server-side tracking

The essential guide to server-side tracking

Digital marketers are starting to embrace server-side tracking, which is shaking up web analytics. But why now? One of the main reasons are privacy concerns: these limit the ability to collect data in the traditional (client-side) way.

What do I need to learn about server-side tracking and why?

Imagine that you launch a new marketing campaign. You decide to place ads on social media. You are excited and you wait for the traffic to begin coming in. But today’s browsers, including Firefox and Safari, block intelligent tracking. You may not be able to share the results you are so excited about at the next meeting of your marketing team, because the data is incomplete and might be even wrong.

If you rely only on traditional browser-based (client-side) web analytics to determine how much traffic your site is getting, and what visitors do once they get there, you won’t be able to figure out the extent of your website’s actual traffic properly.

Ad-Blockers, Misconfiguration and Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), can cause a loss between between 30-60% of tracking data.

Google Chrome, which accounts for more than half of all web traffic, has pledged to end user cookie tracking by 2023. It is now a matter of when, and not if, marketers will have to adopt server-side tracking as alternative.

Let’s explore how server-side tracking works and why you should have it on your radar. We will also discuss how it can be integrated into your tech stack.

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What is the difference between server-side and client-side tracking?

You can measure user interaction with your app or website in two different ways. The difference is how data is collected. Client-side tracking is the current standard method.

Client-side tracking transfers data directly from the browser of the user – also known as a client, to an external server like Google Analytics or Facebook. Small pieces of Javascript code, called “pixels” and “tags”, are used to enable data transfer.

Server-side tracking transfers data first from the user’s browser to your web server before it can be transferred to a third party. You can increase security and control by adding an extra layer (the server), between your website, and your data collection platform such as Google Analytics and Facebook.

Client-side tracking has been the preferred method of collecting data for a long time. However, this trend is changing and you have to be aware that each approach has its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros client-side tracking

  1. It is easy to set up
  2. Flexible deployment
  3. Provides detailed behavioral data
  4. Established norm
  5. Most marketers are familiar with this method

Cons of client-side tracking

  1. Negative impact on performance
  2. Adblockers, ITP (Intelligent Tracking Protection), and other tools can hinder data collection and reduce data quality
  3. Security concerns restrict the data that can possibly be collected.
  4. Collected data isn’t owned by you

Pros of server-side tracking

  1. Browser types and browser versions do not affect the results
  2. Higher data quality because ad blocking and intelligent tracking protection (ITP) have no effect
  3. Data ownership and control: You decide what data you want to track and where to send them.
  4. Security at a higher level
  5. Loading time reduced makes websites faster
  6. Data enrichment – You have the option of enriching incoming data with relevant additional data, such as CRM data.

Cons of server-side tracking

  1. Support from developers is usually required for maintenance and deployment
  2. To create a reliable and sustainable tracking system, you will need to have the right skills and resources
  3. Because they communicate less with the server, single page apps (SPAs), and progress web apps (PWAs), are more difficult to track.

What does server-side tacking mean for tag management?

Digital marketers are familiar with the concept of tags. The majority of websites include the Google Analytics tag and Facebook pixel in their source code or tag management software. Server-side tag allows you to transfer third-party pixels and tags away from your website and app, and into server-side processing via cloud.

However, most tag management software was designed to support client-side tracking methods. They are just now starting to support server-side tags.

Which solution is best for you?

Server-side tracking can help you solve your problems if you, like many other businesses, are frustrated by insufficient analytics data or have concerns about data ownership.

You need to evaluate the advantages and drawbacks of every solution for server-side tracking, while also considering your infrastructure and financial goals.

Get in touch with us and learn how set up your server-side tracking solution.

Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

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