The average smartphone user has twenty-six apps on his or her device.
In a recent VentureBeat article, Matt Thomson wrote about how marketers can use the concept of deep linking to “bring users to a specific location within their app.” One example he gives is publishers, like the New York Times or Cracked, who might want to enable their users to be linked directly to a specific article inside of an app, instead of having to open the app and then search for an article that they want to read. Additionally, he suggests that retailers can link their app users to a specific product or right to their shopping cart, to improve conversions by shortening the sales funnel.
While the idea makes sense, it lacks context in the app world. The most commonly used apps are not from retailers or publishers, but are email, music, and social apps like Instagram or Facebook Messenger. Additionally, most people have fewer than twenty-five apps on their devices, with the majority of those being games or, again, social apps.
There would be unfortunately few use cases for deep linking in the most popular mobile apps. Most users use only a handful of apps on a regular basis, meaning that the investment of adding this capability to applications would likely not be worth the cost for most. It is unlikely that users would prefer being pulled out of the mobile browser into an app, when it would be much easier to continue shopping or reading on the mobile webpage, especially if the app requires a log-in.
Thomson writes that one of the purposes of deep-linking is to drive re-engagement with the app. The issue is, however, that in order to get the user to re-engage with the app, they must first disengage with the browser, where they already showed interest in the brand. While it is intended to funnel the user closer to the conversion point, it first drives the user away. It can be a very bad idea to redirect a user away from a mobile browser and into an app especially on older devices, where apps are slow to load and sometimes do not load at all.
While brands prefer users to interact within their app but most smartphone owners would prefer reading or shopping in the browser. Why do brands prefer the app? Simply because they can actually track the user when they are engaged with the app. Consumers are much more difficult to track when they are mobile browsing, as there is not yet any mobile equivalent to the cookies used on laptops and desktops. App users are supposed to be more engaged than web browsers and once they are in the app, they supposedly will stay for a longer time and explore. The same can be true, however, for an easily navigable, responsive mobile website.
Deep linking goes against the mobile mentality. While users might have a New York Times app on their smartphone, it may not their first stop when looking for information. They are still going to choose the mobile web browser first, rather than search for and pick an app that might have the information they need. Re-directing engagement back to an app might make be ideal for a brand, but it is neither practical nor ideal for app users.