July 13, 2015

Retailers Face a Build or Buy Decision for Omnichannel Deep Linking

Build-vs-BuyFor those working in the ecommerce world the phrase “deep linking” is a familiar one. It simply means linking to a page deep within a website rather than the home page. Deep linking has always been a key conversion tactic for retailers as they look for ways to decrease the number of clicks on the way to the shopping cart. Some may think applying that tactic to mobile web and mobile app content is easy and defer such details to developers. For omnichannel executives this continues to be a big mistake as few realize the urgency and benefits of investing in a comprehensive deep linking strategy.

There are different ways to tackle deep linking across marketing channels and devices. One way is for developers to track and implement related API and technical announcements coming from Apple and Google which are typically made at their developer conferences. The second alternative is to implement various point solutions for deep linking that often solve only part of the problem. The third, most viable option is to invest in a comprehensive deep linking platform like URLgenius by PureO2Labs which does not require APIs, SDKs or the subsequent development resources.

Consumer Behavior

Before getting to the details, let’s consider the facts around consumer behavior. In 2014, the major research firms drove headlines announcing that consumers were spending more time on the internet using their smartphones versus their desktop computer. In addition, recent studies by Nielsen and Forrester confirmed that consumers are spending about 85% of their smartphone internet time on only 5 apps with the upper limit being about 27 different apps per month. Now consider that Apple and Google have both reached 1.5 million apps on their app stores. It’s no wonder retailers, brands and app developers are scrambling for solutions that drive app installation and engagement.

Deep Linking and the Consumer Experience

We’ve all had a less than optimal experience on mobile. How many times have you seen an ad or perhaps an organic link to something of interest related to an app you have on your smartphone? Yet instead of opening the app and going to the correct page within the app, you’re brought to the home page of the mobile web site and asked to login. The abandon rates in these use cases are extremely high. Consumers want a relevant experience that’s integrated with the apps they have on their phone and with the apps they want to download. Developing a deep linking strategy for mobile that is supported with consumer insights and data presents an incredible opportunity for retailers to create a relevant, context sensitive shopping experience across devices. So the question remains – why is this so difficult?

Mobile Apps Have No Link Structure

The reason that deep linking doesn’t work inherently on apps is that the fundamental structure of apps is different compared to websites. There is no innate ability for apps to “hyperlink” to a page deep within the app or to another app for that matter. That leaves marketers with no option but to send consumers to the home page of the app at best or the login page of the mobile site at worst. Both options often leave the consumer frustrated as they strive to find the product or page of interest post-login. This example highlights the urgency for marketers to implement an integrated deep linking solution across channels as CMOs set ever more granular engagement metrics across devices.

The Building Blocks: App Indexation, Universal Links, APIs and SDKs

As marketers get increasingly savvy about the need for deep linking they are no doubt asking their technical teams for advice. Some app developers and IT departments may be quick to dismiss the issue because they believe the topic is being addressed by Apple and Google in the operating systems.

Both Apple and Google have indeed made deep linking announcements at their recent developer conferences. More specifically, Apple announced deep linking APIs for their native search capability called Spotlight Search as well as Siri which will allow these apps find and surface app content. This is just the beginning as these and other deep linking APIs are enabled through Apple’s Universal Links feature. If developers configure the app for Universal links they can also configure the app (and website) so that requests to web URLs prompt iOS to open the corresponding app page.

Google made a similar announcement at their I\O conference related to iOS. While previously available for Chrome and Android only, Google is now “piloting” app indexing for iOS apps. These iOS capabilities, however, apply only to the iOS Chrome app and iOS Google Search App results and not Safari results which represent most searches.

This is where deep linking gets very technical, very quick. To take advantage of these capabilities, developers need to identify URLs in the app and then publish matching app URL Meta tags on every web page and then maintain those mappings forever across millions of web and app pages. To make things more complicated, some of this content will never have matching pages such as those that are specific to device capabilities. That translates into a very big effort for already resource-constrained IT departments.

Apart from the resources required, another downside to a build strategy for deep linking is that it is far removed from the marketing department. Such complexity is guaranteed to produce a number of bad consumer experiences without the marketing team’s knowledge. Currently there is no way for example, to crawl or be alerted to bad app page requests in a way similar to web 404 errors. Omnichannel marketing teams also need to be more nimble in how they test and learn from deep linking content strategies. Marketing teams simply do not have the skills to implement APIs and SKDs nor should they.

A build strategy for deep linking in effect gives away control of the consumer experience to multiple companies who operate on different timelines while requiring valuable technical resources that could be applied to other priorities. Giving away this control could have a significant negative impact on your engagement and conversion rates.

URLgenius: A Platform Approach to Deep Linking

Investing in a platform approach like URLgenius provides your marketing and technical teams the best of both worlds. It allows your technical teams to capitalize on announcements from Apple and Google as they happen while at the same time giving your integrated marketing team complete control over the consumer experience today.

The URLgenius platform operates independently of any APIs or SDKs making it easy for your tech and marketing teams to work together to understand in more granular detail how “deeplinkifying” your content is actually growing your business. You will also understand more fully and more clearly which marketing channels (social, email, search) are driving your business and through which devices. This is immediate, actionable data that empowers your marketing team to be more nimble in their efforts to test different content to increase conversion rates.


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