Let’s Get Honest About Mobile Tracking
Ever since online marketing has entered the mobile space, there have been problems with tracking user behavior effectively.
And “effectively” is the keyword here.
Basically, the problem with mobile is that there are many possible actions every user can do with their device. For instance, there’s browsing the web through a mobile browser, there’s installing an app, there’s even calling a certain number after seeing an ad.
Tracking all of that requires a specific setup and software that’s dedicated to mobile and can handle various types of incoming information.
To give you a counter example, when we’re talking about standard online marketing, almost every action imaginable happens within a web browser, and thus, is much easier to track. Even if your goal is to convince the user to download a piece of software you’re offering, you can still track such downloads through standard methods and scripts. Not the case with mobile.
Over the years, we’ve seen a number of different solutions for the mobile web, so in this post, let’s talk about a number of them and how they can be used to help you better manage your campaigns.
Cookie tracking is one of the more traditional methods when it comes to all kinds of online tracking. It works very well on desktop, but not so much on mobile devices (at least not in all cases).
A “cookie” is a small file that a website registers on the user’s device. Through this file, the site owner can monitor user behavior and use this data to deliver tuned promotions accordingly.
The downside for mobile is that a cookie is tied to a single web browser. This means that if a cookie is set on, say, mobile Safari, then it won’t be visible anywhere else. And even though a user might take some initial action within the browser, it’s impossible to track any subsequent actions that might take place elsewhere (not within the main browser).
This mechanism works by creating a profile, if you will, for the device that a user is using when interacting with your website or app.
Various characteristics of the device are stored to be used when determining whether certain actions came from the same device and therefore, the same user. For instance, this method allows you to track an app installation that resulted from a user clicking an ad somewhere on your site.
This presents a serious advantage over other methods, but there are still some problems that need solving. Mainly, device fingerprinting can generate a lot of duplicates when run over a long period of time.
Unique Device Identifier was a product of Apple and the main way for app creators to track their apps’ performance and overall results. However, Apple has decided to deprecate UDID and has gone as far as banning all apps from the App Store that use UDID for anything, which ultimately renders UDID not a solution anymore.
MAC (Media Access Control) address is a unique identifier that all hardware devices that access the web have. After the demise of UDID, many developers have started using it to identify individual users.
The power of MAC addresses is that they are not only used on mobile, but also on all desktop computers. This means that using it for tracking can allow you to create one centralized system.
There are still some problems, though. The main one is that a MAC address is permanent to an extent. Meaning that if you’re tracking your users’ behaviors, you can’t reset your tracking campaign easily to start from scratch (like you can with a cookie).
It’s one of the standard tracking methods for Android apps that are distributed through Google Play. The main mechanism works by allowing advertisers to pass tracking info to Google Play, which then returns it after the app download. This creates a closed loop that you can use to determine whether or not the users are installing your app after clicking an ad.
There are also other tracking mechanisms that exist in the mobile space. Each of them comes with different advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a short list of those mechanisms if you want to do some further researching:
- Open Device ID Number (ODIN)
- TRUSTe Mobile Ads
- Apple IFA & IFV
- Audio Fingerprint