Ernie St. Gelais wrapped up Affiliate Summit East, day two with an insightful session on cross-device tracking. He opened his session with a quick icebreaker to connect with his audience on a more personal level—expressing his love for Boston sports, sharing his new status as “grandpa” and voicing his honest opinion on the increasingly popular Pokémon Go app—which Ernie assured us had mistakenly snuck into his presentation. Ernie also gave recognition to fellow veterans among the audience and thanked them for their service.

Ernie continued by introducing mobile’s impact on multi-device usage. He illustrated the significant increase in mobile usage between 2007 and 2016, also noting that although mobile usage has now surpassed desktop usage, desktop is still climbing steadily.

What kinds of devices make up our multi-device world?

Ernie took another opportunity to involve the audience by asking everyone who owned a computer or laptop to please stand. Not surprisingly, almost everyone in the audience stood up. Ernie then asked anyone that didn’t own a smart phone to sit down—leaving the majority of the audience still on their feet. He then asked everyone who didn’t own a tablet to please sit—leaving about two thirds of the room still standing. Ernie then asked the audience to sit down if their household did not have a gaming system or smart TV—still leaving a little over half of the room still on their feet. By now the point had been made that in our world, it has become increasingly common to own multiple devices. In his final example, Ernie asked everyone who didn’t own a Tesla to sit down—which left two people from the audience standing. To conclude this demonstration, Ernie presented a few stats from Pew and the Global Web Index: 

“Pew indicates that 66% of Americans own at least two of the primary digital devices—smartphone, desktop computer or tablet, and 36% own all three.”

“For nearly 20-years, the affiliate marketing industry has been tracking promotions and events that occur on the same device. Multi-device tracking deals with promotions that begin on one device and end on another.” Ernie continued on to explain the difference between device and platform, noting that for each single device cookie, there can also be several platform (or browser) cookies to consider.

He used the “red shirt analogy” to illustrate how one user can be identified throughout various devices:

You’ve dropped your spouse off at the store and are waiting in your car until they come out. To pass the time, you start searching on your phone for the red shirt you need for an upcoming Valentine’s Day party. You are presented with a paid affiliate search result from, which you immediately click to check it out. You love the shirt, but don’t want to go through the purchasing process on your phone and instead decide to hold off until you can get to your computer. Once home, you go straight to your desktop to make the purchase your party shirt.

Traditionally, this type of transaction would not be trackable and therefore, the affiliate that introduced the product to the customer would not receive credit. Using a multi-device user profile database allows the network to relate this type of promotion cookie to the event and credit the affiliate when a purchase is made.

“We’ve looked at the data that might show differences between traditional and multi-device tracking. One thing we noticed is that the average click to event for multi-device is longer. The promotion on one device introduced the user to the product/service, which may take some time to become a transaction. One way of interpreting this would be to suggest that cookie durations should be longer, to take maximum advantage of multi-device and reward affiliates appropriately.”

Another interesting difference between traditional tracking and multi-device tracking is seen in promotional type. LinkConnector research shows that Display and Search play a larger role in multi-device crediting, while Coupon shows a decreased role.

Benefits of multi-device tracking for affiliates:

  • Increased conversions (and therefore more commissions)
  • Channel value

Benefits of multi-device tracking for advertisers:

  • User activity data (specifically where are they being most effectively promoted)
  • Aggregated user information (providing a much truer picture of user habits

Ernie closed his session by recognizing the networks that currently offer multi-device tracking: Adbrain, Affiliate Window, LinkConnector and TradeDoubler. He suggested that merchants and affiliates alike should be taking the necessary steps to tracking across multiple devices and platforms, as it will result in a much more effective affiliate marketing program for those who use it.

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