July 24, 2014, 3:28 PM

The missing link in mobile marketing

It’s called deep linking, and it takes a shopper from an ad or e-mail directly into a retailer’s mobile app. However, most top online retailers lack this deep linking capability, according to data provided exclusively to Internet Retailer by Pure Oxygen Labs.

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If you own a smartphone and make vigorous use of apps, odds are pretty good you’ve touched a link in an e-mail message or advertisement or typed in a web site URL and, to your surprise, your e-mail program or web browser suddenly closes and the app you previously downloaded onto your phone from the sender of the e-mail or the owner of the web site suddenly opens, all in the blink of an eye.

What happened? Deep linking. Social networks are big on this. But most big e-retailers cannot make this happen. Yet.

In a nutshell, deep linking refers to the practice of automatically sending a consumer from an e-mail, ad or web site into an app, which offers a far richer mobile experience than can be found on a web site. Retailers consistently find that app shoppers buy more and more frequently than mobile web site shoppers. App users tend to be very loyal customers. So if a consumer already has a retailer’s app on her smartphone, that retailer will want to make sure when she clicks on a marketing e-mail, for example, that link sends her to the product page in the app, not the site (the common practice today). That’s deep linking.

82% of the top 50 e-retailers in the 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide with both an Apple iOS app and an Android app have apps that are not compatible with deep linking, Pure Oxygen Labs LLC reveals to Internet Retailer. Pure Oxygen Labs is a mobile marketing and mobile search engine optimization firm. Of the 50 merchants, three have iOS and Android apps that are completely compatible with deep linking. These merchants are Groupon, Jackthreads.com and Etsy.

To be compatible for deep linking, an app’s pages must be coded with a protocol similar to the Hypertext Transfer Protocol used for web pages (http://) so e-mails, mobile ads and web sites can communicate directly with the app. For example, an e-mail promoting a snowblower might typically have a link to http://www.retailer.com/hardware/snowblower/productnumber. To send a consumer with the app opening that same e-mail to the product page in the app instead of the site, the retailer needs to have a deep link for that product page coded in the app, such as RetailerApp://hardware/snowblower/productnumber.

Pure Oxygen, in its study, merely looked to see if a retailer had its app home page coded for deep links, so that a retailer could, at minimum, send consumers with apps from an e-mail, ad or site into the app. 82% of the retailers could not do that.

This is an enormous opportunity for which retailers are totally unprepared, says Brian Klais, founder and president of Pure Oxygen Labs, which markets URL Genius, a technology that helps companies with indexing and deep linking apps.

“This is costing retailers millions in sales,” Klais says. “Wal-Mart has said its app customers make twice as many trips to Wal-Mart stores and spend 40% more than non-app customers. The more a brand removes obstacles, the easier it is for customers to purchase with less friction. Deep linking is an enabler for unlocking mobile commerce in apps. The vast majority of brands are not taking advantage of this huge opportunity.”

What’s more, Google Inc., the maker of the Android mobile operating system, throws in a little bonus for companies whose Android apps have deep links. Google can sense when a mobile search comes from an Android device and when an Android device has a relevant app already installed. So, if a retailer’s loyal shopper and app user on an Android smartphone, for example, searches for a product or deal on Google and that retailer is listed in the search results, Google displays next to that listing a little box that reads, “Open In App.” For the time being, Google does not do the same for users of Apple devices.

Retailers have a lot of work ahead of them, Klais says.

“It’s like in the old days of SEO,” he says. “Go back 10 years, I was there. Google was a big deal, but a lot of retailers had these dynamic database-driven web sites and none of their product or catalog pages could be accessed by Google. That forced customers to access the retailer’s home page first, then navigate to the product page. It took a long time for retailers to realize every page is an entry point for a customer to purchase. Today, retailers are repeating the same mistakes with mobile apps.”

Follow Bill Siwicki, managing editor, mobile commerce, at @IRmcommerce.

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