Server-Side Tracking: What Every Marketer Should Know

For marketing teams, data collection and the accuracy of their data is essential. However, there are three recent developments changing how well websites can collect user data. As Google encourages their Universal Analytics users to shift to Google Analytics 4, it is the right time for organizations to evaluate their data strategies. In this context, server-side tracking should be a key consideration, as it not only guarantees reliable data collection but also offers complete control over the data, an increasingly important factor in today’s privacy-conscious digital environment.

Let us dive right into the three key developments that are changing how websites can collect user data:

  • Visitors Declining Cookies: While many people still automatically accept cookies when visiting websites, there’s an increasing number of users who reject cookies. This group, known as the ‘anonymous audience’, actively declines tracking cookies.
  • Phasing Out of Third-Party Cookies: As part of a growing focus on internet privacy, third-party cookies are on their way out. This means that browsers, ad blockers, and various tech companies are now regularly identifying and blocking third-party cookies. This is a significant shift in how online tracking and advertising have traditionally worked.
  • Google’s Shift to GA4: Soon Google’s Universal Analytics will no longer be available, and users are urged to migrate to Google Analytics 4 before July 2024. This change is part of Google’s effort to adapt to the new privacy-focused landscape and Google Analytics 4 affects how user data is collected and analyzed.

If you are not familiar with server-side tracking yet, do not worry. In this blog, we explain what server-side tracking is and the importance and benefits of server-side tracking, including examples.

What is server-side?

If you are not familiar with server-side tracking yet, do not worry. In this blog, we explain what server-side tracking is and the importance and benefits of server-side tracking, including examples.

Visually, this is what it looked like before:

Client-side tracking

And this is what it looks like server-side:

Server-side tracking

Before server-side tracking, you would implement tracking by adding a short piece of third-party code to your website’s HTML. As the name suggests, this short piece of code is a third-party script that sends the data collected to the vendor (e.g. Google, Facebook, Pixel, etc). With server-side tracking, you are in charge of storage.

Why it’s important, and server-side benefits

As briefly mentioned above, most ad blockers scan for all common domains that serve tracking scripts and block those automatically on your website. On top of that, some browsers are now automatically blocking scripts and deleting cookies for their users. This means that you are missing out on data from a lot of visitors. By setting up server-side tracking, you ensure that your tracking scripts can do their work unhindered. Consequently, you can expect to see an uplift in data collected. Specifically, when collecting fully anonymized data (by removing identifiers in the server-side property), you now also gain (anonymized) insights from users who reject consent.

In conclusion, server-side tracking is an investment that enables your marketing team to collect more data and improve data accuracy, leading to better results.

Server-side privacy enhancements

Server-side tracking is an investment to gain full control of your data. On the one hand it helps organizations improve their marketing capabilities, with better insights leading to a better customer experience as a result. On the other hand, it provides greater control over data sharing, as you retain the ability to decide which data to send to analytics tools like GA4, and you can anonymize data before it leaves your server. This helps you to ensure compliance with privacy regulations like GDPR.

Server-side performance improvements

Privacy enhancements are not the only benefit, server-side tracking also improves website performance by reducing the amount of tracking code required, leading to faster page load times. This is not only beneficial for user experience but even improves SEO metrics and conversion rates​​.

Setting up server-side

However, setting up server-side tracking is not without challenges and requires niche technical experience in several areas such as tag management (and their limitations), server-side containers and data processing. Once the implementation is finalized, it needs to be properly tested and validated to ensure the data collection is accurate not only in the near term, but also in the long term.

Given the technical complexity and the strategic importance of server-side tracking, organizations should consider partnering with experienced agencies like Marketing Engineers 🙂 that specialize in this area. We can help navigate the intricacies of server-side tracking, ensuring a smooth transition and effective implementation that aligns with the organization’s data strategy and compliance requirements.

Should I set-up server-side tracking?

It depends on your visitor count. As a rule of thumb, we recommend it for any mid-sized company and up. Setting up server-side tracking adds responsibility and requires a small investment, which is a considerable step for organizations currently using free analytics platforms.

Example of server-side tracking

You can host your own tracking scripts. But most large websites are using different scripts at the same time and want to have some sort of logic behind them (e.g. conversion tracking, but only on checkout pages). Therefore tag managers and similar tools offer server-side solutions as well. Some examples are:

Google Tag Manager, Piwik Pro Tag Manager, Jentis, Tracedock, just to name a few. Check out our toolkit, to see the platforms we love working with.

About Marketing Engineers

Marketing Engineers are here to make your marketing technology work harder for you. We’ve been leading the implementation of server-side tracking for various clients. We are your geeky guides that help elevate your digital game. Don’t hesitate to reach out via the contact form if you have any questions!