Users are shifting from desktop to smartphones. This creates a need for cross-device tracking. But is it even possible? And how can publishers do it?

On average, users switch devices 21 times in an hour. In such a case, cookies limit publishers in tracking the user behaviors, as cookies are only able to do the tracking while users are on web browsers, not applications.

Then how can we track users across multiple devices? The answer is cross-device tracking.

What is Cross-Device Tracking?

It helps  publishers track the behavior of a single user on different devices such as desktop, smartphone, tablet, and other smart devices.

The idea is to create a detailed profile of each user by tracking his/her interactions even if they are using multiple devices.dnd then storing/using that data whenever required. For instance, in the ad tech industry, such data can be used to run ad campaigns targeted across devices.

Is Cross-Device Tracking Possible?

Yes, of course. It is doable, but one should not expect 100% accuracy.

When it comes to browser-based user tracking, nothing works better than cookies. However, users have now shifted to mobile devices and mostly use applications (mobile apps). This is where cookies become redundant. Hence, to utilize cross-device tracking, these two methods can be used:

Deterministic Cross-Device Tracking

This is a popular technique used by companies like Facebook and Twitter. In order to use Facebook’s and Twitter’s services, users are required to sign up with them. Signing in creates a unique account of each individual giving company (Facebook and Twitter) the chance to track users across devices.

The data collected by deterministic tracking is mostly accurate and can be used to run a precise campaign targeting individual users. However, the data collected by company only signifies the user’s behavior with the company’s platform, not the holistic view of a user’s online behavior.

Probabilistic Cross-Device Tracking

As the name suggests, probabilistic targeting depends on the probability that A is probably the user with desktop (X device) and smartphone (Y device) As per probabilistic tracking strategy, algorithms are designed which take a huge amount of data and then segment users based on similar behavior across-devices, geographical locations, IP address, and any other similar context.

This method generally provides 60%-90% accurate results. Currently, most ad targeting campaigns use this method to target users across devices.

Why is Cross-Device Tracking Important?

As discussed, people switch devices more frequently than you can imagine. Furthermore, they use each device differently.

For instance, a user looks up movie tickets on a web browser on desktop. But when it comes to booking the tickets, he/she downloads an application to do the booking and make the payment.

In such cases, the app publisher might think, a user came directly to the application and made the purchase (conversion). While in reality, it was a desktop user who came and checked out the service but did not convert. This kind of confusion usually messes with campaign planning and attribution modeling.

What’s in it for publishers?

Advertisers/Marketers pay a good amount to publishers offering a detailed profiles of users. This saves them from running separate campaigns for desktop and mobile users. Hence, cross-device tracking provides a golden opportunity to publishers to increase the market value of their inventory.

Apart from ad targeting, cross-device tracking also helps publishers understand their users’ journey. At the end, thishelps publishers improve their own product and service as per users’ behavior.

Google’s Move to Track Users Across Devices

Get started with cross-device tracking using Google Analytics. For that, you need to simply agree to use the User-ID policy of Google and carry out the necessary settings. You will notice, this feature requires users to log in to the publisher’s platform. Meaning, it’s similar to deterministic cross-device tracking.

Note: User-ID is different from Client-ID, the former identifies a user across-devices, whereas the latter identifies a unique browser/device.

Furthermore, DoubleClick also provides the cross-device tracking feature available for advertisers and marketers. It’s a bit trickier than using Google Analytics. This is because, it provides various segments (based on conversion, leads, click through rate and more) while tracking users across devices.

While Google’s initiation to provide cross-device tracking sounds fun, but these models have their limitations too. Both Doubleclick and Analytics data are not completely accurate. And when it comes to in-app browsing, tracking becomes complex resulting in varying compatibility and reporting.

What’s Next?

When the ad tech industry is looking for means to make user tracking and targeting better. At the same time, GDPR policies and Safari ITP are making user tracking difficult for everyone. GDPR is determinate to make user experience more protected by removing any means that harm the privacy or security (basically providing a set of rules for user tracking).

But Safari intelligent tracking prevention is too harsh. It simply blocks web cookies, disallowing any means for user tracking. Publishers who can convince or have convinced their users to sign in with them can take benefit from deterministic cross-device tracking.

However, the publishers who are still looking for a solution can try probabilistic cross-device tracking by creating their own algorithms to track users across devices. Finally, the best solution for publishers would be to comply with an ad tech company to come up with better cross-device tracking data for marketers and advertisers.


1.How does Google cross-device tracking work?

A cross-device tracking system uses shared identifiers, such as sign-in information, on each device to match activity across devices to the same user.

2. How do you track a cross device?

In order to track a user’s movement across multiple devices, two techniques can be employed: A/B testing and using models to determine a connection between different data points.

3. What is cross-device targeting?

Mobile advertising with cross-platform targeting allows brands to target potential customers on desktops and mobile devices simultaneously.
You will be able to spend your budget more freely, and your ads will appear in front of your customers whether they are online or on the go.


Shubham is a digital marketer with rich experience working in the advertisement technology industry. He has vast experience in the programmatic industry, driving business strategy and scaling functions including but not limited to growth and marketing, Operations, process optimization, and Sales.

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