The challenge of tracking cross-device transactions is a critical one for all digital marketers, but for a channel premised on paid for conversions, it takes on a heightened importance.

Cross device tracking first came on the radar in 2011, when it became obvious that online users were regularly accessing links and content from publishers across more than one device.

As mobile traffic across the network grew at a disproportionate rate to mobile sales, the industry had a new challenge to be tackle: how to identify and match those users that view publisher websites on a different device to the one they use to make their purchase?

The inability to recognise the true value of publishers’ traffic is a clear threat to the affiliate marketing channel.

In the UK on average between 4% and 15% of transactions are missed by performance marketing tracking tools because these technologies are based on ‘single-device’ tracking, which incredibly is still the norm amongst the vast majority of the industry.

With more than 60% of online adults in the UK using more than one device, a single-device tracking tool is now just no longer a feasible or practical way of rewarding any online marketing activity, especially one which is only paying out when transactions are made.

Advertisers now focus their marketing strategies on providing a consistent, effective message to the same customer accessing their business across a variety of platforms.

If affiliate marketing is to meet the needs of advertisers in terms of cross-platform marketing, then the right tracking needs to be in place to ensure publishers can be properly incentivised. 

Matching the same user accurately across multiple devices is the biggest hurdle in cross device tracking.

There are two methods for cross device matching: deterministic and probabilistic.

Probabilistic

A probabilistic cross-device tracking method collates a number of anonymous data points such as device type, location and operating system, and then uses statistical algorithms to create likely matches between devices.  

Deterministic

A deterministic cross device tracking method uses specific, first party data provided by the user to create links between devices. This is the method commonly used by the likes of Google and Facebook, who rely on users logging in across multiple devices to create cross device linkage.

The cost-per-acquisition model that dominates affiliate marketing means there can be no room for assumptive-based tracking, where sales are awarded based on degrees of probability.

Pros and cons

The industry has to be sure that when a transaction is credited to a publisher a user has interacted with that publisher’s links, even if that interaction takes place across multiple devices.

This means deterministic cross device tracking is the only viable choice, in order to provide a robust and sustainable solution.

The probabilistic method contains too many uncertainties around user matching to be effective for tracking sales in affiliate marketing.

For example, it may assume a user connection between a phone and a tablet which both access the same WiFi hotspot at the same time each day.

However, these devices could belong to two colleagues who meet up at the same coffee shop each morning, rather than the same user.

Although companies using probabilistic cross device tracking claim accuracy levels of anywhere between 60% and 90%, the main problem with any form of probabilistic tracking is that it might create an incorrect connection between devices, and when advertisers and publishers rely on sales to track accurately this might begin to seriously undermine affiliate marketing’s publisher model.

There are some nuances with how matching is done under the probabilistic method, with some providers combining probabilistic data with third party deterministic data to improve match rates, however there are still no guarantees on accuracy.

Of course, deterministic also has its challenges, and the major one is scale.

Because deterministic cross device tracking relies on definitive user matches it means less user matches are made. The key is getting enough confirmed device and user relationships stored up to ensure the trackability of all the cross device sales being made on the network. 

While deterministic cross device solutions have accuracy on their side, they have often been called walled garden solutions because the technology can only be used inside the ecosystem of the data owner.

For example, Facebook’s login data is hugely powerful for cross device tracking, but is only useful for Facebook advertising.

However, because affiliate networks partner with a number of different publishers, the deterministic method does not have the same restrictions. In fact because all publishers can benefit from cross device technology in the same way, as more user matches are made the more accurate the solution becomes. 

In conclusion

Introducing deterministic cross device tracking is a significant step for the affiliate marketing industry, not just because it means more sales can be credited to the channel.

The reality is for a cost-per-acquisition model, it is necessary to ensure the channel’s long-term viability.

Anthony Clements

Published 1 October, 2015 by Anthony Clements

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Comments (4)

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Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Insight at Jack Wills

Really interesting article Anthony and the ability to track across multiple devices in an accurate capacity (especially for prospects to a site) is definitely the holy grail atm.

The difficulty I can see with handing this over to affiliate networks is that most brands de-dupe this traffic against the rest of their media mix while obviously the network has a commercial incentive towards more affiliates being matched to sales which I can see resulting in concerns around trust / transparency from a lot of brands.

over 2 years ago

Anthony Clements

Anthony Clements, Country Manager at Affiliate Window

Thanks for the feedback Matt

You are quite right in saying that one of the results of more advanced tracking within the affiliate industry is more sales being credited to the channel, particularly when it comes to our cross-device technology. However, it's worth me saying that this technology is as much about additional insight as advertisers paying for more sales. The insight we are gaining is having a huge impact on how we think about the industry in general, and particularly our publishers' roles in the conversion path.

Our cross-device solution will be recording transactions and crediting them to the channel where affiliates have influenced a sale on one device and it has completed on another. Speaking purely from an affiliate channel point of view, we think this is more important and relevant for our channel than any other, because affiliate is only ever rewarded when (and after) a transaction is made. If we can’t track cross-device influence of our affiliates, with so many journeys now being multi-device, it is really detrimental to the affiliate channel.

Of course, we understand that our clients will want to de-duplicate affiliate activity, and just because the affiliate was involved in the user’s journey on another device doesn’t necessarily mean every client is going to want to pay the channel for the sale if other marketing activity is involved. The problem we often see is that the solutions used for de-duplication will be operating in a single-device environment, and therefore won’t always have cross-device visibility. In these situations, we’ve recommended that advertisers continue with their de-duplication strategies and if other paid marketing activity has been used during the user’s journey on the second device then the normal attribution rules will apply.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Martin Mollerup, Media Fraud Agent at TraceAd Analytics - Global Ad Market

Great article Anthony, and great concerns brought to the table from you as well Matt. It's common issues we've experienced from both sides of the table, advertisers and affiliate networks, we've found a way to accommodate the affiliate networks, advertisers and all other paid media channels.
http://www.tracead.net/223/cross-device-tracking-unique-individual-user-id

This solutions will comprehend the many parties, their needs and visualize a nuanced pattern where the parties can agree to validate and accredit the proper channels to what's most suitable for the individual campaign and all other campaigns included.

This week we've actually launched and tested a new campaign configuration having a bit crazy demand for cross device tracking without cookies, and the need of de-duplication between performance paid partner and affiliates, while also getting proper path-to-conversion in order to value all assisting impacts, switching between devices, even where users switch devices from office laptop, to home computer and even switching to smartphones via SMS communication.

A setup which needed to be managed across display, re-targeting, paid search and 5 affiliate networks added to the mix. It's doable to nurse even more complex setups and wishes to track, get paid properly as an affailiate partner / affliate network and control costs as an advertiser. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any complex situation and let's see if it is doable for your situation too. https://www.linkedin.com/in/martinmollerup

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Martin Mollerup, Media Fraud Agent at TraceAd Analytics - Global Ad Market

Great article Anthony, and great concerns brought to the table from you as well Matt. It's common issues we've experienced from both sides of the table, advertisers and affiliate networks, we've found a way to accommodate the affiliate networks, advertisers and all other paid media channels.
http://www.tracead.net/223/cross-device-tracking-unique-individual-user-id

This solutions will comprehend the many parties, their needs and visualize a nuanced pattern where the parties can agree to validate and accredit the proper channels to what's most suitable for the individual campaign and all other campaigns included.

This week we've actually launched and tested a new campaign configuration having a bit crazy demand for cross device tracking without cookies, and the need of de-duplication between performance paid partner and affiliates, while also getting proper path-to-conversion in order to value all assisting impacts, switching between devices, even where users switch devices from office laptop, to home computer and even switching to smartphones via SMS communication.

A setup which needed to be managed across display, re-targeting, paid search and 5 affiliate networks added to the mix. It's doable to nurse even more complex setups and wishes to track, get paid properly as an affailiate partner / affliate network and control costs as an advertiser. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any complex situation and let's see if it is doable for your situation too.
https://www.linkedin.com/in/martinmollerup

over 2 years ago

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