A Beginner’s Guide to Deep Linking in Mobile Apps

Learn the basics of deep linking in mobile apps! We're listing its main types and benefits, and sharing useful examples.

Today, mobile users want smooth experiences — no detours, no interruptions.

To provide their users with this kind of experience, many app developers and marketers leverage mobile app deep linking

What is deep linking exactly? Where can it be used? What are its main benefits and most common types?

Dive in to get answers to all these questions and more. 

What Is Deep Linking? 

Deep linking is the practice of taking users to a specific in-app destination instead of the app’s home screen.

Here’s what this means in practice. 

Let’s say a Facebook mobile user sees an ad for a T-shirt from a shopping app. When the user clicks on this ad, they are taken directly to the T-shirt product page in the app. 

Without the deep link, the user would first land on the app’s home screen and have to search for the item manually.

It’s not hard to say what makes a better user experience.

In a lot of ways, deep linking mimics the web browsing user experience. Just as you would send users from your web ad campaigns to specific website URLs (e.g., solution or product pages), deep linking serves the same purpose for mobile apps.

Where Is Deep Linking Used? 

Deep links can work in almost any app marketing campaign that allows you to include a link. This includes web-to-app, app-to-app, and other campaign types. Some common examples include: 

  • Ad campaigns on mobile ad networks. Directing users to specific app content through, for example, social media ads and in-app advertising.
  • Push notifications. Re-engaging existing users by sending them directly to relevant app features or promotions.
  • QR codes. Enabling users to scan a code and be taken directly to a specific in-app location.
  • Email campaigns. Including links that take users to relevant app content. 
  • Referral campaigns. Directing referred users to content related to app referrals. 
  • Retargeting campaigns. Reconnecting with users by guiding them to app content they previously showed interest in. 
deep linking example shoping app aliexpress
Example of deep linking in mobile ad campaigns for a shopping app

Types of Deep Linking

You might be thinking: “Ok, this might work if the user already has the app installed, but what happens when they don’t?”

Deep linking can work in both cases. 

This is possible through different types of deep links. 

Direct deep links are the classic, “old” form of deep linking. 

These links are intended for users who already have the app on their phones, taking them to the relevant in-app location. 

They are a good fit for push notifications where apps try to re-engage their users. For example, when mobile games want to notify users about daily rewards, a direct deep link can take them directly to a section where they can claim their rewards. 

The problem is — if the user doesn’t have the app already, they will see an error message. Because of this, direct deep links are considered a poor choice for acquiring new users

Deferred deep links are a more complex type of deep linking that works in different scenarios. 

When users have the app installed, just like direct links, they drive them straight to the in-app location. In case users don’t have the app yet, there are two steps to the process: 

  1. The users are deferred to the relevant app store page
  2. Upon launching the app, they are taken to the specific in-app location

For example, when users receive a TikTok video link from friends, but don’t have the app installed, clicking the link takes them to the TikTok app store page. After downloading and opening the app, they’ll be taken directly to the shared video. 

As their name suggests, deferred deep links “defer” the user journey from point A to point B.

The good news is — everyone eventually gets to their destination.

All this makes deferred deep linking the obvious choice for acquiring new users without disrupting the user experience.

3. Contextual Deep Linking

Both deferred and deep links can be turned into contextual deep links. 

Contextual deep links are expanded with additional parameters to gather information on users. These links record information such as the users’ age, location, the channel they came from, their referral codes, etc. 

Thanks to contextual deep links, marketers can personalize the user experience. When a user engages with a contextual deep link, the contextual data is used to tailor the content they see.

For example, when a user installs the app using a friend’s referral link, the contextual link carries referral information, such as a 20% discount. Upon landing in the app, the user sees a tailored referral page and gets notified about the discount they received.

Benefits of Deep Linking

You now have a solid understanding of deep linking, how it works, and where you can use it. 

To dive in deeper, let’s go over the key benefits of deep linking.

Better User Experiences

The main benefit of deep linking is the ability to improve the user experience. 

With deep linking, users land at the desired destination quickly and seamlessly. This eliminates frustrating experiences like navigating through multiple screens or manually searching for relevant content. 

Higher Ad Conversion & Retention Rates

Mobile ads that take users straight to a related in-app location typically yield higher ad conversion rates. 

According to AppsFlyer, users who come from a deep link convert at a 2.5x higher rate compared to those arriving from a standard link. 

statistic deep links ad conversion
Deep link ad conversion rates. Data source: AppsFlyer

This positive initial experience can lead to a domino effect that makes users more likely to engage with the app and its features. As a result, deep linking often results in improved retention and lower churn rates

Improved Onboarding

When new users download apps through deep links, they don’t go through the standard step-by-step onboarding experience. 

Instead, they enjoy a custom onboarding experience where they first see the feature that attracted them to the app and can then decide to explore it further. 

The best example of this is contextual deep linking, where the app provides a personalized onboarding experience that is highly relevant to the user. 

Re-Engagement 

Deep linking is often used in retargeting campaigns — and for a good reason. When app marketers target users who previously interacted with their content, integrating deep linking makes them more likely to convert. 

For example, food delivery apps often re-engage inactive users by sending push notifications about discounts, and deep links seamlessly take them to view discounted items. If you’re a foodie, you probably fell for this once or twice yourself. We know we have. 

Measurability 

When it comes to deep links, there is no room for guesswork. 

Everything about them is measurable, and they provide app marketers with important insights into user behavior. With these insights in mind, marketers can optimize and refine their marketing strategies across different channels.

If you want to get started with using deep links, note that there is one right way to do it. Different platforms provide different deep linking technologies, so let us walk you through the most commonly used ones. 

Custom URL Schemes

Creating custom URL schemes is the oldest, classic form of deep linking. 

To create a URL scheme, developers expand URLs to include parameters that take users to specific app locations

For example, creating a URL scheme like myapp://product/5678 would direct the user straight to the product page for item 5678 within your app. 

However, this only works when the user already has the app installed. 

If not, they will see the infamous error screen. 

Another issue with this method is that two apps can claim the same URL scheme, and there is no protection system. 

For these reasons, this form of deep linking is losing popularity over time and is being replaced with more sophisticated technologies

To handle the limitations of URL schemes, iOS created its own deep linking technology called Universal Links. 

Universal Links use classic URL parameters that navigate the user directly to matching in-app content

What happens when the app is not installed? 

If the user doesn’t have the app on their device, they get redirected to a “fallback” mobile web page. In most cases, these websites contain a call-to-action and a button to download the app from the app store. 

Android App Links work on a very similar principle to Universal Links. 

Just like their iOS counterpart, Android App Links leverage standard URLs that take users either to in-app content or to a relevant web location

In other words, Android App Links and iOS Universal Links share two key limitations: they both require a functional mobile website for fallbacks and don’t support deferred deep linking.

Facebook App Links provide deep linking for Facebook-owned platforms. They allow developers to link directly to specific in-app content or features. For example, in ad campaigns through the Facebook Audience Network. 

The biggest advantage of this system is that it supports deferred deep linking. So, unlike Android App Links and Universal Links, they can send users who don’t have the app directly to the relevant app store page.

Deferred Deep Linking Platforms

As you might have noticed, most of the above-mentioned technologies don’t support the most attractive form of deep linking — deferred deep links. 

Sure, seeing a dedicated webpage is better than seeing an error page, but it’s surely not the ideal solution. 

Ideally, users who don’t have the app installed will be redirected straight to its app store page. To make this happen, you’ll need to use a dedicated deep linking platform. Some popular platforms for this include AppsFlyer, Adjust, Branch.io, and CleverTap, so feel free to explore their functionalities and pick your favorite. 

Closing Thoughts 

To wrap things up, app deep linking is a powerful strategy for optimizing your app marketing efforts and user satisfaction. So, if you want to provide your users with the best possible user experience, don’t overlook its importance. 

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