Demystifying Server-Side Data Tracking: Google Tag Manager Server-Side and Facebook Conversions API
In recent weeks, I have received several questions related to server-side tracking from some of our clients. In this blog post, I will try to demystify this technical concept. The plain truth is that with the end of third-party cookies, the shortened lifespan of first-party cookies (on Safari) and the increased need for privacy, decision makers are becoming more concerned about the accuracy of their advertising data. The release of Google Tag Manager Server-Side and Facebook Conversion API have piqued the curiosity of many marketers.
I have selected a set of questions that I will try to answer in simple terms:
- What is server-side tracking?
- What are the benefits of server-side tracking?
- Is there a difference between cookies managed on the server side and server-side tracking?
- Does server-side tracking mitigate ITP 2?
- Should you consider migrating to server-side tracking?
Before we jump into the meat of the article, here are some quick definitions:
- Web browser: a tool/software (Chrome, Safari, Firefox), installed on your PC, that allows you to navigate the internet
- Web/browser cookie: a web browser feature that allows a website to store data for a certain period of time, such as an anonymous user ID, user preferences, etc.
- Web server: infrastructure that hosts a website (ex., adviso.ca) and serves web pages to a web browser
- Marketing/analytics pixel: a piece of code installed on a website that allows marketers to track conversion events and build audiences
- Analytics and ad servers: a set of infrastructure that allows vendors (Google, Facebook) to receive, store, and transform the data sent by their users (marketers)
Here is an simplified illustration of a website architecture:
When vendors (Google, Adobe, Facebook, etc.) talk about server-side tracking, they are usually referring to the process of sending the data server-to-server: from your website server to theirs. This process is invisible for the web browsers—it is usually a cookieless way of tracking users. The user identification (anonymous ID or any identifier) is still required, but it can be generated on the server side or passed from the browser to the server. Server-side tracking is not new and has been used for several years. Many vendors offer server-side functionalities (tracking APIs that can be implemented on the server side). The graph below illustrates the concept. The web server sends the data directly to the vendor’s servers (from your website server to the vendor’s analytics server).