What is Deep Linking? (The Best Answer!)

Here’s the deal:

The ability to sync your mobile app with relevant content and make it more user-friendly and invaluable depends to a large degree on how you use deep links.

It’s no news that apps are taking over the mobile experience. Data by Flurry shows that over 86% of the 3 hours people spend with their mobile phones daily are spent within their mobile apps. ComScore recently published a supporting data on that also.

It’s predicted that by 2021, enterprise app revenue will hit $430 billion even as companies are increasing their investments on mobile apps.

There are a bunch of reasons develop a mobile app for your business if you don’t already have, and to optimize it for best conversion.

However, unlike websites where you can easily link to your products within your web page or from other websites — it wasn’t possible for mobile apps until deep linking was introduced into the mix.

Deep linking allows app developers to link to specific products or pages within apps.

For example, you want to send target users from your website or from another app to a specific product in your app — instead of sending them to the normal app home page which is the traditional way people discover products in most apps — deep linking can help.

Through deep linking, when a user clicks on a link, it takes them to the specific product, page or content, which they are looking for.

Though for this to work, the app must be installed on their device first, otherwise, the link would take the user to the App Store where they can download and install the app.

Funny enough, when the download is completed, it still sends the user to the specific page or product they are looking for because the metadata are stored in the app.

Here’s another example of an app-to-app deep linking. Imagine you received an email from LinkedIn, you opened the email with your Gmail mobile app and guess what? You saw an amazing offer that reads: Come Back to LinkedIn Sales navigator and get 50% off for two months!”

You quickly clicked on the button, expecting to land on LinkedIn. Surprisingly, the LinkedIn mobile app opens and you’re being taking to the page to complete the transaction. You are pumped!

If the LinkedIn app is not installed on your phone, it takes you to the App Store to download it — when the download is completed — it still takes you to the relevant page you’re looking for.  That’s basically how deep linking works.

Even though deep linking have been around for a long time, about 3 years ago, a lot of people don’t consider it as they do today, because of the default deep linking flaws such as those associated with traditional linking and URI scheme — you’ll find out more in this article.

Deep linking allows you to drive target users from SMS, websites, social media, ads, QR, Google Maps, etc, as illustrated in the image below.

There are several benefits associated with deep linking your apps. Let’s consider a few of them:


1. Deep Linkedin Improves User Experience & Retention

One of the major reasons you’ll want to send users to your mobile app through deep links could be because you want to enhance their experience and keep them excited, as they use your app.

You’ll agree with me that users would prefer to land on a specific page in your app than going to the homepage first, and searching for or navigating to the page they are interested in. That’s a lot of work.

So, basically, you don’t need to explain to users how to get to the page they’re looking for in your app — what a great to reduce user’s churn rate.


2.  Help Re-Engage Users

Deep linking is a powerful marketing technique as it can help you re-engage your users after using your app for the first time. For example, you can send your users a push notification to a page in your app with a new product they could be interested in.

Since they have your app installed, it means they’re interested in your product — so, they’re more likely to buy from you when you re-engage with new or complementary offers.


3. Improves App Visibility

Google now indexes app deep links as explained in this video by Google’s Technical Program Manager, Machine Learning, Jarek Wilkiewicz.

Your app can now be found on search engines like Google and Yahoo when people search with related keywords. In the picture below, I searched for “Just Eat” — a food app. See organic results:


4. Deep Links Provide Insights Into Campaign Effectiveness

Through in-app analytics, you can get data that will help you determine which of your advertising or marketing campaign is performing well. Based on this, you’re a better position to make better decisions.

Are your users coming from another mobile app, SMS, ads, or referrals? You can determine this via your in-app analytics dashboard, with respect to the app deep links in those channels.


5. Increases Advertising Revenue

With deep linking you’re not just driving users from advertising campaigns to your app just for downloads, but you are driving targeted users that are interested in what you offer.

For this reason, users that will download and use your app through deep links will most likely become long-term customers.

Here’s why: Chances are that you can re-engage them with more interesting offers in the future, that way you’ve the potentials to maximize your advertising revenue.

We can go on and on to highlight more benefits of using deep links for your app marketing, but let’s consider some of the effective deep linking strategies for your mobile apps:


1) Traditional Deep Links

Traditional deep link strategy assumes that you have the app installed on your device already and takes the user directly to the app content once they click on the deep link from location — say website, email, social media, etc.

However, the downside is that it won’t work if the app is not installed and will show an error or take you to a fallback page. Most likely the app’s official website.

The images below describes the result when the app is installed and when it’s not.

Photo credit: branch.io


2) Deferred Deep Links

Deferred deep link is more like the solution to traditional deep links. It will attempt to redirect you to the App Store to download the app if it’s not installed and thereafter send you to the deep link destination.

The image below shows a situation when the app is not installed.

Photo credit: branch.io


3) Contextual Deep Links

I know you’ll be more interested in this one. Why? Because, contextual deep links have all the features of the deferred deep link and even more.

According to BI Intelligence, “contextual deep links allow developers to give users a much more personalized and targeted app experience directly after they open an app — also known as “onboarding.”

Contextual deep links stores data about who clicked on the link, from where it was clicked, who shared the link, where your user wants to go, and much more data that will help you measure the success of your campaign.

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4) URI Schemes

The original form of deep links were the custom URI schemes. You can only use them within your phone. It looks like: yourapp://path/to/content. The good side to it is that it’s easy to set up. But, if the app is not installed, it doesn’t have a fallback page by default.

If you attempt to hack the process and try to make it work, you’ll need to use JavaScript to redirect it to the App Store. While this is the primary way Android still handles deep linking, Apple began blocking this approach in iOS 2015 when they released “the Universal Links.”


5) Apple iOS Universal Link

The iOS universal link is a better version of the URI scheme. If the links are clicked and the apps are not installed, it takes you to a web page instead of showing an error. Essentially, your universal link points to both your app content and to a web page.

However, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter do not support these universal links.


6) Android Links

Android links are more like the android version of the iOS universal link, they provide a link to your in-app content and to a web page. But this deep linking strategy hasn’t been giving much attention since the URI scheme for android still works perfectly.

Interestingly, for android deep linking, Google is interested in pulling app content to the web search results. These results are not stable yet, but I’ve seen them on several occasions. Have you?


Tools For Mobile Deep Linking

There are companies that are really passionate about deep linking and are constantly developing tools to help you integrate deep links into your app seamlessly.

Can we look at some of the tools?

Let’s begin with my favorite:


a) URX

URX takes the hard work out of deep linking. When integrated with your app, it takes you to a specific website when the app is not installed. It’s very easy to use — just a drag and drop process — and URX API supports both iOS and Android SDKs.

Another interesting thing about URX is that it doesn’t just allow you to track important metrics like user actions and behaviors, it also allows you to monetize your deep links.


b) Branch.io

Branch is also easy to install and allows you to personalize the flow through which users will see the links to your application — thereby combining your deep link strategy into a single package.

This tool also provides you with sensitive data (e.g., clicks, installs, referrals, conversion rates) which you need to make effective decisions.


c) Bitly Deep Linking

Bitly has also delved into the deep linking technology with its popular link creation and management platform, which gives you insightful data about activities on your links.

With Bitly’s deep linking tool, when integrated into your app it will send users to the exact destination in the app. If the app is not installed, it takes them to the App Store for downloads and retain metadata, so users get to the relevant pages after installation.

Bitly supports a wide range of devices including Android, iOS, HTML5, Blackberry and Windows Phone. The tool promises to help you re-engage users and improve install rates.


d) OneLink

OneLink is a deep linking product by AppsFlyer, it creates a single link that allows users to access your app based on their native platforms.


Deep Link Implementation on Android

I’ll consider these post incomplete if I don’t talk about how to implement deep links in your Android app.

Google is interested in allowing users find your app through search results. For that to be possible, you need to add intent filters to your app’s manifest file. The intent filters allow deep linking to the content in any of your activities (pages).

Here’s the code example:

Note that the <action> and <data> tags are required. The <action> tag chooses what happens in the app when the link is clicked, while the <data> tag specifies what URIs are acceptable as deep links to the page.

In our example, navigating to http://www/yourdeeplink.com takes the user to the LinkActivity activity. However,  the <category> tags specify the properties of the deep link.

In all, you’re going to be writing too many lines of code. However, you can create multiple links to the same activity, by parsing the intent’s data in your code to differentiate the links. This is usually done in the onCreate() method by reading in the data and acting accordingly in your Java code.

Consider this example:

You can run your app to see that the deep linking is working correctly. However, to make a better deep linked app, I’ll advice you look at the Android documentation and if you’re not comfortable with writing codes, you can outsource it or use the tools listed above.



Deep linking is very important for making your app user friendly. It can improve your marketing efforts and enable you to measure your campaign success while collecting helping data.

It’s a core aspect of your app marketing strategy. As a business . A business, you need to embrace it to increase your app’s profitability.

Ian Blair :BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.