The primary motivation behind cross device tracking, particularly in the context of affiliate marketing, is based on the assumption that the average user accesses the Internet on more than one device. Consider the modern connected lifestyle. The typical urban professional can easily have a personal smartphone, a separate smartphone for work, a small tablet for travel, a laptop for working on the go, a desktop computer at the office, and an all-in-one PC at home.
That’s a lot of devices, each of which can have its own separate browsing history even though they are all being used by the same person. And this notion of surfing the web across more than one device throws a profound wrench into the common affiliate marketing practice of remarketing.
Also known as retargeting, remarketing is when a website bases the ads that are displayed to a user based on that user’s past browsing history and surfing habits. You may have noticed, for example, that after you’ve been searching for certain products on Amazon that you’ll start seeing ads for that same products when you catch up with friends on Facebook. That’s remarketing and, when you’re on your computer, the mechanism relies on the cookies you’ve been collecting as you make your way across the web.
The problem, from the perspective of the affiliate marketer, is that these cookies don’t automatically “transfer” from a browsing session on one device to a new browsing session on another device. You may have been shopping for digital cameras on your desktop PC, but your surfing session on your iPad doesn’t know about that history. This is where cross device tracking can come into play.
Cross device tracking is still in its relevant infancy compared to many other tools and technologies involved in online advertising. With cross device tracking, publishers and ad companies can better identify users as they make their way across their smartphones, tablets and computers. The goal is to know that the person searching for digital cameras on their laptop is the same person who is now playing a game on a smartphone. With this knowledge, far more accurate retargeting can be accomplished.
This sounds great for Internet marketers, because a better targeted ad is far more likely to get clicked and it is far more likely to generate a conversion.
The simplest and most obvious way that cross device tracking can work is if that user logs into the same account on all of his devices. A prime example of this is with a Google account via the Chrome browser. Since Chrome is available across multiple platforms and users can sync their history with a Google account (like on Android), retargeting can suitably take place. Another example is when a user logs into his Amazon or Facebook account to use the corresponding apps on mobile devices, as well as through a web browser on a desktop or laptop.
However, this more direct method for how cross device tracking works may not always be available. Perhaps the person uses Safari on his iPhone and Firefox on the PC. And even when a connection is made, this data may not necessarily be available to the publisher or affiliate.
For this, a technology exists called probabilistic cross device tracking. It is inexact, incredibly complicated, and offers varying levels of accuracy. In effect, the system uses statistical models to venture a “best guess” of whether user X on the PC is the same as user Y on the tablet. Some of the better known companies in this space include Tapad and Drawbridge. Google Analytics also offers cross device reports for this purpose.