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Deep Linking with Firebase or branch.io

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Each month, more than 100k new apps are uploaded to Google Play and some 30k to the App Store. In such a competitive market, attracting users is no easy feat, which is where online advertising comes into play.

A typical ad for promoting an app could showcase a certain product available in the app. However, to get to that product, the app needs to be installed first. The problem occurs when the user is not immediately taken to the specific product page they expected to see.

First impressions count

Take the Philips Kitchen+ mobile app, for example. The app is full of recipes for the Airfryer appliance. These recipes available inside are used in advertising to attract new users.

Let's say a user saw an ad with the recipe for chicken taquitos and decided to click on it. Naturally, they expect to land on that chicken taquitos recipe immediately after installation.

Deep linking exampleThe flow expected by the user

If they land on the home page instead, the unsatisfied (and probably hangry) user is very likely to uninstall the app out of frustration.

Deep links to the rescue

To prevent catastrophic scenarios from happening, deep links improve the user experience by redirecting users to their expected destinations.

They appear as regular links but contain the logic necessary to redirect users to the app store and hold that information until the app processes it.

Thanks to two main deep linking services, Firebase Dynamic Links and branch.io, deep links are easy to implement.

Firebase Dynamic Links

Firebase is a platform by Google that provides many helpful services for developing mobile or web apps. Some of the most famous services include Cloud Firestore, Cloud Messaging, Google Analytics, and another useful one is Firebase Dynamic Links.

Firebase Dynamic Links allows users to create cross-platform links, which will work on every platform: Android, iOS, and the desktop browser. Firebase gives you the ability to configure deep link behavior depending on whether the user has already installed the app.

Deep links can be created statically through Firebase Console or dynamically through mobile or web apps. Of course, it is necessary to implement a separate SDK in the app if you want to create them dynamically.

Setting up a basic deep link

  1. Insert the public URL
  2. Insert the URL that will be passed to the app
  3. Set the behavior on the iOS platform to be opened by the iOS app
  4. Insert the URL of the App Store page that should be opened if the app isn't installed
  5. Set the behavior on the Android platform to be opened by the Android app
  6. Insert the URL of the Google Play Store page of the app that should be opened if the app isn't installed

It's also possible to set social meta tags with Firebase. Setting social meta tags for the preview title, description, and image makes it possible to configure what your link preview looks like when shared on social media.

Additionally, Firebase Console gives you insight into the deep link metrics for the number of clicks, installations, first-opens, etc. This is especially useful for your marketing and analytics team.

Firebase's functionalities are sufficient for most projects, and it's available for free at any scale.

branch.io

Unlike Firebase and its whole spectrum of helpful services for developing mobile and web apps, Branch is a platform focused solely on attribution and deep linking. It supports every option covered by Firebase Dynamic Links, as well as bonus options that Firebase does not cover.

  • Branch enables you to add an unlimited number of key-value pairs for passing data into your app, while Firebase supports only a single web URL,
  • Branch supports multiple Android stores: Google Play Store, Huawei App Gallery, Vivo App Store, Oppo App Market.
  • Branch deep links are supported on Huawei, while Firebase Dynamic Links don't work there because Huawei doesn't support Google services.
  • Branch provides much more detailed analytics information regarding deep links.

It is important to mention that even though the creation of deep links with Branch is free, to achieve its full potential, be sure to check its pricing plan.

Dig deeper with Branch

Having covered the basic differences between Branch and Firebase, here are some additional Branch features worth mentioning.

  • Deepviews (auto-generated app previews with the deep link)
  • Referrals (use Branch deep links to build and measure referrals)
  • Journeys (web banner for quick access to your app)
  • Universal emails (deep links in email campaign)

To read about them in detail, please visit branch.io.

What to choose and when?

Firebase Dynamic Links is a great and simple addition to the whole Firebase platform. It provides basic deep link infrastructure, and it is a solid solution for any app that doesn't require advanced functionalities from deep links.

On the other hand, if an app heavily relies on traffic growth and advertising, you will find Branch much more useful and helpful.

Nikolina Fuzul is the artist behind the dreamy cover illustration.