Cross-Device Tracking in Google Analytics

Recently, Google Analytics rolled out a cross-device tracking feature, allowing you to see how often the same users return to the site via different devices. This innovation marks a major step in being able to see the activity of individual users, as opposed to viewing separate statistics by device. As mobile devices have entered the mainstream for serious internet browsing, you can expect many users to visit the site from multiple devices. For instance, a user might sign up for your email list from a desktop computer and later click a link to your site from their phone.

In this article, we’ll look at an overview of these new reports in the Analytics interface. Note that since this feature is still in Beta, the appearance of reports will likely change over time.

Activating Google Signals

In order to use cross device reporting, you’ll first need to activate Google signals, allowing for advanced tracking capabilities. You’ll likely see a notification in your account about enabling this, which will take you to a screen where you can approve it.

You can also navigate to any of the reports under the “Cross Device” category of “Audience.” You’ll then see a screen from which you can opt into Google signals.

Once activated, you may need to wait several days for enough data to be gathered, depending on the volume of traffic to your site.

Next, let’s take a look at the available reports.

Device Overlap Report

This report shows you a breakdown of performance by device. You’ll see Mobile Only, Desktop Only, and Tablet Only, as well as metrics for various combinations of devices. In this example, you can see Desktop + Mobile to represent users who returned via both devices. In the right portion of the table, you can choose between e-commerce metrics and standard goal conversions.

The Venn diagram in the upper right visualizes the overlap that occurs between devices. In this case, we can see Desktop and Mobile overlapping.

Device Paths

The Device Paths report shows the sequence of devices of that people used in accessing the site. For instance, Desktop > Mobile represents individuals going to the site from desktop first and then from a mobile device next. You can see visit metrics and conversion metrics represented for each. As with the other reports, you can’t customize the metrics beyond switching between e-commerce and conversion goals.

You can also use the dropdown at top to choose to see common paths before or after completing a goal or transaction. This feature is helpful to see what devices appear earlier or later in the sales funnel, possibly informing what messaging you show users on each device.

Channels

The Channels report shows performance by marketing channel, with an option to segment by device. You can see a greater range of metrics than other reports here.

Clicking the dropdown above the channels column allows you to select among several other dimensions, including:

  • Ad Content
  • Campaign
  • Default Channel Grouping
  • Keyword
  • Medium
  • Source
  • Source/Medium

You can also click the “plus” symbol next to the column heading to add a secondary dimension.

By default, this is device category. However, you can click the dropdown above this column to select from a much larger array of dimensions.

Acquisition Device

The Acquisition Device report allows you to view the first device via which users were tracked coming to the site. Two unique metrics in this report are “Revenue from Originating Device” and “Revenue from Other Devices.” These numbers allow you to see if devices that may not initially appear profitable are actually contributing to revenue from people who return on other devices. For instance, in this example, we see that around $2700 of revenue comes from people who land on a mobile device but later return via another device.

The Device Category dropdown allows you to choose from several options to provide more detail, including:

  • Device Category and Campaign
  • Device Category and Channel
  • Device Category and Medium
  • Device Category and OS
  • Device Category and Source

Understanding & Using Cross Device Reporting

You should understand limitations in the data you see in these reports. Google states that only users who have opted into personalized advertising will be included, so not all your users will be represented. However, the data will still give you a clearer picture than you had in the past about cross device performance. Also, note that you may see a decrease in total users who are tracked after enabling this feature, as Google will now more accurately know which people are returning from multiple devices.

Overall, this reporting feature in Google Analytics opens up potential new opportunities for understanding how users interact across devices and looking at the value of sessions beyond last-click attribution. First, you can get a more complete view of how many people are actually returning to your site. Your return visit rate may actually be higher than you think.

Next, you can see how multiple devices contribute to the consideration process. You may be ready to write off mobile due to lower revenue numbers. However, if people are initially finding your site through mobile but later converting on desktop, keeping an active presence on mobile through avenues like social media is still crucial.

Have you enabled cross device reporting in your Google Analytics accounts yet? Share insights in the comments below!

Comments (2)

  1. Good question Lars! According to Google’s documentation: “Based on aggregated data from users who have turned on Ads Personalization, Google Analytics models behavior for your whole user base across device types. The data is user based rather than session based. This behavior modeling does not require User-ID views.”

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