Cross Device Reports in Google Analytics via Google Signals

Introduction to Cross Device Tracking

People use different devices (mobile, tablet and desktop) as they interact with your website and/or marketing campaigns, multiple times in a day or over the course of a week or month.

For example, it is common for people to do their initial research on their mobile devices and then make a purchase later, on their desktop computer.

Without cross device tracking, your Google Analytics reports may tell you that you get lot of visits from mobile devices but they do not make a purchase.

And the people who do make a purchase actually come from desktop devices.

So armed with this knowledge, you may completely stop advertising on mobile devices and shift all of your marketing budget to advertise on desktop devices.

However this is going to be a big mistake and may result in monetary loss as mobile devices are playing an important role in customers purchase journey.

It is mobile which introduce your brand and your offer to your prospects.

Another example,

Say 1000 customers bought $100,000 worth of items from their mobile devices and then later bought $200,000 worth of items from their desktop devices.

Without cross device tracking, your Google Analytics reports may tell you that:

#1 you got 1000 customers from mobile and another 1000 customers from desktop.

#2 desktop customers are more valuable than mobile customers because they made a bigger purchase.

#3 you should be spending more on acquiring customers via desktop.

So armed with this knowledge, you may reduce your ad spend on mobile devices and increase your marketing budget on desktop devices.

However this is going to be a big mistake and may result in monetary loss as the 1000 customers that you acquired via mobile are the one who later spent more on your website, via desktop.

So in order to get a complete understanding of your customers’ purchase journey, their activities need to be tracked across devices.

You must be able to track a customer across devices and web browsers.

You must be able to identify that this is the same customer who visited your website via mobile before making a purchase via desktop.

Here cross device tracking comes into picture.

Cross device tracking is the tracking of people’s activities across different devices as they interact with your website.

It is the tracking of your website users’ activities across multiple screens (as different devices come with different screen sizes).

Through cross device tracking you can determine all those people (and their activities) who visited your website via two or more devices and then you can target them separately via marketing campaigns.

So if you have concluded that your customers use mobile devices primarily to do their initial research but almost always make their purchase on desktop then you can do following two things:

#1 You can run mobile only campaigns which focus on the benefit your products/services provide. The objective here is to get landing page views and not necessarily generate a sale.

#2 You can run desktop only campaigns which retarget customers who either did not start the checkout or abandoned the checkout. The objective here is to generate sales.

Introduction to Google Signals

Google Signals is an upgraded version of Google Advertising reporting features through which Google Analytics can collect cross device data from those website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts (Gmail, Google+, YouTube etc) and who have turned on Ads Personalization:

The cross device data collected via Google Signals can be used to achieve following objectives:

#1 To understand the cross device behavior of your website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts and who have turned on Ads Personalization.

#2 Remarket to more website users across devices.

#3 Optimize users’ experience across devices

#4 Optimize ad spend and deliver ads based on cross device usage.

When you activate Google Signals for your GA property, the Google Advertising reporting features is replaced by Google Signals:

Limitations of the data collected by Google Signals

At present any additional data (i.e. the data other than the one which is already collected by Google Advertising Reporting features) collected by Google Signals can not be:

  1. exported to BigQuery.
  2. used in GA dashboards.
  3. used in custom reports
  4. used in custom tables.
  5. accessed in user id views.
  6. segmented via the GA ‘segments’ feature.
  7. accessed in mobile app properties.
  8. accessed via GA reporting API
  9. used in Google data studio

As such, a traditional MMM model is not suitable for carrying out digital marketing mix modelling aka attribution modelling.

How to Activate Google Signals for a GA Property?

Follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to the GA property for which you want to activate Google Signals. Make sure you have got ‘edit’ permission for the property.

Step-2: You should now see a notification bar at the top, about Google Signals. Click on the ‘Get Started’ button:

If you do not see this notification bar then navigate to the ‘Admin’ section and then click on ‘Data Collection’ under ‘Tracking Info’:

Now find and click on the ‘Get Started’ button:

Step-3: Read the benefits of activating Google Signals and then click on the continue button:

Step-4: Select the properties for which you want to activate Google Signals. You can activate Google signals for: all properties (within your GA account), current property or specific properties:

Step-5: Once you have selected the properties for which you want to activate Google Signals then click on the ‘Activate’ button.

Step-6: Click on the ‘Done’ button as shown below:

Once the Google Signals is activated for your GA property, you should see the new cross device reports under the ‘Audience’ menu:

Google Analytics start collecting cross device data from the day, you first activated Google Signals for your property.

GA cross device data does not work retroactively.

Google Analytics apply a fixed system defined (and unknown) threshold to cross device data to prevent you from viewing cross device activities of an individual user.

So unless your reporting view has collected enough cross device data to overcome this threshold, you may not see any data in your cross device reports.

Instead you may see following notification bar:

Depending upon the volume of traffic your website gets, it may take days or even weeks before you can see data being populated in your ‘cross device reports’.

Activating Google Signals for Roll up properties

A roll up property is a special type of GA property whose hit data comes from other GA properties ( also known as source properties).

In other words, a roll up property is made up of two or more source properties.

A rollup property is used to implement roll up reporting in Google Analytics.

Google recommends that you should activate Google Signals for your rollup property and all source properties.

When you use the rollup reporting with Google signals activated, users are deduplicated across devices and across the domains of your Source Properties.

Introduction to Cross Device reports in Google Analytics

Google Analytics provide ‘cross device’ reports through which you can get a better understanding of how users engaged and converted on your website across different devices and browsers and over the course of multiple sessions.

Traditionally, in order to access and use the cross device reports, you are required to set up cross device tracking in Google Analytics via ‘User ID

And the cross device reports were available only in the ‘User ID’ view.

But with the advent of Google Signals, the cross device reports are now also available in the non-user id views.

So as of now, there are two sets of cross device reports available in GA.

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The two Sets of Cross Device Reports in Google Analytics

The first set of ‘Cross Device’ reports are available in the ‘User ID’ view:

The second set of ‘Cross Device’ reports are available in a ‘non-User ID’ view (provided Google Signals has been activated for your GA property):

This second and new set of ‘cross device’ reports is still in beta and it provides one additional report called the ‘Channels report’.

So with the advent of Google Signals, you can now take advantage of two different sets of cross device tracking reports in GA:

Difference between cross device reports for user id view and non user id view

Following are the key differences:

#1 The cross device reports for user id view collect and report on cross device data related to the logged in users of your website.

Whereas, the cross device reports for non user id view collect and report on cross device data related to those website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts (Gmail, Google+, YouTube etc) and who have turned on Ads Personalization.

#2 The cross device reports for user id view will collect and report on cross device data only when you have set up ‘User ID’ on your website. Setting up ‘User ID’ is not straightforward and generally require the help of a web developer.

Whereas, the cross device reports for non user id view collect and report on cross device data only when you have activated ‘Google Signals’ for your property. Activating Google Signals is pretty straightforward and  require clicking on just couple of buttons. It does not require any code update or development work.

#3 The cross device reports meant for user id view are not exactly the same as the cross device reports meant for non user id view (though they share common names). Their reporting interface is quite different and they both have got different sets of dimensions and metrics.

For example, the ‘Device Overlap’ report in a ‘user id’ view is quite different than the ‘device overlap’ report found in a non-user id view:

#4 Google Analytics provide three cross device reports for user id view but four cross device reports for non-user id view. The one additional report called the ‘Channels report’ is available only in the non-user id view.

#5 You cannot apply segments to cross device reports for non user id view. This is not the case for cross device reports for user id view

#6 The cross device reports for user id view are not in beta. Whereas, the cross device reports for non user id view are still in beta.

Note(1): The data in the cross device reports are sampled when the date range you are using, exceeds 250k sessions.

Note(2): You can enable your GA property for both ‘user id’ and ‘Google Signals’.

Note(3): You should take advantage of the cross device capabilities provided by both ‘User ID’ and ‘Google Signals’.

Note(4): Cross device reports can take unusually long time to load for some reason (may be because they are in beta). So don’t be alarmed if you see a notification like the one below:

Cross Device Tracking, Users’ Privacy and GDPR

Google Analytics display only aggregated and anonymized data from your website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts (Gmail, Google+, YouTube etc) and who have turned on Ads Personalization.

Google Analytics apply a fixed system defined (and unknown) threshold to cross device data to prevent you from viewing cross device activities of an individual user.

If you are collecting cross device data via ‘user id’ then you need to make sure that it does not include any personally identifiable information (like user name, email address etc).

Collecting PII (personally identifiable information) data in GA is against the ‘Google Analytics Terms of service’ and could result in account suspension.

If you are using ‘user id’ to personally identify a person away from Google Analytics (like in a CRM) then you would first need, prior affirmative consent of your website visitors.

In fact, if you are using the ‘user-id’ feature of GA then at the time of signup, you should get a prior affirmative consent from your website users that you are going to track their activities across different devices and browsers.

This is required in order to comply with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

By default, Google signed-in data expires after 26 months.

If you do not want Google Analytics to retain retains user specific data (i.e. data that is associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers) for this long then you should change your data retention setting associated with your GA property.

The ‘Data Retention’ is one of the settings you see in the section named ‘Tracking Info’ under the ‘Property’ column in your GA admin:

Through ‘User and event data retention’ feature, you can set the amount of time for which Google Analytics retains user specific data for an inactive website user, before automatically deleting it.

You can set the amount of time setting to: 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months or ‘Do not automatically expire’:

The period of time, for which Google Analytics retains user specific data for an inactive website users is called the ‘Retention Period’.

The user specific data is automatically deleted on a monthly basis i.e. (once a month), unless your retention period is set to ‘do not automatically expire’.

For example, if you set the ‘User and event data retention’ to ‘50 months’ then any user specific data older than 50 months will be automatically deleted, during the next monthly deletion process.

Note: It is important to remember that not all GA data older than 50 months will be deleted. Only user specific data (i.e. data that is associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers) older than 50 months will be automatically deleted. In other words you won’t see empty GA reports for data older than 50 months.

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If you want the retention period of your website users’ data to be renewed (i.e extended) with each new event from that user then turn the ‘Reset on new activity’ to on:

For example, if you set the ‘User and event data retention’ to ‘14 months’ and turn the ‘Reset on new activity’ to ‘ON’ then every time a user’s visit your website, the data retention period associated with the user, will be extended for another 14 months and thus never reaches the 14 months expiration date.

Turn the ‘Reset on new activity’ to ‘OFF’, if you do not want the retention period of your website users’ data to be renewed (i.e extended) with each new event from that user.

Related Article: GDPR for Google Analytics. Find out how to prepare via Checklist

Device Overlap Report (via Google Signals)

Through the ‘Device Overlap’ report you can determine the website users who interacted with your website via multiple devices.

The device overlap report uses a bar chart and venn diagram to visualize the percentage of users who used one or multiple devices (Desktop, Tablet and Mobile) to interact with your website.

The horizontal axis of the bar chart plots the number of website users for each device category.

The vertical axis of the bar chart plots the various device categories:

Mobile Only => This device category includes only those website users who interacted with your website via mobile device.

Desktop Only => This device category includes only those website users who interacted with your website via desktop.

Tablet Only => This device category includes only those website users who interacted with your website via tablet device.

Desktop + Mobile => This device category includes only those website users who interacted with your website via both desktop and mobile devices.

Mobile + Tablet => This device category includes only those website users who interacted with your website via both mobile and tablet devices.

User’s interaction => A user can interact with your website by visiting it and/or by completing a transactional / non-transactional goal.

The venn diagram is best way to visualize and understand the percentage of users who used multiple devices (Desktop, Tablet and Mobile) to interact with your website:

Each coloured circle represents a device category and bigger the device overlap, the more users interacted with your website via multiple devices.

On the contrary, if you do no see any overlap then it means, users are not interacting with you website via multiple devices:

Below the bar chart and venn diagram, you can see the data table:

The data table provide additional insight (like revenue, revenue per user, ecommerce conversion rate, transactions per user) for each device category, in addition to summarizing the data that you see via bar chart and venn diagram.

The left hand side of the data table has got the option to select between two dimensions: ‘Device Category’ & ‘Device Category and OS’:

The right hand side of the data table has got the option to select between: Transactional goals (Ecommerce) and Non-Transactional goal(s):

So if you select ‘All Goals’ option then the data table will report on: ‘Goal Value’, ‘Goal Conversion Rate’, ‘Goal Completions’ and ‘Goal Value Per user’ metrics for each device category:

That’s how you can slice and dice data the device category data in the ‘device overlap’ report.

Through the device overlap report you can determine the device combination which is more likely to product results on your website.

For example, if you concluded that the users who used both desktop and mobile devices, converted at a much higher rate than the users who used only desktop and the users who only used mobile devices then it is wise to advertise on both mobile and desktop devices and not give preference to any one device.

This is the kind of insight you can get from the ‘Device Overlap’ report.

Device Paths Report (via Google Signals)

The ‘Device Path’ report shows device paths for each of the following dimensions:

  1. Device Category
  2. Device Category and Campaign
  3. Device Category and Channel
  4. Device Category and Medium
  5. Device Category and OS
  6. Device Category and Source

The ‘Device Path’ represents the the order in which your website users used different devices (desktop, mobile, Tablet) to interact with your website.

For example, the following device path indicates that 123,099 website users, interacted with your website first via mobile and then via desktop:

These 123,099 website users generated 214,417 Google Analytics sessions on your website, and on an average, spent 1 minute and 54 seconds on your website.

On the right hand side of the data table you can see the ecommerce / goal performance of the 123,099 website visitors i.e. what they did after arriving on your website:

From the screenshot above, we can conclude that the users who interacted with your website first via mobile and then via desktop (i.e. 123,099 website visitors) made a total purchase of $48,942.08.

The average revenue per user was $35.04.

The ecommerce conversion rate for the users who interacted with your website first via mobile and then via desktop was 6.12%

The average transactions per user was 0.246

The concept of device path is quite similar to the concept of ‘Conversion Paths’ in multi channel funnel reports.

So if you understand conversion paths, it will be easy for you to understand the concept of device paths.

Following are examples of device paths for the dimension called ‘Device Category’:

Following are examples of device paths for the dimension called ‘Device Category and Channel’:

The ‘Device Path’ report does not contain any chart. It contains only a data table.

The left hand side of the data table show website usage data (number of users, sessions, average session duration) for each device path and the right hand side of the data table show ecommerce / goal performance associated with each device path:

You can select a different dimension by clicking on the drop down menu, as shown below:

You can switch between ecommerce and goal conversion(s) by clicking on the drop down menu, as shown below:

Through ‘Path Options’ settings, you can also look at the device paths before and after:

  1. Any Goal completion.
  2. Any transaction
  3. Event Action
  4. Event Category
  5. Event Label
  6. Page
  7. Goal

To look at the device paths before/after, click on either the ‘Show steps before…‘ link or ‘Show steps after…‘ link from the drop menu and then select the action (like ‘Any goal completion’, ‘Any transaction’ etc) from the second drop down menu.

For example, to see the device paths before any transaction, follow the steps below:

Step-1: Click on the drop down menu next to ‘Show Steps’:

Step-2: Select the ‘before’ option and then click on the second drop down menu:

Step-3: Select the option ‘any transaction’ from the second drop down menu and then click on the ‘Apply’ button:

You can also search for a particular device path(s) by typing the search query next to the magnifying glass icon and then pressing the enter key:

Channels Report (Cross Device Channels report)

The ‘Channels’ report (or ‘Cross Device Channels’ report) show the performance of ‘cross device channels’ in terms of ‘Acquisition’, ‘Behavior’ and Outcome (Ecommerce, Goals):

Cross device channels are those marketing channels which your website users were exposed to, as they interacted with your website across devices.

The Cross device channels report show bar chart and column chart at the top of the report which by default, visualize cross device users by default channel grouping:

If you want the cross device channels report to visualize cross device users by another dimension say ‘source/medium’ then select ‘source/medium’ from the drop down menu in the data table:

In the ‘cross device channels’ report you can add a secondary dimension by clicking on the ‘+’ button as shown below:

The secondary dimension that is selected by default is ‘Device Category’ but you can change it by clicking on the down arrow button next to it:

Acquisition Device Report

Through ‘Acquisition Device’ report you can determine whether a user converted on the originating device or on some other device.

The very first device (desktop, tablet or mobile) a website user used, to interact with your website is known as the ‘Originating device‘.

The originating device is also known as the ‘Acquisition Device‘ as this is the device through which you first acquired a user.

The first column of the ‘Acquisition Device’ report list all the Acquisition/originating Devices:

The ‘Acquisition Device’ report has got two columns/metrics which are worth explaining:

  1. Revenue from originating device
  2. Revenue from other devices

If people visited your website for the first time via display ads on mobile and also made their purchase via the mobile then through ‘Revenue from originating device’ column, you know that your mobile only advertising has resulted in sales on on mobile devices.

Similarly, if people visited your website for the first time via display ads on desktop and also made their purchase via the desktop then through ‘Revenue from originating device’ column, you know that your desktop only advertising has resulted in sales on on desktop devices.

On the other hand, if people visited your website for the first time via display ads on mobile but then returned to your website via desktop/tablet to convert then through ‘Revenue from other devices’ column, you know that your mobile only advertising has also resulted in sales/conversion on other devices.

So through ‘Revenue from other devices’ metrics you can measure the cross device impact of your marketing campaigns.

The ‘Acquisition Device’ report show bar chart and line chart at the top of the report which by default, visualize new users by device category:

If you want the  ‘Acquisition Device’ report to visualize data by another dimension say ‘Device Category and Channel’ then select ‘Device Category and Channel’ dimension from the drop down menu in the data table:

Data discrepancies in and between cross device reports

When you activate Google signals for the first time, there is no campaign history associated with the logged in Google users who have turned on Ads Personalization.

When those users returned to your website, they are counted as new users and their traffic is categorized as direct traffic.

So you are likely to see more direct traffic and new users in your cross device reports for the first week weeks.

In Cross Device reports, users are deduplicated across devices.

For example, if a user’s first interacted with your website via mobile and then later interacted with your website via desktop, then that user is counted as new user on the mobile and a returning user on the desktop.

In other reports where users are not deduplicated across devices, that same user would be counted as new user on both mobile and desktop devices.

Google Analytics apply a fixed system defined (and unknown) threshold to cross device data to prevent you from viewing cross device activities of an individual user.

So unless your reporting view has collected enough cross device data to overcome this threshold, you may not see any data in your cross device reports or GA may hide certain data values.

GA can also hide certain cross device data, if it is not confident in the accuracy of the estimation of cross-device behavior for your user base.

Finally the cross device reports are still in beta and they are likely to remain that way for a long time. So expect data discrepancy in and between cross device reports.

Note: Collect at least 30 days of data from the date you first activate Google signals before you start your analysis via cross device reports. Otherwise your data is not going to be statistically significant and you are likely to draw wrong conclusion.

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Learn about the Google Analytics Usage Trends Tool

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