Quick and Dirty Intro to Cross-Device Tracking for Small Business Owners


Cross Device Tracking! Holy Crap! I guess it’s time to get on that.  Customer journeys are long and complex today, and the internet of things will make this even more convoluted. Two out of three online sales are completed on a different device than the user started on, 65% of consumers begin the path to purchase on a smartphone, and 61% of these users complete it on a laptop or desktop.Multi-device tracking

If you access the same website from three different devices (desktop, phone, tablet), you are counted three times. Cross-device tracking is the method to track you as a single user moving among devices fluidly. The biggest sticking point for allocating marketing budget is figuring out where to attribute conversions.

One example I ran into recently was helping a partner determine whether or not an ad group was “working,” because it generated no conversions on mobile. We could see that the ad group was generating sales on desktops, and assisting sales on desktops, but we couldn’t determine if mobile clicks were assisting desktop purchases.

Obviously, I’m not alone in this! It’s an increasingly and incredibly common challenge. If we’re not Google, Facebook, or another industry behemoth, how can we attribute data and make sense of it all?

There are two primary methods of tracking data – probabilistic and deterministic:

  • Probabilistic – determined by OS, IP address, browser, etc. In Google Analytics and AdWords this falls under “Client ID,” and makes up the bulk our data.
  • Deterministic – determined by a user ID, assigned by email address or user login

App.org has some great info on historical and legal context for the difference in the two, and what we need to be cognizant of when we deploy advanced user tracking. For more info on probabilistic and deterministic targeting methods, and how to stitch data together – check out Connexity.com and AdExchanger.com.

The most accessible free tool available for deterministic tracking is Google Analytics User ID tracking. More and more businesses have moved to a subscription-based model, and among its benefits is the ability to assign a user ID based on a login. It’s not perfect – a user may only login via mobile and never on desktop, or vice versa – but it’s a start.

Not everyone has a website that requires a login to browse, and it’s not realistic to expect users to login if it’s not required. Do you fall into this category?  You can still leverage your email marketing campaign, especially on a platform like MailChimp. MailChimp has relatively advanced tracking on the user level already, and when you combine its forces with Google Analytics you can use code and cookies to assign user IDs based on email addresses.

Not sure how to do all this? That’s okay, because we do. Just ask!

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

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