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Mobile's Next Step: Deep Linking Between Apps

Today's smartphone and tablet apps don't link to one another. The app ecosystem is missing a fundamental component for businesses -- but that's about to change.
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Links are the glue of the web. There are several trillion links connecting pages. Links have enabled ad networks and affiliate programs to build empires routing paid traffic on the web. Links have enabled Google to build PageRank and show pages in results that are reputable, important, and relevant to users.

Today, mobile and tablet apps do not link to one another. The app ecosystem is missing this fundamental component that has enabled empires to be built on the Web. This is all about to change. In the next five years there will be several trillion links between mobile and tablet applications enabling new empires to be built in the app world.

Where we are today
Since 2007, apps have been proving they are capable of being an ecosystem on par with the web. The first requirement was producing enough content. Developers have produced over 2 million apps to date. Second, apps had to prove they could attract a following. iOS and Android each have had over 50 billion app downloads. Smartphone users spend 80% of their time in apps. Apps are here to stay.

To date, most mobile app marketers have focused on getting app installs. It has been a booming business, proven by Facebook reporting 53% of revenue coming from mobile. Now, with over 100 billion app installs on iOS and Android, the app ecosystem is ready to take the next step.

An app world unto its own
The result of this app revolution is the creation of a new ecosystem: 2 million apps, each a lonely island with populations that do not talk to one another, do not send traffic to one another, and do not understand the content inside each other. Users cannot easily find content they are looking for and find themselves opening and closing apps constantly. When links are added -- I expect the first trillion in the next three years -- this will change.

The first step in this march is enabling deep linking. Innovative app developers such as mobile retailers are doing this in their apps already; they are using deep links in marketing channels that send users directly to specific pages within their app. For example, the fashion retailer Threadflip is currently generating tens of thousands of ads daily for each of the products it sells and matching those ads to its app users based on their app browsing behavior and prior purchases. The results have been impressive, with the company able to increase revenue per user by 40%.

Enabling deep linking in apps will continue to get easier with open-source projects such as Turnpike, and the incentives will become even more enticing for developers to enable deep linking.

Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter all have started to understand this and are now releasing their own products that highlight the value of making application content easier to access by the outside world. Each is figuring out how to use deep links to expose the content that exists within apps to drive engagement and, ultimately, higher modes of monetization.

Once deep linking is enabled in applications across smartphones, tablets, and other devices, the march to a trillion links will begin. It will look similar to the development of linking between pages on the web. Blogs, magazines, and newspapers will put deep links in articles. Affiliate apps will deep link to a seller's app. Marketers will use them in ad, social, and email channels.

Although it took the web 10 years to go from a few million links to several trillion, it will take the mobile and tablet app world just five years. The question is, what will be built on them?

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