I come across LOTS of businesses who still do not use server-side tracking… some generating $100M or more in revenue!
You know the old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
After all, why bother tying yourself up in knots when your current tracking is working just fine?
To answer why, we first need a little context…
Marketers and business owners want two basic things when it comes to media buying:
- Know what to kill and what to scale
- Maximise prospect quality
Both goals begin with collecting data that’s as reliable and complete as possible.
Once you have good data, reporting becomes MUUUUUUCH more useful and ads deliver better qualified traffic.
Traditionally, to setup tracking, you’d paste the Google Analytics, Facebook, and Google Ads pixels into s page or website.
Up until recently, this worked fine. But then, iOS14 happened.
It was CHAOS.
Once iOS14 and Safari14 rolled out, we started noticing missing data. To make matters worse, other devices and browsers announced their plans to restrict ad-trackers, too.
So began the War on Tracking!
Then, the ad networks adapted…
Facebook was the first to respond with conversion API (CAPI). Google Ads released Enhanced Conversions. Now, Tiktok has Events API.
But, how is server-side tracking any better, you ask?
That’s where this handy illustration comes in. It shows how ad networks (Facebook, Google, etc.) send traffic with tracking parameters attached to the URL. These parameters are then collected by tracking pixels, along with other data points (IP address, user agent, and so on).
The red arrows show visitors’ browsers connecting to the ad networks.
This style of tracking worked pretty well for a while. But, then, Big Tech started taking more than their fair share.
You see, Big Tech is in the business of data. The more they have, the more they can re-package and sell access to the data.
Naturally, because it’s highly profitable, they collect as much data as they can… even when they are not supposed to!
In short, Big Tech showed themselves to be untrustworthy.
To protect their users, device and browser platforms responded by increasingly blocking ad-trackers.
So, how is server-based tracking any different?
First, you have to realise with the all changes, NOT ALL data is being blocked.
Mostly, it’s data sent directly back to ad networks that’s being blocked.
But data sent to your own site and subdomains is completely fine (otherwise, the modern internet would break.) In other words, you send tracking data to tracking.yoursite.com without a problem.
From there, you can forward this data anywhere you choose (indicated by the blue arrows in the diagram). The best part is, data sent from a tracking server cannot be blocked.
NOTE – For this to work properly, server-side tracking MUST share the same root domain as your main site.
Important note – properly configured server-to-server tracking is unblockable and will improve the data you’re receiving. Unfortunately, conversions reported back to ad networks will still drop some of the data. This is just of life now.
In saying that, getting as complete and as accurate data as you can is still crucial because it enables you to make data-driven decisions. So important when deciding what to scale and what to kill.
Tracking is it’s tricky to setup right, when compared with pasting a dirty ol’ tracking pixel.
While other options exist, the foundation of our recommended tracking stack is Google Tag Manager, Google Tag Manager Server-side and Google Analytics 4. We choose this particular setup because it’s low-cost and configurable.
Using this tracking system, we can send data anywhere, including Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, TikTok Ads, Hotjar, Hubspot, Klavio, Salesforce, Zapier, webhooks, data warehouses, etc.
SIDE NOTE – Google Ads, Google Analytics 4, Google Tag Manager, BigQuery, and Data Studio are a family of tightly integrated products. This is Google’s vision of a complete, modern marketing suite.
Browser tracking will eventually die.
Server-side tracking is the future. It improves analytics reporting as well as conversion data sent back to the ad networks (although, as previously mentioned, doesn’t completely fix Facebook and Google Ads.)
Got questions? Ask away!