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Mobile deep linking: the relationship between web pages and apps

July 21, 2016

Simon Fryer
Simon is CandidSky's Search Director, with strong roots in organic SEO and analytics, and a disturbing passion for spreadsheets.

What is deep linking?

The concept of deep linking isn’t new. As early as 2005 it was used to describe the practice of providing search engines with a view of web pages beyond the homepage of a website, something that seems only natural today. At the time it actually sparked debate in the US courts about whether or not linking to deep content (and search engines returning these results) was a breach of the website’s copyright. Oh if they could only see us now.

Deep linking, in the current context, refers to links which point to content deeper than web pages – apps in particular.

The rise of mobile

Over the past decade, mobile commerce has grown, and mobile apps have become a key component of most mobile strategies. However, mobile apps and the web as we know it are two separate entities; you use one or the other at any one time, and the journey between them can be awkward and clunky.

Unlike most content on the web, content in apps isn’t publicly accessible. Normal links don’t work because apps are device-specific and once downloaded to a device, there’s no consistent way to find and share items. This lack of access prevents sharing between users and creates poor user experiences.

Deep linking as a solution

Deep linking is the beginning of a union between typical web behavior and native apps, allowing businesses to send people directly to a specific page of an app using a standardised form of deep link. This could be from:

  • Display advertising
  • Emails
  • Social platforms
  • Text messages
  • QR codes
  • Webpages
  • Other apps

Importantly, a deep link can direct users to an app or a webpage. The mechanics behind it are quite simple; The user is routed to the best solution. If I click a deep link on desktop, I’ll be routed to the web page (HTTP/S URL). If on mobile, I’ll be routed to the app (URL scheme) if it’s open on my device, and, if the app isn’t installed on my phone, I’ll be lead to install it.

How does this affect search?

Whilst there are huge benefits beyond search – especially the ability of users to direct other users to specific app pages – there are also significant benefits from a search marketing perspective. Apps typically provide a better user experience on mobile. They remove the browser bar and other clutter, and encourage users to remain in the app, increasing engagement. By providing deep links to web pages which have equivalent app pages, businesses can send users directly into apps from the search results.


A search for “Pokemon go” on mobile directs me straight to the download page

PG example


The Reddit results for “Pokemon go” directs me straight to that discussion on the Reddit app 

PG reddit example


Final thought

Deep linking is the beginning of a seamless experience between traditional web pages and deep app pages. As the relationship between mobile apps and traditional web pages matures, we’ll continue to see changes in how they interact with one another. But, for the time being, deep linking is a must for your web app.

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