Before we define server-side tracking (server-to-server tracking), it’s important to understand client-side tracking. Client-side tracking is the traditional way of collecting and analysing user data.
When someone visits a website, your ad and analytics tools plant cookies in their browser, allowing you to track their engagement across multiple touchpoints, including your website, digital products, social media platforms, etc. Your tracking tools collect all this data from the user’s browser.
Server-side tracking creates a unique identifier on a server (rather than a cookie in a user’s browser) to track events, and user flows. Instead of data going from the user’s browser to Facebook or Google and back to your server/tool for analysis, server-side tracking gives you complete data ownership.
Server-side data not only gives businesses more control, but it’s also more reliable because they don’t have to contend with browser restrictions, ad-blocking extensions, people deleting cookies, etc.
A common misconception is that server-side tracking is a way to get around data privacy legislation. Server-to-server tracking circumvents cookie blockers, but businesses must still comply with data regulations and tracking policies the same way they do with cookies—nothing changes in this regard!
One of the primary benefits of server-to-server tracking is data integrity and reliability. A user’s web browser type (Edge, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.) and version can impact data collected by cookies.
Marketers also have to contend with cookie and ad blockers, which muddy results. According to a Backlinko study, 42.7% of internet users use ad blockers. People also use browsers like DuckDuckGo, which blocks all tracking cookies by default.
Server-side tracking mitigates many of these obstacles, giving companies more reliable data from users. People can still opt out of tracking as they would with cookies, but the data quality marketers collect is much more consistent.
With client-side tracking, it’s difficult for marketers to determine which traffic is real and which are bots. Server-to-server tracking also gives companies more filtering control. Data collectors can define which bots and crawlers they block, resulting in better quality and accuracy.
This unique first-party data gives organisations a competitive edge and a holistic view of their business and customers across every touchpoint. Storing this data on a company server means organisations have complete control over what information they track and who they share it with.
Removing these cookies from a user’s browser also offers security benefits. Many third-party data collectors use tools to scrape cookie data from users’ browsers, which they sell without the user’s consent. Storing this data on a company server protects both user privacy and the company’s intellectual property.
Companies can take this further and remove identifiers like IP addresses, device info, etc., before sharing data with third parties to protect their customer’s privacy.
With all these benefits, you’re probably thinking, “why isn’t everyone adopting a server-to-server tracking model?”
The first challenge limiting many companies is the cost of server-to-server tracking. Prices vary, but where client-side tracking is essentially free, server-side tracking requires cloud hosting. Cloud hosting starts at $10-20 per month and can cost hundreds or even thousands depending on the scale of your data operations.
Another expense companies must factor in is the cost of managing these servers, which requires a data engineering team. They must collect and maintain infrastructure and design models for team members to analyse the data.
While large ad platforms like Google, Facebook, and TikTok offer server-to-server solutions, many companies still use a cookie-based model. This slow adoption means organisations collect a mix of server-side and client-side data with different identifiers, making it harder to analyse traffic accurately.
Some of the major platforms that offer Server-to-server tracking include:
Google (Ads & GA4)
One of the performance benefits of SPAs (single-page applications) and PWAs (progressive web applications) is that these applications make fewer server requests. This performance is great news for user experience but offers a challenge for server-to-server tracking because there is less communication between the server and the application.
While there are workarounds to this challenge, it requires engineering expertise which adds to the costs we highlight above.
Most marketing/ad data comes from Google, Facebook (Instagram), and TikTok, all of which offer server-to-server tracking. So, even if many platforms don’t provide server-side solutions, you will experience benefits for most incoming data.
Server-side tracking is growing in demand, so it won’t be long before many of these slow adopters offer server-to-server solutions. The earlier you implement a server-side data strategy, the more high-quality legacy data you will have for future data-driven decision-making.
If you run ad campaigns using Google, Facebook, or TikTok, a server-to-server data model will give you better quality analytics to create more accurate audiences—ultimately saving ad spend and cost-per-acquisition.
While server-to-server tracking might seem daunting, there are techniques and strategies to migrate your data operations and enhance your company’s data analytics.
Our data experts at Metric Labs have helped numerous businesses navigate their data challenges, including GA4 migration, enhancing data visualisation, improving attribution modelling, and server-side tracking implementation and management.
Avoid the costly mistakes of switching to a server-side data strategy with expert advice from our data analytics team. Contact Metric Labs for a free consultation to understand your business and data needs.
Looking to start using GA4?