Universal Links in iOS- Impact on Marketers

What are Universal Links?

The idea of Universal links is to have the same URL for both your website and app. Hence, you need not have a separate link for your website (https://mywebsite.com) and separate deeplink URI for your App (myapp://).

Universal links have several key benefits such as simplicity (one URL works both for your website and app), uniqueness (since these are standard http links to a website, they can’t be claimed by other apps) etc.

Understanding Deeplinks

Before going ahead, let’s take a pause and understand how deeplinks work. The concept of deeplinking enabled each screen within the app to have a unique address. This feature was used by marketers to ensure that a user gets redirected to a specific screen within the app rather than always getting redirected to the home screen.

Hence, if you saw a marketing message from a fashion app enticing you to buy that latest Nike shoe, the marketer could ensure that on clicking this message, you would be redirected to the same Nike shoe screen within the app and not to the home screen.

While deeplinking greatly enhanced user experience, it also raised another important issue- how to handle the scenario when the user does not have your app installed- since there is no app, no deeplink will get opened. Hence, if you have a marketing message based on native deeplinks and if a user who does not have your app installed, clicks on such a message, the following error message will be displayed.

Universal Links

To circumvent this issue, concept of fallback location was introduced wherein marketer could decide that for users who do not have their app installed, they can be re-directed to a fallback location which is usually app store or mobile website.

Flow before introduction of Universal Link iOS RevX

For this fallback mechanism to work, browser-dependent (JavaScript- based) URI deeplinks were used. Eg- https://myserver.com?
deep_link=myapp://.However, with the introduction of Universal links in iOS 9.2 and above, such deeplinks on iOS are practically unusable now.

Wait, why is URI based deeplinking unusable now?

In iOS 9.1 and below, for the fallback mechanism to work, the java script call made via browser would trigger a “blocking” modal dialog window which blocked further execution of java script, thereby allowing the script to determine if the app deeplink can be opened or not. In case, the deeplink can’t be opened within a specific time period (usually in msec), it was deduced that the user does not have the app and hence she was redirected to App Store (fallback location).

With iOS 9.2 release, Apple changed this modal from “blocking” to “non-blocking”. Since it’s a non-blocking modal, the fallback code will execute immediately and hence even if the user has the app, she will always be taken to app store rather than getting redirected to the app- something which every marketer will want to avoid.

So how do I take the user directly to my App?

Alexander Graham Bell famously said, “When One Door Closes, Another Opens”. The story is no different here. While Apple took away the blocking modal window support, they introduced Universal Links. This is how the flow changes.

With the introduction of Universal links, if the user has the app installed, iOS will not redirect the click via Safari but will directly open the app, reducing one extra browser hop and thereby further enhancing user experience. Only if the app is not installed, it will redirect to fallback URL like App store. All of this intelligence is handled by the OS itself so the need to have a javascript logic to deduce whether the user has the app or not is no longer required.

Flow after introduction of Universal Link iOS RevX

Understood! So what’s the next step?

Well, the answer is simple- start using Universal Links. Apple has extensive documentation which talks about what needs to be done to start supporting universal links.

If you are using a third party service to generate deeplinks or to do marketing attribution, get in touch with your service providers. Chances are they already have or are in the process of updating their product to support Universal links. For instance, some players like AppsFlyer have already updated their product to support Universal links.

If you are working with an intelligent user acquisition platform like RevX, it will be able to provide you multiple ways to handle this scenario. For instance, RevX, can figure out if the user has iOS 9.2 or lower os version and redirect the user correctly by using corresponding compatible deeplinks. RevX is also integrated with all leading 3rd party mobile app deeplinking and attribution platforms and if you are working with any such service provider, you can seamlessly use RevX as your app marketing platform.

Happy Marketing!

Sandip Acharyya