Changing digital ecosystem- are we really adapting in terms of Ad tracking and attribution?

Plethora of articles are published around changing digital mobile ecosystem- mobile overtaking desktops, advent of new smartphones and associated native browsers , mobile web versus app usage and so forth.Marketers are discussing/looking to increase their digital Ad spend on mobile. This has led to growth of Mobile Marketing Partners(MMP) like Tune, Appsflyer, Apsalar etc. who are responsible for tracking and attribution on mobile, especially Apps.

Question to be asked is , are the tracking and attribution methods provided by these MMPs good enough? Have these MMPs looked at all the possible challenges associated with mobile tracking and attribution?Details regarding various tracking and attribution methods can be found in the following link-

One or the other tracking method has its own advantages and disadvantages. With the rapidly changing ecosystem, tracking and attribution method needs to adapt quickly as well. Else, incorrect tracking and attribution can lead to incorrect decision regarding digital campaign performance.

What is lacking in ‘In App tracking and attribution’

Tracking method for App downloads from Google Store/App store or apk downloads or tracking in App events in case of re-engagement campaigns generally requires a unique device identifier such as android id, Google Advertising identifier(GAID) or iOS Advertising identifier (IDFA) for attribution. These ids especially GAID and IDFA were created for tracking & attribution in advertising world. Though it’s a great idea to use these identifiers as the user gets more control to reset these ids ,however challenge remains in terms of its accessibility for advertising needs along with privacy concerns of publishers.Some of the user acquisition campaign does rely on Google Install referrer method for tracking and attribution, but that is limited only for android and Google Play store app downloads, not for apk downloads. Many marketers are looking for user acquisition outside of Google Play store and App store through apk campaigns to generate volume at large scale .Not only this ,engaging users and driving them to transact is the final goal of advertisers, and more and more of them are switching to re-engagement campaigns.Most of the MMPs mandates use of device identifiers for running re-engagement/re-targeting and apk campaigns.

On mobile, publishers are divided as m-web and app publishers. M-web publishers don’t have access to GAID or IDFA at all, as they cannot access this information. So can the advertiser afford to ignore this inventory pool and associated potential target users. Multiple articles, blogs have been published regarding- where the user is spending most of his time- on apps or mobile websites. Although truth remains that users spend majority of their time on mobile apps, however these apps are limited to social, chat messengers etc. But large number of mobile web users who are target segment of brands and marketers can’t be ignored.As per Morgan Stanley report, only 12 of the top 50 mobile properties have more traffic coming from apps than the browser. Mobile web has 2X traffic than App and is highly distributed. The report argues for the primacy of the mobile browser for most publishers, brands and marketers.

So the point to ponder upon is, can we ignore m-web traffic, if not, then why tracking and attribution is generally limited to device identifiers, since m-web publishers don’t have access to these device identifiers.

As far as app publishers are concerned, many of them face challenge while accessing the device identifiers. Only devices running on Android OS v2.2+ and those that have Google Play Services 4.0+ installed have access to the GAID. Many app publishers still have privacy concerns regarding sharing of GAID or IDFA during impressions or clicks. This can be attributed to lack of knowledge about privacy rules for GAID and IDFA as stated in Google Developer program or iAD. Both Google and Apple policy mentions that these id’s are specifically meant for advertising and even when the user sets ‘Limits Ad tracking’ option, only interest based targeting can’t be done, but has no limitation on using it for attribution purpose. However in recent iOS 10 update, if a user checks ‘Limit Ad tracking’, then the IDFA will be set as zero, which will limit the availability of IDFA for attribution.

So what’s the solution?

So should unique device identifier method be the only one for attribution or should we look beyond -to fingerprint and unique identifier in click URL method (open url with click id method).Fingerprinting is probabilistic model and the attribution window is limited to 24 hours generally. This method is not suitable for all kind of campaigns, especially in cases where goal is to drive transactions. Some MMPs like TUNE, Cake and Appsflyer do support Open Url with click id tracking and attribution method, but there also we face issues related to implementation. Keeping the current ecosystem of m-web publishers and device id accessibility in consideration,more and more number of MMPs need to switch to alternative tracking method like unique identifier in url (generated by Publishers/Network) .This will open large mobile traffic for user acquisition, apk and in app re engagement campaigns.

What’s the challenge with m-web tracking and attribution?

The world of mobile web and desktop is relying heavily on cookie based tracking. Earlier Google chrome, Mozilla and Internet explorer used to be the commonly used browsers on desktop, however with advent and heavy usage of mobile devices, scenario has changed.

Below graphs displays statistics related to browser usage in certain countries.

Source:statcounter

Advertisers want to have m-web strategy, however the irony is that they don’t consider changing landscape of browser usage while taking decisions .They need to understand that their sites should be optimized for modern browsers for better user experience , tracking and attribution perspective.

Without the optimized GA code cookie doesn’t get dropped, JS tags doesn’t get executed on modern browsers, which leads to tracking and attribution issues. Up to 80 % discrepancy has been seen on these browsers. This kind of exorbitant discrepancy adversely impacts the evaluation of campaign performance and leads to miscalculated inferences and decisions henceforth.

What’s the solution?

Advertisers should adapt to Universal GA and put effort for placing optimized code, so that modern browsers are well supported. In the very first place, they should accept the fact that large portion of their traffic is coming though modern browsers. Even for this realization, they need to adapt, since without this adaptation GA will not recognize most of the incoming traffic from modern browsers. This is more like a causality dilemma.

Below snippet gives a workaround for proper tracking on modern browsers.

Source-Google

Alternative async tracking snippet- source Google

While the JavaScript tracking snippet described above ensures the script will be loaded and executed asynchronously on all browsers, it has the disadvantage of not allowing modern browsers to preload the script.

The alternative async tracking snippet below adds support for preloading, which will provide a small performance boost on modern browsers, but can degrade to synchronous loading and execution on IE 9 and older mobile browsers that do not recognize the async script attribute. Only use this tracking snippet if your visitors primarily use modern browsers to access your site.

<script>

window.ga=window.ga||function(){(ga.q=ga.q||[]).push(arguments)};ga.l=+new Date;

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXXX-Y’, ‘auto’);

ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

</script>

<script async src=’https://www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js'>

</script>

Universal Analytics provides better ways of handling tracking and attribution issues, like supporting beacon transport mechanism for avoiding hit not being set to GA server. More information is available on this link —

There are many articles published online, which gives information on how to implement GA code to avoid tracking and attribution issues like- JavaScript tags should be inline. They should not be placed in delightful places such as inside tables or frames and such things. It will greatly impact the ability to collect data accurately.Google provides ample ways to debug, to ensure correct GA implementation-

As an alternative, Advertisers can switch to server to server tracking method — currently used for in App tracking .MMP like Cake provides unified server to server tracking method for Desktop, M-web and App. This gives advertisers a unified tracking solution which not only avoids tracking issues but at the same time gives a simplified way of tracking across channels.


We need to make tracking and attribution simple and easy for everyone- Advertisers, MMPs,Publishers and Networks, as it has direct bearing on campaign/marketing ROI and performance. Incorrect measurement and attribution can lead to decisions which impacts the business adversely.Advertisers and publishers should recognize changing landscape and adapt accordingly. This can lead to transparency and accurate measurement of performance which is beneficial for all the stakeholders- Advertisers, Publishers,Networks and MMPs.