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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Publishers need user login to maximize the value of cross-device tracking

March 25, 2022 | By Mark Whistler, Head of Product Marketing — Zephr@ZephrGlobal

Most marketers today recognize the importance of understanding the subscriber journey and personalizing user experiences. But to fully understand a customer, digital publishers must look beyond the content a person has consumed and start building a bigger picture. Doing so will not only meet ever-advancing customer expectations, but it will also help turn regular subscribers into raving fans.

To do that, it’s crucial to not only track what content a user reads, but also the devices on which they consume that content. Without this, your customer view is incomplete.

Device tracking becomes especially important with today’s increasingly complex subscriber journeys. It’s possible for users to access your content on a desktop, smartphone, and tablet, on any given day. Understanding how to connect all of these occurrences to the same user to map out accurate preferences and behaviors is crucial to ensuring the success of personalization.

This is where cross device tracking comes in.

What is cross-device tracking?

Cross-device tracking is the ability to track a user through all their interactions with your content. If a user logs in on multiple devices, cross-device tracking enables you to analyze their activity across those devices and gain a complete picture of where they are and what they’re looking at. 

Doing so enables you to then serve specific, relevant and targeted content (or offers) to them across their different devices, creating truly personalized experiences at all touchpoints. Cross-device tracking helps identify behavior data you would otherwise miss out on, as well as tell you which channels are most successful in converting registered readers into paid subscribers.

For example, behavior data might suggest that a user reads sports content via your mobile app on their daily commute. With this knowledge, marketing efforts can be made to recommend new sports articles at this time, or show short, mobile-friendly content to fit the commute and keep the reader coming back for more. The more real-time the data and insights are, the more agile your business can be in focusing marketing efforts.

Why is cross-device tracking so important?

An overwhelming 84% of U.S. households own at least one smartphone. And, with more than half of all web traffic coming from mobile sources, it is essential to see how your readers interact with your content when not on a desktop. By doing so, digital publishers will create more customer satisfaction in the process by providing readers with tailored content and experiences, like greeting customers by name or presenting them with relevant advertisements as they switch from one device to the next.

According to Salesforce, 66% of customers now expect this level of personalization, and 52% expect offers to always be personalized. 

Deterministic tracking

In June 2020, Apple announced a significant shift in the way the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) may be used and obtained for tracking users on other devices, sending the whole mobile ecosystem into a frenzy. The new App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework, which went into effect in 2021, requires app publishers to obtain an explicit opt-in from consumers before using their data to track their activity. As of February 2022, opt-in rates were just 25% globally — and even lower in the U.S. This leaves publishers with limited tracking options moving forward.

Tom Phillips, President at Section4, says there are now two routes to cross-device tracking — “deterministic” and “probabilistic.” While ATT made deterministic tracking tougher, it is still possible when publishers and platforms ask their users to sign in to their websites and apps on every device they use. This allows for easy and exact tracking.

Probabilistic tracking

On the other hand, probabilistic cross-device tracking is an inexact science in which third-party companies collect data and employ statistical models to predict who is using which device. The problem with probabilistic tracking is that the accuracy can vary from around 60% to 90%.

Therefore, the best route to follow is deterministic tracking. The easiest way to implement it on content sites is to push readers to register for an account they can then use across multiple devices. To optimize it, you’ll need to encourage readers to login every time they interact with your content. As a result, you can attribute the right actions to the right user profile without relying on any guesswork. Getting people to log-in means you can track their in-app behavior, even in the absence of device IDs.

To make this easier on your readers, it helps to include something like a “Remember me” option in your login form, or the ability to sign in with a face ID to remove friction and help users stay logged in without frustration.

Thinking long term

Many digital publishers opt for metered or dynamic paywalls and registration walls to encourage user login creation. Registration walls like these work by limiting the amount of free content available to anonymous readers and encouraging them to sign up if they want to read on.

Subscription experience platforms offer a quick and effective way to set up these registration walls and paywalls across all of your sites and collate customer data with ease. However, it’s important to remember that if you choose to go down the route of selecting a technology provider like this, one size won’t fit all. 

More devices are likely to have access to the internet in the future, and the introduction of 5G could make these new devices the preferred medium for readers. For that reason, when looking at solutions to help with cross-device tracking, it’s essential to think long term about what tech you’ll need to integrate with and how that may change in the future. 

Today’s customers expect personalization of content and ad experiences across devices. Therefore, it is essential to use platforms that allow you to future proof your content. These solutions must prioritize cross-device tracking to allow you to provide an optimal experience for your audiences and marketing partners. 

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