A free tool lets retailers link directly to consumers’ mobile apps

URLgenius detects the type of device a consumer is using and attempts to open an in-app page when she clicks a link from a smartphone. Initially it’s designed to drive more engagement with brands’ social media pages, but could be extended later to promote mobile purchasing.

Amy Dusto

A new tool allows retailers to link consumers directly to mobile apps, a feature initially designed to drive social engagement that later could boost mobile purchasing, says creator Brian Klais, founder and president of mobile marketing consulting firm Pure Oxygen Labs LLC.

The tool, called URLgenius is especially useful when retailers or brands send consumers links to social media sites, since many consumers have downloaded social apps to their smartphones  and are constantly logged on, Klais says. If a retailer sends an e-mail to a shopper asking, for example, that she Like the retailer on Facebook, the software scans the shoppers’ phone to see if she has the Facebook app open. If she does, the link takes her directly to the retailer’s Facebook page within the social network’s app; if not, the link goes to the Facebook.com page on the mobile web, which the shopper navigates to via the browser on her smartphone.

Klais says consumers that use Facebook all the time on their mobile phones are more likely to respond if they are taken to a page on the Facebook app. “A lot of us aren’t logged into the browser because we’ve got the app,” he says. “So we click and it’s kind of a ‘dumb’ link where it takes us to the login on the mobile browser.” That often leads the consumer to abandon the page, he says.

For retailers linking to social sites in e-mail messages, the problem isn’t middling. Some recent reports estimate that nearly 65% of all e-mail opens in the United States are on smartphones. 

URLgenius gets around the dilemma by turning one link a retailer provides, for instance to its Twitter profile, into what Klais calls an “adaptive link,” or one that recognizes the type of device a consumer is using and adjusts what it does accordingly. “It’s kind of like responsive design for web sites, but for URLs,” he says, adding that it works automatically, without the need for technical assistance.

On a smartphone, an adaptive link will first try to open the corresponding page inside the app—say, Walmart.com’s Facebook profile inside the Facebook app. If the user has the Facebook app installed and is logged in, it will work. If she doesn’t, the link will instead open Walmart’s Facebook page in her mobile browser (first prompting her to log in to Facebook if she isn’t already). “That makes it much easier for the consumer to Like you and to share your stuff,” he says. URLgenius supports seven social networking apps today. It also provides reporting about the number of apps opened from a link.

Klais clarifies that the URLgenius tool cannot scan a consumer’s entire device to see what she has installed. Rather, each mobile operating system includes a way for detecting a particular app’s presence and, if the URLgenius code sees what it seeks, it tries to open the in-app page first before defaulting to the mobile web.

Dozens of retailers have been testing the tool since Pure Oxygen announced it last week, Klais says. “The most interesting thing is most brands have no idea just how many of their end consumers have these various social media apps on their devices,” he says. For example, one apparel retailer in the Top 50 of the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide did an early trial with URLgenius links in its e-mails and found that 97% of its Android users and 95% of its iPhone and iPad users had the Facebook app installed on their devices, he says. With “tens of thousands” of clicks on the Facebook link in that e-mail campaign, that led to an estimated five-fold increase in consumer engagement with the brand on Facebook, Klais says. He did not name the retailer.

“URLgenius solves a number of conversion challenges we face, including increased social engagement across Facebook and Twitter as well as the ability to track open rates of our new app,” says Jennifer Bell, director of web site marketing for restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You. The company hasn’t used the tool extensively yet, “but our social media guy is super excited about it and feels that it’s really an extraordinary tool,” she says.

On Friday, Lettuce Entertain You is sending an e-mail campaign to about 400,000 consumers asking them to click on adaptive links to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. “We’re looking for the number of times each one is clicked and the number of new followers,” she says. “I feel like we are going to gain a significant following by using these [links].”

Klais says the URLgenius technology, which he is seeking to patent, could eventually have more commerce-specific applications. For example, a retailer could link to an in-app product page, streamlining the process of buying for a shopper who is already logged into the app and has saved payment information there. Pure Oxygen made the initial tool free, he says, so that more retailers and brands will learn what the technology can do. He says he is not certain whether he will charge for it in the future.


adaptive links, Brian Klais, Jennifer Bell, Lettuce Entertain You, m-commerce, Mobile, mobile commerce, Mobile technology, Pure Oxygen Labs LLC, URLgenius