1.     Customize the Links

Hopefully the deep linking platform in question allows metadata to be associated with access and consumption of app content.  Generally this is achieved by an app’s deep link corresponding to unique HTTP link and some JSON data stored in the deep link platform.

For example, Branch specifically creates perma HTTP link that points to a deep link in the app and can associate any other data as well.  Consider the case where content from an app is shared across social networks, that content can drive installs and loyalty.  When the app user “shares” a link, Branch generates a unique URL, associates it with a deep link in the app, and provides the developer the ability to post metadata to that HTTP link, creating an ecosystem of data around the unique link into the app.

  1.     Optimal Routing

When the user clicks on a link through the web or through on a mobile device the user should be routed to the correct location, whether that is to the app itself or to a download page for acquisition of the app.

Filed under: Product Engineering | Topics: deep linking, mobile apps

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