Facebook vs. Google: the battle for deep linking supremacy

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Facebook and Google are in an arms race, but this time not over active user counts. Both tech giants are making big moves in the deep linking world, allowing users to go straight from one app to another. For instance, when a user clicks on an ad from Hotels.com within their Facebook News Feed, they’re led into the Hotels.com app (if they’ve got it installed) instead of a mobile browser. This process is done through a platform Facebook announced earlier this year at f8, App Links.

For Facebook, this makes mobile advertising much more valuable, as app developers don’t have to worry about a sub-standard experience when a person is led to the mobile browser site. For Google, it’s a way to evolve to meet the growing demand on mobile and bring Android to the forefront.

URX, a deep linking search engine for developers, supports both Facebook’s App Links and Google’s deep linking. URX has been one of the early and major players in the deep linking community and recently announced that it is building the first mobile app search API. We talked with URX Head of Marketing Mike Fyall to learn how Facebook and Google are competing within this space.

Inside Facebook: What effect has Facebook had on the deep linking ecosystem since launching App Links?

Mike Fyall: Facebook has made a pretty big push into the App Links side. Obviously, they announced it at the developer conference, but they continued talking with partners.

Google, on their front, talked about deep links several times at I/O and within their earnings call. There was a question from an analyst about when we’d start seeing app indexing. Basically, what we’ve seen in the last three months or so, is that the additional tension from both Facebook and Google has really propelled things forward. We’re getting more questions like, “I get deep linking is important, but what can I do on top of it?”

I don’t know how many people have actually implemented (App Links). You need two people to use App Links — not just one developer. Major partners for Facebook were getting tons of traffic. … People have heard about it, they know about it and (Facebook) has done a good job simplifying the challenges that exists. It’s a good thing for everybody.

IF: How has App Links grown and evolved since the launch?

MF: It’s going to take people (a while). They have to announce it, and show people what it is, and then developers will have to get it into their release cycles. It’ll take a while to see if they get adoption with mid- and long-tail developers. It’s going to take six months to a year to see what kind of traction they get. It really is a no-brainer for people who get a ton of traffic from Facebook. … It remains to be seen if they’re going to have success with long-tail folks. To date, I think they’ve done a really good job.

Putting my product marketing hat on, if you go to their site and look at how they’ve done the announcement, they’ve actually made a lot of sense. If developers want to be sharing information as a third party, everybody has to be on board.

Facebook is going to succeed with App Links for people that are critical to the Facebook ecosystem — whose businesses are. What remains to be seen is if this may actually become the defacto standard more broadly, with developers using it to connect with each other. For the web to work, you need that connective mesh or connective tissue. Will App Links become that? That’s the question. If you look at Android, if people are going to be doing that, you need to show up in Google search results, that’s a no-brainer.

If I don’t have a relationship with Facebook directly, do I really need to add Facebook tags if I already have Google? That’s the question.

IF: Can you compare and contrast what Facebook can offer with what Google can offer?

MF: With Google, it’s pretty clear that the main thing they’re offering right now is to show up in search results on Android. … Going forward, if you follow what they were doing at I/O, they want to make the web and apps more similar. They want to break down the silos. If you’re looking at some of their recent paths. They’d show a recently viewed webpage alongside a recently viewed app. What they’re saying is, user navigation is going to be far better if we can take users in and out of an app, just like we can take them in and out of a website.

With Facebook, one thing they’ve done really well, other than the component of making it easier to drive traffic through Facebook, is they’re really trying to push the App Links standard as a way for two developers to be able to find deep links on their own. The thing that’s still TBD about App Links is, can two developers who are both using the Facebook standard, will they actually use App Links that way?

The message there is, “Hey developers, you can implement our standards, and then send traffic to each other.” They’re really trying to emphasize the Facebook News Feed, whereas Google is just saying, “Hey, it’s going to look a lot better on Android if you deep link with us.”

Readers: Which do you prefer for deep linking?

Photo by Praneendra Kuver for Inside Facebook.