Server-Side Tracking: Overcoming Privacy Challenges in Analytics

June 3, 2023
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While it seems as though we're done with the days of guessing what's working and what's not in marketing, we're headed back into a "dark" period due to nonstop increases in privacy policies. However, that doesn't have to be the case. With innovation in recent years, you can have extremely advanced marketing analytics and tracking while remaining compliant with every privacy policy out there.

It's more important than ever to understand the ins and outs, pitfalls, pros and cons – everything related to the various types of tracking. In this blog post we'll look into all these aspects of server-side tracking while exploring ways to overcome potential privacy issues that are growing with client side tracking.

Growing Privacy Concerns in Marketing Analytics

As marketing analytics continue to grow and develop, so do concerns over privacy. With the vast amount of personal information that is collected through online activity from a user's device, it's no wonder that consumers are becoming increasingly wary of how their data is being used. Due to this, client side tracking (also known as 3rd party cookies) is getting banned and the idea of intelligent tracking prevention by browser providers is growing.

Client Side Tracking Disappearing

Third-party cookies, also known as client-side tracking, are small tracking scripts that allow advertisers and third party vendors use to track users' online activity and target them, all from within the user's browser. However, these cookies have come under increased scrutiny, leading to more browser restrictions. In fact, Google Chrome is beginning to ban 3rd party tracking scripts in 2023.

Consumers want control over their data. If your data strategy is based on client side tagging, your data accuracy is going to be null and void in the coming days.

First Party Data

The idea of first party data is centered around a server side tag management system instead of client side tracking. Practically, this means that the analytics and events captured are done on your server, as opposed to the user's browser. A server side container is set up similarly to traditional data collection practices, but can get a bit more technical depending on your technology stack. The value in a server side container is you have data control and can inject any tracking script you want without worry about ad blockers, browser restrictions, etc.

How Server-Side Tracking Works

Server-side tracking voids many legal risks, data loss issues, and client side tracking as a whole by relying on your own infrastructure. Instead of events being "tagged" in a browser, when you implement server side tracking, your server endpoint is capturing activity. You own your tagging server. It means your server container is going to be up and running regardless of policy changes, ad blockers, etc. The numerous advantages are worth the the small increase in effort required.

Never Rely on a User's Browser Again

Any marketer knows the challenges involved in piecing together a full analytics strategy. You have nonstop metrics to review: ad campaign performance, general marketing campaigns, user activity, website performance, and so much more. However, when data is incomplete, you're left to guess what's working and what isn't. That's the reason companies are switching away from third party cookies. Collect data without reliance on on tools dependent on external big tech companies.

How Server-Side Tracking Overcomes Privacy Restrictions

Because your server sends data on to your analytics tools of choice, it bypasses many of the privacy restrictions and limitations associated with client-side tracking. From the client side, ad blocker or browser settings cannot block server-side tracking, which leads to more accurate and reliable data collection. In addition, user experiences, site speed, and and data collection all increase since the load time is on a server, not on a less powerful browser.

Additionally, server-side tracking can use methods like digital fingerprinting and algorithms create a full picture of the customer journey. It combines the fact that your users are using multiple devices across multiple channels.

Quick Take Aways:

  • All the data is stored on the server.
  • It bypasses issues with ad blockers and device limitations.
  • It's a great avenue for advertisers and marketers to keep collecting data without compromising user trust.
  • Server-Side has become increasingly popular on the client side by overcoming improving data security.

Unify Your Marketing & Product Analytics

Most companies these days have multiple digital properties, whether multiple sites, subdomains, apps, or else. Traditional data collection makes it difficult to combine all of these properties into an analytics property. Servers enable you to create events once and have them applied (tracked) across all properties, sending the data on each event to your marketing or product analytics tools of choice.

Server-Side Tracking with Google Analytics 4

Continuing with the idea of unifying marketing and product analytics thanks to servers, Google Analytics 4 can't be a topic ignored in this blog. The switch from Google Universal Analytics (GUA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a hot topic. The migration from GUA to GA4 has to be completed by the end of June, 2023. Sending data via cloud delivery from your server to GA4 makes your life easier as a marketer. it's a powerful tool that keeps full control of your metrics in your hands without spending more on analytics.

How to set up Server-Side Tracking

While part of your data strategy is centered around an analytics stack to support your needs, the data collection is just as important. Whether you use Google Tag Manager, Segment, or a custom server side container, you have to send your data to an analytics client (end point).

This sounds technical, but can be done with Google Tag Manager's server side container or similar tech relatively easy. Your website setup is more indicative of your implementation difficulty: WordPress and similar drag and drop builders will be easier to implement than custom-build sites.

GTM Alternatives for Server-Side Tracking

While Google Tag Manager is a popular tool for setting up server-side tracking, there are alternative platforms available. Platforms such as Tealium, Adobe Launch, and Segment offer comprehensive tag management solutions that include server-side tracking capabilities.

These alternative platforms offer more advanced features than Google Tag Manager, such as real-time tracking and personalized targeting, that can help increase the accuracy and effectiveness of tracking. Additionally, these platforms typically offer a greater level of customization and flexibility compared to GTM, allowing users to tailor their tracking setup to their specific needs. Companies should explore each platform to determine which one best suits their needs and budget.

Hire a Marketing Data Analytics Consultant

Hiring a marketing data analytics consultant can help support businesses in setting up a server side container and ensuring it is integrated correctly with analytics and ad platforms. They can evaluate and recommend the best technology vendors to work with, and advise on custom setup configurations that fit a company's unique needs. Additionally, they can provide insights into the data collected through data sources like google analytics, help measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns, and optimize overall performance.

Working with a marketing data analytics consultant can also free up internal resources and allow businesses to prioritize other important initiatives while still achieving data-driven marketing goals. Ultimately, hiring an expert in marketing data analytics can provide a solid return on investment.

Wrapping it Up

In the age of big data, privacy has become a major concern for both the client side and server-side. Businesses have access to vast amounts of data, but they must also navigate a complex web of privacy regulations, including GDPR and CCPA to protect the client side.

As concerns over data privacy and compliance with regulations like GDPR continue to rise, server side tracking can be a great solution for marketers. By unifying all marketing analytics into one system, marketers can gain better insights into their customer base. With the right tools and practices, it’s easier than ever to set up server-side tracking and make sure your company stays ahead of the curve in terms of protecting customer data.


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