5 Things You Need to Know About iOS 9 and Universal Links

Today is the big day: Apple is releasing iOS 9… and mobile marketing is never going to be the same.

If your brand has an app or just uses mobile deep links in general, iOS 9 is going to fundamentally change the way that users experience your apps. In short, they’re going to experience your apps a lot more often, because Apple is working hard to index different content within apps, make apps searchable, and, thanks to Universal Links, ensure that if a user has an app installed already, they’re automatically brought to it instead of a webpage.

This has a lot of implications for any brand with a mobile marketing strategy. Many Bitly Brand Tools customers use our deep linking capabilities to shorten, measure, and share deep links.

Here are five things that you need to know about iOS 9’s Universal Links and what they mean for your mobile marketing strategy:

1. All Of Your Bitly Links Are Fine

For months, we’ve been testing Bitly’s links, including deep links,  for iOS 9. Every Bitlink that deep links into an app will be unaffected by Apple’s changes.

2. If Your iOS App Supports Universal Links, Expect Your Mobile Web Traffic to Drop

If iOS 9 users go to on mobile web and have the Pinterest app installed, their browser will open the app instead. That’s because Pinterest has enabled Universal Links, so any app users are automatically redirected to the app. The same goes for any brand that has changed their apps to support Universal Links.

While this is great when it comes to encouraging users to engage the app more often, it could impact mobile web traffic. As app users are redirected to the app, that means fewer people are going to visit your website. Universal Links take some work to enable, because you need to make changes to your app and place meta tags on your site that tell Apple where to take someone who clicks on a web link and gets sent to an app.

Another potential downside here is the inability to track and record metrics on this usage. Since people will immediately enter an app from a web URL, that leaves little room for marketers to see where users are visiting.

Right now, this means that enabling Universal Links is a choice between enhanced user experience and being able to measure marketing initiatives and what’s actually working. We are working closely with Apple to test how brands can measure the customer journey if Universal Links are enabled and already testing how deep linking with Bitly can potentially help.

3. iOS Apps Can Now Be Searchable…If You’re Ready

When we wrote about Apple’s deep links announcement, we mentioned that Spotlight Search is now going to search within apps, too.

In iOS 9, if you look for “fried chicken recipes” on your iPhone (or ask Siri about it), you’ll be offered not just a cooking app, but specific fried chicken recipes within that cooking app. This allows brands to showcase what the app offers without having people download it first. Or, for example, if you’re searching for a place to watch NFL football games, Foursquare has told Apple the types of venues which are sports bars and these locations will appear in the phone’s search results.

But to enable this kind of search functionality within your apps, you first have to tag and index the pages on the company website. Apple crawls public information on a website that’s tagged to note that it has equivalent content in the iOS application.

4. Create an App Strategy for Indexing and Meta Tags

All of these new and improved capabilities depend on how a brand is indexing and tagging apps and webpages. Marketers should work with developers to come up with a strategy around what’s most relevant for app users. That way, you can make sure that your app surfaces in Spotlight Search results whenever a user is searching for relevant content.

To get started, marketers can start tagging content on their websites to make sure that it’s easily searchable. Detailed instructions on how to make your site searchable by Apple can be found here.

The other part of your indexing strategy will come down to using the Apple SDK to index private user content within iOS apps. That means creating personalized search results depending on user behavior and historical activity within their apps, which will require developer work. Details for tagging and indexing private content can be found here. Developers may also want to look into Apple’s Core Search API.

Ultimately, as brands build new apps and update old ones, you’ll always want to think about indexing and tagging not just for activity within the app, but activity outside of it. With iOS 9, there are big opportunities to highlight your app and drive users to it like never before… as long as Apple can find it.

5. We’ve Written a LOT about Deep Links

What all this means, more than anything, is that marketers really can’t ignore deep links anymore. Deep links are fundamental to driving mobile users directly to specific pages within your app. Mobile devices and apps already dominate the customer experience every day. With iOS 9 and Universal Links in particular, Apple is making it easier than ever for brands to promote apps to build those experiences

If you want to learn more, we’ve created a lot of content around deep links over the past few months. Here’s a list that can help you get started:

eBook:How Marketers Can Use Deep Links to Drive Performance

SlideShare: Deep Linking with Bitly: The Authoritative Guide


Using Deep Links to Power Your Marketing Strategy

Blaise Lucey @BlaiseLucey00
Director of Product & Content Marketing