How Not to Deep Link

Deep linking, an area with so much promise for developers, has been torn to shreds by tech giants. Most mobile developers would love to release their app to the world and have all of their great content easily available to everyone. It’s not an unrealistic panacea, it’s actually the current state of the web, it just isn’t possible on mobile yet.

Passing Context Through Install

The players and their technologies: App Indexing, App Links, Universal Links and Bing App Linking

Coming to save us all are the major technology companies who purport to be able to make this vision a reality: Facebook with App Links, Google with App Indexing, Apple with Universal Links and even Microsoft’s Bing App Linking (which is really Facebook’s App Links appearing on Bing – are you still following?).

All these features and technologies sound excellent when seen in a presentation or read about on TechCrunch, but the reality is that it’s an unsustainable burden on developers to implement these standards. Each offers a different feature set – so depending on how you want to use deep links, you can only use certain technologies to achieve certain goals. For example, if you want to use Google’s App Invites to acquire new users, but you also want to be indexed by Apple for their Spotlight search, you’ll need to implement both technologies in your app. But that’s just two different protocols you’ll need to add and adopt, so no problems there.

I must point out that these technologies don’t work on each other’s platforms. For example, Facebook’s App Links “standard” isn’t indexed by Google. So if you want in-app content to appear on Google search via App Indexing, but you also want to deep link from Facebook install ads, you’ll need to implement these two together. You’ll have to do this again if you want the same functionality from Apple (Spotlight) or Microsoft (Bing), too.

Want some good analytics for your deep linking? Throw in the Google Analytics SDK to see what App Indexing is doing for you (but it won’t give you data on the other linking technologies, I’m afraid).

With just three SDKs cluttering your app and three different snippets of routing logic supporting four different technologies, you, the developer, are off to the races. I’m sure updates will be painless.

The features: Google App Invites (Beta), Facebook App Invites

Now it’s time to worry about features. Let’s just pick deep linked invites for the moment. So you have these four SDKs and you’ve set up all this routing – but all that’s happening is your content is being passively indexed. You’re getting tired of waiting for someone to search for the exact content in your app.

Wouldn’t be great if the deep links actually worked for you and your users right now? Swooping in once again are Google and Facebook, here to make deep linked invites painless (disclaimer: painless, in this instance, means somewhat less painful and only available on their own properties). Just write some code and watch your users breeze through a Google account login (so frictionless!) to invite their friends via SMS and email. Whoops, you almost forgot about Facebook. For them, you’ll just need to implement Facebook App Invites and have your users get an invite to your app through Facebook. Did I miss something?

Oh right! You then repeat all of this work for Android and iOS and hope people don’t look for you on desktop.

The light at the end of the tunnel

At this point, you’ve spent the better part of your child’s formative years learning about, and implementing, deep linking, and you’ve maybe taken advantage of some basic features.

In all seriousness, this is not sustainable. Developers cannot learn about, implement, and maintain multiple technologies for the same features on multiple platforms. At Branch, we’ve seen this problem coming. We’ve empathized with developers as they struggle to keep up with the latest technology and implement redundant, fragile, code.

So we’re promising to handle it for you. We’ve got this. We’ll implement every technology into our links. If you want deep linked app invites that work on Facebook, SMS, Email, Twitter, WhatsApp and anywhere else you can think of, we’ll make them work. We’ll make sure they work on desktop, as well as mobile. If you want to be indexed by Google and Apple and deep link from Facebook, check out our how-to guides because we’ll handle that too. We’ll even throw in an analytics dashboard and a bunch of features no one else offers – like deep linked smart banners and Deepviews, web previews of your app content. Oh, and we won’t charge you for it, ever (take a look at our “pricing” page if you want to know how we can promise this).

If there’s anything we’ve missed, just let us know. We’ll build it. Email [email protected] with questions. I promise it isn’t a black hole, we’ll get back to you. If you’re curious, we have fantastic technical support and an awesome team of engineers who are on call 24/7, monitoring our infrastructure.

We’re excited to see what you build.