Heavyweights like Amazon and eBay are driving traffic to their apps with deep linking, but many smaller retailers are struggling.

Search marketing continues to experience a stunning shift to mobile devices.  According to eMarketer, research as recent as August 2016 shows a 20 percent increase in paid search clicks on smartphones since 2015, as it became the leading channel for search clicks earlier this year.  In total, Smartphone paid search clicks have grown from about a third of all clicks in Q2 2015 to over half in Q2 2016. 

While smartphones dominate, paid search clicks from tablets have remained flat while desktop clicks are in decline. All three devices, however, remain important to the consumer journey, as retailers and other advertisers strive to optimize advertising that capitalize on cross-device behavior.  What’s missing from most cross-device paid search strategies, however, is how to engage consumers that have a preference for mobile apps vs. websites. As a result, the links in most paid search campaigns lead consumers to mobile websites where log-in is required. At best, this is frustrating those that have downloaded the retailer’s app and at worst it adds up to millions in lost revenue in mobile moments throughout the day.

The solution to optimizing paid search campaigns for mobile app vs. web is “deep linking.” The phrase once defined linking beyond the home page but now it also means linking to the same page deep within a mobile app for iOS or Android.  Deep linking enables retailers to implement single campaign links that optimize for mobile app vs. website based on operating system, device, app installation and user preferences.  Deep linking can also remove the marketing silos that exist in many retail organizations when it comes to marketing the app vs. website.

So why haven’t most retailers with mobile apps adopted this deep-linking capability for their paid search campaigns? One reason is that marketing silos are still present in retail organizations. Paid search campaign managers and agencies are typically not tasked with driving mobile app engagement.  In addition, the retailer’s mobile app is often managed by a different team measured by different key performance indicators, or KPIs.

Another reason is the sheer complexity of deep-linking technologies. Apple released Universal Links for deep linking while Google has released Firebase App Indexing for Android. These technologies, however, were not created with marketers in mind. They target mobile app developers and require technical resources and the implementation of software development kits or SDKs. In our research, we found extremely slow adoption of both Apple and Google deep linking technologies among the IR 100.  Meanwhile e-commerce giants that have the deep technical resources required, such as Amazon and eBay, are leading the industry with their mobile app deep-linking strategies, while leaving other retailers behind.


For retailers with mobile apps, paid search marketers looking to get an edge on the competition this holiday season still have time to test and implement mobile app deep linking. The key is to start small by simply updating a few campaign links based on a few keywords. Choose a deep linking solution designed for marketers that does not require technical resources or programming. You should be able to test easily and scale immediately when deep linking is proven to increase engagement and conversion. At any time, campaign marketers should be able to turn off routing to iOS and/or Android apps for any keyword or any link for any reason.

In addition, confirm that your deep-linking solution supports your investment in any third-party paid search analytics solutions, such as Kenshoo or Marin Software. You should still be able to add third-party tags to the end of your campaign URLs which send attribution data back to your paid search analytics dashboard.

For many omnichannel retailers, search marketing campaigns will still be the dominant driver of revenue this holiday season. Search campaigns with mobile app deep-linking capabilities will put retailers on a more level playing field with the Amazon shopping app. It could also be the easiest way improve the consumer journey while increasing revenue among today’s app-focused consumer.

Pure Oxygen Labs is a technology and services company specializing in mobile deep-linking optimization, mobile search marketing and mobile search optimization.