Traditional tracking on the web faces significant challenges:
- Decreasing data quality: It is blocked by adblockers and tracking preventions – you receive much less and even wrong data for your marketing.
- A lack of data control: It captures extensive user data on your website, but it happens outside your control – often, you don’t own your valuable data; your third-party providers do.
- Strict data protection requirements: It poses a high data protection risk because personal data reaches third-party providers uncontrolled.
What is server-side tracking?
Server-side tracking captures website data on a dedicated server rather than in the user’s browser (the “client”), as with traditional tracking. Server-side tracking captures data unaffected by adblockers and tracking prevention. This means that you receive far higher-quality data.
After capturing the data on your own server, you can modify it and forward it to existing analytics and marketing tools as required. This way, you remain in control of the data, prevent dependence on third parties, and determine the level of data protection yourself – without having to change your existing tools.
Client-side tracking explained
Traditional tracking (client-side tracking) is usually done by third-party providers (e.g., analytics tools, social media platforms, etc.) that collect valuable raw data on your website but often only provide them with limited, aggregated reports.
With Server Side Tracking, you eliminate the disadvantages of conventional tracking and get the basis for future-proof data strategies in a privacy-first context.
At a glance: Client-side vs. server-side tracking
Disadvantages of client-side tracking
❌ Adblockers and tracking preventers hinder data collection
❌Lack of data control
❌High privacy risk
❌Dependence on third-party providers.
Advantages of server-side tracking
- Track unaffected by adblockers and tracking preventions
- Full data control and raw data
- Easily comply with GDPR and data protection requirements around the globe
- Gain data independence for future-proof first-party data strategies
Implementing server-side tracking: What to look for
Just as with pure client-side tracking, there are separate tag management systems for server-side tracking that are used to control your tracking setup
These are similar to their predecessors in most respects. There are still tools, tags and triggers to implement. There is also still the connection to the Consent Management Platform (CMP) to consider.
The most significant change is the data logic. Before you can pass data to tools in server-side tracking, you have to collect it. Every vendor solves this a little differently, and while it’s not a difficult task per se, it does require some rethinking.
In principle, the following points need to be considered on a technical level:
- How will the tag manager be implemented on the website?
- How and where will the solution be hosted?
- Which tools can be installed on the server side?
- How many events do I need to 1) collect and 2) forward server-side?
- How can I link the server-side tracking to my CMP?
- Is my data layer set up well? (This point is often underestimated.)
- As many already suspect at this point, implementing any server-side tracking solution is bound to be a migration project.
This involves rebuilding tool by tool, all tags and triggers server-side, checking the data quality, and then routing the data via server-side tracking to the desired tool, such as Google Analytics.
Depending on the complexity and the technical requirements, such a project can take 1-8 weeks.
SaaS vs. DIY: What is the right server-side tracking solution for your business?
With the questions listed above, you can also evaluate the two main approaches to server-side tracking.
On the one hand, there is the do-it-yourself approach to server-side tracking. There are open frameworks for this, such as from Google (SS-GTM), for example. With this approach, you can expect to invest considerable time and resources in exchange for a bespoke setup.
Specifically, this means:
- You have to host the solution yourself and maintain it 24/7.
- You have to develop and maintain the tool integrations (mostly) yourself.
- You have to develop and maintain the CMP link yourself.
- Support is mainly provided by the community (agencies can also take over these tasks).
On the other hand, there is the managed service approach to server-side tracking. Here, companies provide complete SaaS products.
Specifically, this means:
- You don’t have to worry about hosting and monitoring.
- You do not have to take care of the tool integrations.
- You don’t have to take care of CMP linking
- Support is provided by a helpdesk or a personal contact, depending on the SLAs.
With managed solutions, the customer benefits from enhanced data quality and complete data control while quite a few necessities are taken care of in the background by the service provider.
- Businesses will need to change their collection method in the near future.
- Client-side web tracking is becoming more limited and unreliable due to data quality and privacy issues – these limitations will continue to grow.
- Server-side tracking allows organizations to continue to capture high-quality web data, gain complete data control, and determine with whom they share the data.