What are Universal Links?
The first thing to realize about universal links is that while they are links, they’re not universal. They’re iOS-specific, and not relevant for Android.
Universal links are basically deep links, but they are built around an idea that Apple has developed for aligning website content with app content, such that the same link will take someone to a specific location in your app, or a specific page on your website, depending on what is available and what they’ve chosen in the past.
That’s the universal part: the same link works every time, whether a person has your app installed or not.
Introduced in 2015, this iOS standard for web links set out to solve two specific problems with traditional URL schemes for apps. Prior to the creation of universal links, app developers would typically use a custom URL scheme that provided the ability to reference specific sections inside the app. As CodePath highlights, there are two issues with this traditional approach:
The problem is that two apps can claim the same URL scheme and there is no way to protect against which app should launch. Second, if the app was not installed, the URL doesn’t open and there needs to be custom code to handle it.
To solve the first problem, iOS checks a file stored on your webserver that associates your website and your app. As Apple says, only you can store this file on our server, securing the association of your website and your app.
To solve the second problem, universal links first determine if the app has been installed already by the user, in which case they’re directly to the app. If the user has not installed the app, there is a fallback mechanism to direct them to a mobile site. In short, universal links allow developers to use a single link that handles both types of users—installed and not installed—with a graceful mechanism to direct them to the appropriate location.
It’s important to note that universal links are not simply redirects, instead they are an iOS-specific URL that connects a website with an app’s URI scheme. This mechanism is applied to all link types, regardless if they are deep links or normal website links. Our FAQ support article on universal links discusses the subtle difference between the two link types as follows:
Universal Links look like normal HTTPS URLs, such as “https://www.linkedin.com.””. When a user clicks a Universal Click, the user’s device opens the app that the link was configured for. If the app is not installed on the device, the user is taken to the actual URL in their mobile browser.
Uses of Universal Links
There are several primary use cases of universal links including simplifying the user experience, increasing app engagement, and performing accurate attribution.
In terms of the user experience, universal links provide the ability to create a single link and deliver a seamless mobile experience that will work regardless if they have installed the app or not. In the case the user has not installed the app, they are redirected to the app store or mobile site and prompted to install it.
Universal links also provide more options for marketers to lead users directly to a specific location within the app, which is a powerful way to increase app engagement. Although deep links are capable of performing a similar experience, the difference is that deep links prompt an additional pop up message confirming the navigation. This additional step in the user experience almost always leads to a certain percentage opting out, which ultimately decreases engagement.
Finally, third-party attribution providers like Singular can use universal links in order to take users directly to the app while still attributing the correct platform, channel, or marketing campaign with the event. Singular supports this Apple-specific URL and provides the same function of deep link attribution, such as tracking the user’s source in terms of channel, campaign, and so on.
How Singular Uses Universal Links
One of the major distinctions between universal links and deep links is that since they are not a redirect, universal links do not provide any form of measurement or attribution with the link click (at least not out of the box). In order to solve this, Singular’s attribution technology is able to automatically attribute universal link clicks with their associated source and subsequent in-app activity. This allows marketers to accurately determine the ROI of their paid and organic marketing efforts and associate link clicks with valuable user actions such as installs, in-app purchases, and so on.
In addition to adding a layer of attribution to universal links, Singular’s technology provides marketers and app developers with a suite of ad fraud prevention techniques. Our proactive approach to ad fraud means that you’re able to block fraudulent activity and keep your ad budgets focused on quality users.
To enable universal links for your app, you need to enable “associated domains” in your Apple developer account, plus add some code to your website, and implement an API in your app.
Once that’s done, however, Singular Links work exactly as you’d expect them to without any additional configuration or hassle. And while universal links can in some cases break marketing measurement, Singular Links automatically handle tracking without loss of data.