Attribution and Deep Linking: Perfect Together

Chapter 5

Why Combining Attribution & Deep Linking is Key to Mobile Success

While often misconstrued as separate technologies, attribution is what allows for deep linking. It’s important to know this and why you should pick one vendor to do both.

Deep Linking is a Consequence of Attribution

As we all know by now, a deep link is just another URL or link that has some special properties. How app developers use these special properties is what most people refer to as “deep linking.” When your app deep links a user, the app actually first attributes the user. For example, when a user clicks an ad or link, the browser takes some identifying information about the device so it can properly “recognize” the user later.

Then, the link redirects the user to the app store where they can install and open the app. At that moment in time when the user opens the app, all attribution and deep linking vendors are the exact same. The user is matched with a Google Play Referrer (if on Android) or the same information gathered from before they installed the app – usually a combination of a device’s IP, Phone Size, Screen Size, OS, OS Version – and then the vendor, like OneLink, responds to the app with attribution data, such as the campaign the user came from, the media source and the URL.

Regardless of attribution mechanism, the attribution & deep linking vendor provides a “callback” or a server response telling the app where the person came from – what Facebook campaign, Google Ad, etc.

For example, if a user clicked and install from an ad, the app would receive something like this:

{ c:test
other data


In this response to the app, the 3rd party can also tell the app which URL the user came from. This is usually called the referral source, or the URL that referred the user to install. The app looks at this piece of data to route the user.

Deep linking is the process of using attribution data to route the user appropriately. AppsFlyer does this with the URL af_dp value, which is sent in the attribution callback when the app opens and reports an install or open.

The key point here is that deep linking is just using the attribution data to route the user. It’s super important to know this and is the basis of why you should never use two vendors for attribution and deep linking. It’s all the exact same technology. There’s no point in doing deep linking with one company and attribution with another when the technology is the same and you can get the exact benefits using one tool.

Benefits of using one tool for Attribution & Deep linking:

  • Tool & SDK reduction – You don’t need two tools to do the same thing. This reduces size of the app, and helps marketing teams operate more efficiently since they don’t need to go back and forth between two different systems
  • Reduces tech debt – it’s easier to maintain one SDK and its codebase versus two
  • Deep link off of all your channels – you can use the tool you leverage for attribution to drive users to specific spots in the app
  • Consistency in reporting – because all attribution and click data from deep links flows into one dashboard, it’s much easier to analyze data and pipe this information to a customer data platform such as mParticle
  • Cost – one tool is cheaper than two!

Attribution & Deep Linking is Central to the Enterprise Mobile Growth Stack

When we talk about the mobile growth stack today, we are really talking about 6 key components:

  1. Attribution and Deep Linking
  2. Media and Ad Networks
  3. Marketing Cloud
  4. Marketing Automation
  5. App Store Intelligence
  6. Product Analytics

Attribution with deep linking provides an important place in the growth stack. In fact, attribution and deep linking are one of the core pillars that growth teams can rely on to execute against KPIs. They are among the first components setup after the customer data platform because their utility and value can be proven almost immediately:

You can’t run good performance marketing without understanding the source of your growth and ensuring customers are getting a world class first impression of your app via deep linking.

This toolset is tightly connected to the customer data platform and serves as a two-way sync of data tied to device and customer data, allowing growth teams to understand how they are acquiring users as well as what actions they take downstream in the marketing tech stackAll of these platforms provide mobile app attribution and measurement technology that is at the hub for a company’s mobile app download and re-engagement campaigns. They enable measurement of the ROI of app download campaigns, provide a single source of truth for metrics such as Cost per Download and Cost per Consumables Customer Acquisition, and create a single system for deep linking across all channels.

Why is it important to invest in a tech stack?

The tech stack you build and maintain within your mobile marketing and product teams will define your success on mobile. That’s because each piece of the stack serves a specific purpose, and trying to get by without certain components will almost always catch up with you.

The best teams in mobile think not just about their short term needs — such as setting up solid attribution — but also how their needs will evolve and how they can tie tools together to serve future purposes.

It’s important to invest in multiple best-in-class tools that compliment one another in order to be efficient in mobile marketing. It’s also important to avoid duplicative features, to remove bad and old tech just as much as you add new technology, and to setup your stack right from the onset.

Growth Stack Best Practices

If you know that a growth stack is important then understanding its ideal characteristics is important in your vetting & implementation process.

As you set out to design and implement a stack that includes Attribution & deep linking, consider some of the following best practices from HBE Ventures, a US-based mobile growth consultancy firm:

  • If Facebook is an important paid media channel, picking an attribution provider that is an MMP is a non-starter. Vendors without access to this program will provide a less accurate reporting from this channel
  • In early 2014, deep linking was a complex and novel technical innovation. It is now a commodity – all the major players offer basic to advanced deep linking capabilities.
    • Optimize for deep linking providers that offer: Universal Link support, Android App Link support, short links, an API for their links and a single URL for all attribution on paid media.
  • Focus on consolidating your stack. Fewer tools is better, especially in attribution & deep linking.
  • Consider designing and implementing a concise campaign measurement nomenclature. A template is provided.
  • Make sure you can easily sync data in and out of your attribution tool. Use a customer data platform and ensure that your attribution provider can receive downstream events and send your attribution data to the data platform for consolidating in a single visualization tool.

Key Takeaways

  • Deep linking is a feature of Attribution – if your attribution provider offers deep linking, you do not need separate vendors for each use case
  • The underlying technology powering Attribution & Deep linking is the same
  • When vetting tools, you should first ensure that you pick a tool that meets your requirements for Attribution – this is the bottleneck. Most attribution tools also provide the ability to deep link. This should be a secondary consideration.
  • There are quite a few benefits to consolidating attribution and deep linking under one roof. Marketers should take note to avoid complexity, waste, and confusion from using more than one
  • Attribution & Deep linking are at the very heart of the mobile growth stack
  • The tech stack you build and maintain within your mobile marketing and product teams will define your success on mobile

About the Authors