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Is Deep Linking The New Digital Marketing Battleground?

In an age where everything is mobile-first with sinking conversion rates (because of cross-device tracking challenges) and high levels of distraction, most of marketer’s time is spent understanding and optimising a disconnected ecosystem and a distracted consumer. The ecosystem refers to the connective tissue that creates seamless experiences for users across devices that is trackable and optimised to intent – the moment that will generate the largest propensity to convert.

Unfortunately, many marketers have not been able to take advantage of that opportunity. By the time they can connect the dots, the user has already moved on. They either purchased the product elsewhere or lost interest. Today’s on-demand mobile consumer is mainly to blame for this.

This has got many marketers thinking about deep linking opportunities, particularly in the context of Apple’s upcoming iOS 9 release. Deep linking simply means linking to a specific page inside an app. It is very much like a Web URL. Every app has its own structure.

For instance, a Twitter desktop URL looks like “twitter.com/guidedcreative.” A deep link URL for an app would look like “twitter://user?screen_name=guidedcreative”.

iOS 9 will also introduce a seamless in-app search experience, and according to Apple, “improve its discoverability by displaying your content when users search across the system and on the Web.”

While iOS 9’s search features are still confident that they have the potential to challenge Google’s dominance in mobile search and usher in a new turf war over rank. The world Apple is envisioning is a user searching across the Web and apps without having to open a browser, let alone go to Google or Yahoo.

To make this happen, developers will be required to add code to their markup to allow their app content to be found in Spotlight search, and even more language to facilitate their Web URLs to seamlessly open app content. For now, there needs to be a layer in between the link and the content that allows first for detection of the platform, and summarily handles the deep link from there.

A core deep link can be used in Safari. However, if the app is not installed, the users will see an ugly failure, and then they have hit a dead end. And while most of the big platforms have their own guidelines for deep linking into an app, standardisation is a common challenge. Twitter has Twitter Cards, Facebook has App Links, and the list goes on. These are platform-specific versions of deep linking (which means that if you’re starting point is not Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc., your users are still lost in the woods of disengagement).

Platforms such as Deeplink.me have been making this a bit simpler for marketers by mapping out pages that already exist within an app. A Deeplink version of a Twitter link would look like “deeplink.me/twitter.com/guidedcreative.” This not only handles launching the app to the right page (if installed) across Android and iOS, but also uses failback rules, allowing those without the app to land on either Web versions of the content or the app store.

The next stage is for these platforms to start indexing app content for Apple Search purposes. That will undoubtedly be the next share-of-voice territory battle as brands start competing for rank.

The new opportunity being created is akin to what we had in the late ‘90s, with SEO gaining prevalence both as search marketers looked for ways to make sure their products and services were being found, and Google and Yahoo ensured the results offered were relevant to the users. The ecosystem and industry created out of this were massive. While the future might not create opportunities of this magnitude, the battleground is going to be very similar. Brands will start focusing on optimising their apps for more than usability, and instead look for richness and depth of content, or whatever algorithm will be used to power the search results.

One thing is certain, if rolled out correctly, the new ecosystem has a possibility of not just creating real competition for Google as the dominant search for mobile, however it can also provide an entry point for Apple to power all search beyond a mobile device, including desktop, wearables, etc.

Noah Klausman, co-founder of Deeplink, said “Brands are focused on multiscreen and the tools necessary to simplify the communication.”

“From a marketer’s perspective, deep linking becomes very relevant because many times, users who have an app on their phone also have the same app on their tablet, their connected home device, their TV – or even their Apple Watches. More and more, people are curating their Web or app experiences.” Apple’s entry into search and deeper ownership of deep linking will only create a more seamless experience.

Along with a fully integrated experience, deep linking could assist in tackling some of the cross-device attribution issues we have been facing. Brands can have a full understanding of the customer journey as their search, email, social, wearable and mobile behaviour are fully integrated within this new ecosystem.

And they can also begin to engage users at the right place and the right time, or what Google has branded as the Zero Moment of Truth. This new ecosystem can provide intuitive remarketing that goes one step further by targeting the most relevant users who have a higher propensity to purchase.

This is the sixth sense that brands never knew they needed. So, there is browser behaviour, purchase behaviour, geofencing data, social data, and so on, all employed across devices and experiences. With the advance in deep linking, we can have a 360-degree view to properly model and predict behaviour. The question is, however, will Apple start to share that data as it begins to play in Google’s backyard?

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