December 15, 2015

Mobile Deep Linking with Universal Links and App Indexing and Why Online Retailers Have a Persistent Need for URL Schemes

Software development can be a tricky business especially on mobile where everything is moving at light speed. Whether one is building for iOS, Android or Windows, whenever a new update to an operating system is released, it’s all hands on deck to ensure that everything is working properly.

A case is point is the recent iOS 9.2 update from Apple. In this new release, there was small but very significant change in the Safari browser related to mobile deep linking. Apple changed the “Open App” modal or dialog box from being a Javascript blocking modal to a non-blocking modal.

In laymen’s terms, this means that prior to the change, the dialog box would wait (java blocking) until the user made a selection before proceeding. Now, because the Open App modal is non-blocking, as soon as the modal is triggered, Javascript will execute immediately not leaving enough time for the end user to make a selection. This is significant because many app developers use URL schemes for deep linking which rely on this dialog box to control the user experience.

Note this only applies to Safari in iOS 9.2. The Google chrome app browser is not affected and still serves a blocking modal. The Android deep linking experience is also unchanged.

Here at Pure Oxygen Labs, we’ve already solved for this new new issue in Safari iOS 9.2, however, before getting to the details let us briefly revisit why persistent URL schemes combined with Apple Universal Links and Google App Indexing is the best technical approach to mobile deep linking especially for omnichannel retailers. Since the release of iOS 9.2, we’ve changed the default settings on all URLgenius links  – see this blog post for more details.

Mobile Deep Linking and Omnichannel Campaign Optimization
Since the launch of Apple Universal Links, some have argued that URL schemes are no longer necessary. That notion might be true for select companies or for thousands of mobile apps in the app store that do not have use cases where users need to be sent to a mobile website.

Leading ecommerce companies, however, have unique mobile deep linking needs because they have a high volume of traffic going to both mobile apps and mobile websites. They also have mobile apps in different stages or maturity or for different target audiences. New apps and all types of campaigns and promotions may need traffic routed to a mobile web page or perhaps an app only audience. In this dynamic environment, online retailers need to continually test engagement and conversion strategies between app and web and therefore need maximum control over the consumer experience.

As such, the vast majority of leading online retailers have not implemented Universal Links. This slow adoption is related to complexity, overall readiness and the marketer’s need to control the user experience at the campaign level. Obtaining this control goes beyond flipping a switch and having all mobile traffic go to a mobile app.

The importance of Universal Links, however, cannot be understated. Universal Links enables your app content to be discovered and presented in mobile search results and it is the underlying technical standard that will help power all deep linking opportunities moving forward including the Apple Watch, Apple TV and the Internet of Things”.

In parallel, URL schemes enable deep linking at the company’s pace while maximizing control over the routing of traffic to mobile apps vs. websites at the campaign level. Online retailers in particular need this campaign level control.

URLgenius, for example, uses URL schemes to deep link to a page that might be several clicks into a mobile website. Marketing campaign managers can optimize when to link to the website, the mobile app or even the app store when the app isn’t detected. Routing decisions can be based on the product, promotion, marketing channel (display, search, email, affiliate social) or other considerations such as app maturity, audience and time of day. To get this level of control, URL schemes must be implemented.

Safari, iOS 9.2 and Deep Linking via URL schemes
Now let us go back to the change related to deep linking via Safari in iOS 9.2. When deep linking to an app, the logic around where to route the user when the app isn’t found must be actively managed. When the app isn’t found, Safari displays the following dialog box.


To proceed beyond this message, developers typically use Javascript to immediately redirect the user the app store or a fallback web URL. The Javascript executes so quickly this error is typically unseen. With URLgenius, for example, campaign managers can create a link that sends the user to the app store which could be used in a campaign at certain times of day when app downloads are most likely. Additional links with different fallback web URLs could also be created for testing purposes and different campaigns. URLgenius can route the user to the home page, product category pages or deep individual product pages. It’s URLgenius in combination with URL schemes that allow this level of control. In iOS 9.2, nothing has changed in this scenario, all good.

On the other hand, when the app is found the “Open App” modal is called. This is the dialog that Apple changed in the Safari iOS 9.2 update. Using Twitter as an example, a deep link to a tweet or to a profile page would trigger this Open App modal.


In iOS 9.2, this modal or dialog box is now “non-blocking”. That means Javascript executes immediately not giving the user enough time to make a selection. Not making a selection routes the user to the fallback URL or the app store.

At Pure Oxygen Labs, within our URLgenius platform we’ve solved for this by providing the ability to increase or decrease the amount of time the dialog displays giving the user more time to make a selection. In our testing, we’re finding that about two seconds is in line with consumer behavior.

The best of both worlds: Apple Universal Links + App Indexing + URL Schemes
In 2016 and beyond advertisers, agencies and publishers need maximum control as they optimize omnichannel marketing campaigns in efforts to influence the consumer journey. URL schemes are pivotal because they help provide ecommerce leaders with the control they need to route traffic between mobile apps and websites across iOS and Android.

At the same time, Apple Universal links and Google App Indexing are crucial for app content discovery and help to ensure that retailer content will rank high in relevant mobile search results.

Stay tuned in 2016 for more changes in what will no doubt be an exciting year for mobile marketing and mobile commerce! Read the FAQs to learn more about URLgenius and contact us with your mobile deep linking questions and challenges.


Submit a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.