Are you ready for server-side tracking?

Guy Rippe

Digital Analytics Consultant

25 November 2021

5 minutes reading time

It feels like there’s a constant game of cat and mouse going on in the world of data. On the one hand, we have those already working with data – the digital marketers. They live and breathe data – gathering as much as possible and making decisions accordingly. And on the other hand, we have … well, basically the rest of the world.

Public concern about the use of this data is constantly on the rise, which in turn is prompting regulators and legislators to enact increasingly stringent laws and regulations governing data collection and its usage. Meanwhile, ever smarter technologies are emerging that impede data collection and keep marketers as far away as possible from this data.

Needless to say, marketers aren’t taking this lying down and are responding with their own cunning countermoves. The latest weapon in their tech arsenal is server-side tracking. Marketers are using this technology to collect valuable data and overcome these latest obstacles while continuing to comply fully with current legislation and regulations. The data’s quality is perhaps lower than it used to be, but it’s far better than doing nothing.


So, what is server-side tracking exactly?

As its name suggests, it’s the opposite of client-side tracking. Client-side tracking uses code in the website visitor’s browser to collect information about the visitor’s online behaviour and send it to third-party systems such as Google Analytics, advertising platforms and A/B testing tools.

What’s more, a range of client-side technologies designed to impede this collection and distribution also exists, such as ad blockers and intelligent tracking prevention (ITP). These technologies make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to use cookies, and they disrupt communications between browsers and other systems.

Server-side tracking isn’t that dissimilar to client-side tracking. When a visitor requests information from a site using a browser, the server – rather than the browser – responds and simultaneously runs code that sends data to these third-party systems such as Google Analytics, advertising platforms and A/B testing tools. Client-side countermeasures no longer have any control over this process because they only work within the browser. And hey presto … there’s no longer anything standing in the way of marketers collecting and distributing valuable data.


OK, but how do I benefit from server-side tracking?

Server-side tracking has numerous benefits: faster websites, circumvented ad blockers, greater data collection possibilities and a wider range of targeting options. What’s more, it improves attribution because you can extend your cookies’ lifespans. And if this weren’t enough, it makes it even easier to comply with increasingly stringent privacy regulations such as the GDPR. For example, it becomes much simpler to remove a customer’s details because all their data can be altered on your server, which you have complete control over.


Sounds great, but what’s the catch?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that server-side tracking was a cure-all for the demise of third-party cookies. Surely everyone should be using it, right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. At least, not yet.

Many server-side tracking technologies still haven’t reached maturity (as of October 2021). Take Google Server-Side Tag Manager for example. This is one of the leading technologies currently available yet it has only just emerged from beta-testing. This means that although Google recently completed development work, you should still expect teething troubles.

Another downside to server-side tracking is increased complexity, for example, an extra data-processing layer in your website’s stack of existing technologies. In short, you’ll need to contend with greater error susceptibility and increased management overhead, as you’ll have to monitor correct operation 24/7.

When client-side technologies don’t work, it’s their suppliers who have to fix the problem. When server-side technologies don’t work, however, it’s you who has to fix the problem. Ultimately, solutions for these issues will become available, but for the time being you’ll have to be a pioneer if you want to implement this technology – the lot of the early adopter!


Pfft! So, should I start using server-side tracking or not?

Admittedly, there are still just as many pros as cons. Are we saying you’d be better off giving it a pass? Absolutely not! But it’s important to ask yourself if now’s the right time to make the switch.

At Cloud Nine Digital and Netprofiler, we recommend you only take the plunge if both Statements 1 and 2 below hold true for your organisation:

  1. At least one of the following points apply:
    1. We’ve been losing faith in our marketing campaigns’ Return On Ad Spend (ROAS)
      since the introduction of ITP because we depend so heavily on attribution or other factors.
    2. We’re currently running multiple tests in parallel
      as part of an advanced conversion-optimisation programme.
    3. We rely on cookies and other online customer-recognition technologies
      to enhance our visitors’ online experience.
  2. We have the expertise and experience in-house to implement server-side technologies and guarantee uptime 24/7.

If both statements are true, then it’s definitely time to start experimenting with server-side technology. If not, we suggest there’s no need to make the switch quite yet, or you currently lack the necessary expertise or experience. We believe server-side tracking will become the new normal over the next few years, but recommend you wait until you’re totally ready and fully prepared!

Contact us

Curious about how we could help you? Please feel free to get in touch. We'd love to hear about your data and how you're using it within your organization.