Navigating the new digital tracking landscape has become crucial for advertisers seeking accurate campaign performance measurement. 

The decline of third-party cookies, Apple’s privacy policies, and the impending (albeit protracted) end of third-party cookie support in Google Chrome have prompted a shift toward innovative tracking solutions. 

Enter server-side conversion tracking, also known as enhanced conversions, conversions API, or CAPI. This tool has emerged as a modern approach to maintaining conversion tracking capabilities in this ever-evolving digital environment.

Envisionit’s technology team uses server-side tracking to help future-proof our client’s media strategies and stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly privacy-centric world. Digital marketers need to understand the context, benefits, and potential pitfalls of server-side tracking to make informed decisions that optimize data accuracy while remaining in compliance with privacy regulations.

What exactly is server-side tracking?

If you’re already familiar with Google Tag Manager, you know it’s a crucial tool for advertisers who need to embed various tracking pixels on their websites. This method, known as client-side tracking, processes tags directly within the user’s browser and sends data straight to multiple destinations, including Meta and Google Ads. 

However, there are drawbacks. 

If a user disables cookies, no data is processed or sent, creating gaps in your tracking data. Plus, having multiple tags load in the browser can significantly slow down the site, potentially detracting from the user experience.

On the other hand, server-side tracking starts by routing website data to a cloud server, which then distributes this data among various external vendors and tracking services. Google Tag Manager remains a leader in this space, having launched its server-side container a few years ago.

In the server-side model, a cloud server acts as a conduit or intermediary, processing data from your website or other sources before sending it to third-party tools. Implementing server-side features with Google Tag Manager involves setting up a cloud server. Following setup, you can initiate server-side requests through Google Tag Manager to relay information to desired tracking platforms.

Connecting ad exposures to conversions

One major benefit of server-side tracking is that it can provide a higher level of accuracy when tracking conversions — while avoiding the privacy pitfalls that increasingly plague advertisers. 

With cookie-based tracking, ad platforms are dependent on the ability to scan a user’s browser for identifying information to confirm conversion. This now requires consent in many areas due to privacy regulations. 

In contrast, server-side tracking provides advertisers more control over the amount of information shared with ad platforms. It relies on transmitting a unique identifier, such as an email address, phone number, or IP address, from the advertiser to the tech platforms. 

This identifier acts as the key to accurately attributing a conversion to its corresponding ad exposure, enabling platforms to directly link an ad exposure to a conversion. 

By establishing this direct connection, server-side tracking not only ensures data accuracy but also addresses privacy concerns associated with cookie-based tracking methods that indiscriminately collect user data.

Which platforms are embracing this change?

Meta initiated the shift with the Facebook Conversion API (CAPI) in 2020, closely followed by Google Ads in 2021. 

These moves catalyzed the adoption of server-side tracking across the digital advertising industry. 

Now, major platforms including TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Pinterest have implemented their own conversion APIs, highlighting the widespread recognition of server-side tracking’s effectiveness for secure and reliable conversion capture across various channels.

Does server-side tracking bypass privacy laws?

Privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA still apply to server-side tracking.  

Crucially, your consent management platform’s settings need to communicate or integrate with your server-side solution. This ensures user consent is accurately reflected in how data is collected and utilized on the server-side.  

Ultimately, advertisers must be transparent about data collection practices, obtain user consent, and comply with their privacy policies and marketing partnerships.

What are the drawbacks to server-side tracking?

Server-side tracking is not perfect. Each conversion event requires server processing, which can strain server resources, drag down response times, and increase hosting costs. There are also challenges with tracking user interactions that occur exclusively on the client-side, such as interactions within a single-page application or dynamic content loaded via JavaScript. 

Server-side tracking can also require more technical expertise to implement and maintain compared to client-side solutions, potentially posing a barrier for marketers without a strong technical background. 

How Envisionit rapidly implements server-side tracking with Stape.io

In the past, implementing server-side tracking meant wrestling with complex code and developer dependencies. At Envisionit, Stape.io has dramatically simplified the process, making it accessible for our team to implement without the need for extensive development resources. 

Here’s how Stape.io has become an indispensable tool in our data collection process:

  • Rapid implementation of Meta’s Conversion API (CAPI): Stape.io streamlines the process of integrating Meta’s CAPI, making it easier for marketers to track user actions directly from the server. This ensures accurate tracking of conversions, even in a cookie-less world.
  • Simplification of Google Tag Manager Server Side (sGTM): For many, the transition to server-side tagging can seem daunting. Stape.io demystifies this process, allowing for the easy setup of sGTM. This not only enhances data privacy, but also improves site speed by reducing client-side requests.
  • Customization and flexibility: Stape.io offers a level of customization that is particularly beneficial for tailoring tracking strategies to specific client needs. Whether it’s setting up complex tracking configurations or integrating with various ad platforms, Stape.io provides the tools necessary to achieve these goals efficiently.

So, is server-side tracking the ultimate solution?

Despite a few limitations, server-side tracking is still an essential tool for digital marketers. As traditional trackers are phased out and new complexities are introduced, server-side tracking will continue to offer significant improvements in tracking accuracy and data privacy.

This technology is more than just a technological shift — it’s a strategic advantage that prepares digital marketers for future challenges in an increasingly privacy-centric world.

Embracing server-side tracking means not just keeping pace with trends but staying ahead of the curve. By enhancing data collection and analysis, our team future-proofs our strategies and enhances the resiliency of our campaigns.

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