For example, while looking at a Pinterest post of a vintage handbag from shopping site Etsy, a user may get shown a link that goes directly to the product on the Etsy app, where a purchase can be made with a couple of clicks. Or in reading a review of the new Maroon 5 album, up pops a link that takes a fan to the Spotify app, where the songs can be downloaded right away. A traveler booking a last-minute room on HotelTonight could be shown promotions for local restaurants or sporting events and linked directly to a reservation page or ticketing app.
In order for the new technology to work, it has to know a great deal about the individual user. If someone has the Etsy app downloaded and accesses it frequently, that's probably a good place to direct the click. But is it better to send a user who doesn't have the app to the app store for a potential download or to Etsy's mobile Web page? And is it preferable to send a music fan to Spotify or a different music app? That all depends on other behaviors, such as what types of apps the user downloads when given the option.
Branch Metrics, a Palo Alto, California-based start-up founded last year, said on Tuesday that it had raised $3 million in venture funding to expand its deep-linking technology that "tracks where users come from and what drove them to install the app in the first place, which has previously been a mystery to developers."
Google knows the importance of this transition. Thus far, the company has been focused on deep linking mobile search with a product called App Indexing, introduced late last year and discussed publicly at Google's developer conference in June. A mobile search for a hotel in Paris may enable a consumer to go directly to the reservation page on Booking.com's app, or a search for a nearby Sushi restaurant could quickly lead you to the right spot on the OpenTable app.
"If a user has taken the action to install an application, that's meaningful to us," said Lawrence Chang, a senior product manager at Google. App Indexing allows Google to go beyond just the front page and go into the "guts of the application," he said.
The Google tool is currently only available on Android, so iPhone users are out of luck. "It's not an easy problem, so we've been focusing on Android," Chang said.
Facebook and Twitter are also focused on building in-app links that help their mobile users get to relevant apps, but none of them are yet going after the rest of the mobile universe. The start-ups are trying.