Mobile App Deep Links: A Network of Ecosystems

The digital world is incredibly interconnected and one of the key indicators of ‘mass market’ app success can be found by measuring mobile deep links between apps. On the Internet, links mean visibility, power and traffic. Mobile apps have evolved into their own web of interdependent entities: deep links are the glue that hold them all together. Not only do they enhance user functionality and offer options for revenue, but they also offer developers ecosystem buy-in for their own apps. In today’s mobile world, a developer needs to not only get installs, but also get the app ecosystem to start sharing deep links to or with their app.

What Are Mobile App Deep Links and Why Should You Care?

Developers deploy app deep links to efficiently move people from one mobile app to another. This creates a more seamless experience for users. Social networks like Facebook and WeChat, and companies like Google have their own app deep link ecosystems. Other apps include mobile deep links to these social networks because they see them as reliable authorization platforms with APIs that help developers learn more about their app’s users. In addition, by leveraging and linking to the most powerful social networks and messaging platforms, developers want to make their app grow its user base and increase partnership opportunities.  by being relevant in today’s digital conversations.

Deferred deep links take app installs to another level. Think of them as bookmarks. A user who clicks on a deferred deep link, but doesn’t yet have the app that was linked to, will be re-directed by the developer to download it. Once installed, the bookmark-like technology in the deferred deep link remembers to bring the user to the new app’s URI that was originally intended. This could be a food order for example, an address on a map, a product, or a service.

The Facebook Ecosystem

The social network has become its own ecosystem in the mobile app deep link network.  Thousands of apps include deep links to Facebook and its other apps: Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. This is due to the power of Facebook’s social app ecosystem.

SimilarWeb discovered that Brazil is a country with an extensive Facebook mobile app ecosystem. The top 4 most deep linked apps in the country are owned by the social media giant: Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.most deep links

Google App Ecosystem

In the U.S., Google has an extensive mobile app deep link ecosystem. The search giant had 17 of the top 35 leading deep linked iOS mobile apps when this study was conducted. Developers deploy deep links inside their own apps to Google mobile apps to take advantage of the company’s user authentication platform, the trust and reliability that a significant share of users place in many of the company’s navigation, search, video, email, and drive apps.

Google also benefits every time that another app user includes mobile deep links to one of the company’s own apps. Doing so increases revenue opportunities for AdMob in YouTube app videos, or via Adwords and Adsense in Gmail’s app, for deep links

Communication App Ecosystem

In the U.S., 4 of the top 10 mobile apps getting the most deep links are communication apps. Developers take advantage of the communication app ecosystem because that is where more than 30% of users spend their time.

When Facebook split off Messenger into its own app, it sought to expand the platform’s use beyond consumer-to-consumer communication. Messenger’s own separate ecosystem, for example, gave brands the ability to engage in B2C communication with customers more effectively and efficiently. Uber and Lyft, for example, now enable people to request, book, and pay for rides directly from within the Messenger app itself.

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China’s WeChat Ecosystem

China has an extensive mobile app economy. According to SimilarWeb data, Tencent’s WeChat receives the lion’s share of deep links (58.4%) from other mobile apps in the country, making WeChat essentially its own ecosystem. The share of mobile deep links that it receives from other apps is nearly double what Facebook’s app gets in the U.S. This data is significant because it shows that developers targeting China’s mobile app market are much more likely to link to WeChat.

WeChat earns revenue by selling games and promoting e-commerce transactions via the app. This includes the recent merger of Chinese taxi services, Tencent-supported Didi Dache and Alibaba-supported Kuaidi. The merger would make Tencent the largest shareholder, and increase WeChat’s sources of revenue. As with Facebook and Google, WeChat’s API enables developers to message or share their app content via WeChat.

Paying — and Getting Paid — for Deep Links

Getting app developers to put deep links to other apps inside their own is a serious business.  Uber, for example, pays developers “$5 for every new U.S. rider you send” the company via deep links or API integration, up to $5,000. When developer affiliates capture more than 1,000 referrals, Uber makes them eligible to become a partner.

Companies like Button broker deep links to other apps that let developers collect an affiliate fee for e-commerce transactions initiated from inside their app. Check-in app Foursquare recently entered into a deep link deal with using Button to help consumers find and buy groceries, food, and alcohol for delivery with their mobile devices. More brands are likely to deploy mobile app deep links to market their products, and developers to use them to obtain revenue for their nascent apps.


The focus on effective mobile app deep linking is here to stay. App developers looking to grow their global reach should decide to deploy links to popular apps in other countries and different verticals. They can leverage another app’s ecosystem and popularity to their advantage with appropriate deep links, and explore revenue-generating opportunities with other brands by incorporating their mobile deep links inside their own apps. Mobile app deep links are not simply a good strategy, but a necessary one for brands and app developers alike to improve install rates, increase engagement, decrease uninstalls, and generate revenue.

About the Author -

Ankit Jain is the AVP of Product at SimilarWeb which he joined via the acquisition of mobile intelligence startup Quettra that he founded and led as CEO. Prior to that, he was the Head of Search & Discovery for Google Play which he joined through the acquisition of Cuil where he helped build several parts of a web, real time and social search engines from scratch. Ankit is very involved with the entrepreneurial community via the Startup Leadership Program.

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