13. March 2023

How Remarketing works with Server-side Tracking

Remarketing and retargeting are ubiquitous in online marketing. Here's how it works with server-side tracking.

Check out this blogpost for a general overview of server-side tracking, including the advantages and disadvantages of switching to a first-party data collection.

The end of third-party cookies was first announced in 2018 when the first tracking preventions hit the market, namely the Intelligent Tracking Preventions (ITP) in Apple’s Safari Browser. Since then, various technology providers followed suit. Mozilla introduced enhanced tracking prevention in Firefox and Microsoft implemented preventions in Edge. At the same time, good old Ad-blockers continued to gain popularity among web users.

In response, server-side tracking is experiencing increased adoption among digital businesses that want to restore their data quality in a first-party context.

But remarketing has always been highly dependent on third-party cookies. So what does server-side tracking of first-party data mean for remarketing?

First, a few definitions:

Remarketing can be defined as the practice of targeting users who have previously interacted with your website, online ads or social media page. For this purpose, a given user is assigned an identifier that advertising systems can recognise. The most common technology used to identify users across different websites for remarketing purposes is the third-party cookie.

With server-side tracking, a single first-party JavaScript code (and cookie) is responsible for capturing the behavioural data of your website visitors. Instead of sending the data directly to Google or Facebook, the data is first sent to a tracking server. From there, the data is then forwarded to the various tools you would like to use the data with.

We will now address online marketers’ remarketing options at their disposal today, and how they can perform remarketing in the future. We will distinguish between two stages:

  • Pre-third-party-cookie deprecation
  • Post-third-party-cookie deprecation

Pre third-party-cookie deprecation

A full server-side tracking implementation of a given tool would prohibit the placement of third-party cookies on the device of the user. That’s because the server-side tracking technology would be responsible for the data collection, and only on the server other tools are implemented.

However, since third-party cookies still provide some value and work in limited cases, there is a special setup that allows marketers to use third-party cookies of advertising technologies while implementing such tools via a server-side tag management system. We call this approach a “hybrid setup”.

The Facebook CAPI is a good example. As demonstrated by the screenshot below, as usual for a server-side tracking implementation, first-party data is collected via one single JavaScript and sent server-side. From there, data is forwarded to Facebook. However, a second process happens simultaneously. Via the server-side tracking technology, the third-party cookie of Facebook is placed on the client, which enables marketers with retargeting options in the Facebook advertising network.

Why this is important: It is a workaround for as long as third-party cookies are still available. 

Post third-party cookie deprecation

It is correct to say that remarketing will change once third-party cookies are phased out and that its effectiveness – and relevance – will diminish. However, a new way of remarketing is increasingly adopted by those with control over their first-party data collection. 

Through (a combination of) other identifiers such as email addresses, names, zip codes or telephone numbers, companies can share their relevant first-party data with big tech and publishers to recognise and re-engage users on a broader scale. These data points are not necessarily only collected online but can also come from an app or physical shops. 

An example of this already available option is Google Ads Customer match, through which companies can share hashed email addresses, names and other available identifiers to re-engage previous website users. 

Another interesting solution in the realm of first-party data is the data clean room, which various publishers offer. Data clean rooms are secure environments where companies can share their first-party data with third-party partners without compromising users’ privacy. Access is restricted and data is anonymised to protect sensitive information. 

If you want to know more about server-side tracking and how it can be used for online marketing and analytics, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts. 

Get your free server-side tracking assessment!

Currently, we offer free-of-charge server-side potential analysis. Together with one of our experts, we will assess your current tracking setup and devise strategies and an action plan for our server-side tracking implementation. 

Having done hundreds of implementations ourselves, we can also share more detailed experiences in a private setting. 

Book a timeslot!

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What is Server-Side Tracking?

A detailed overview of server-side tracking for online marketers and web analysts. Learn if it is the right fit for you and your marketing.