Strong digital strategies are based on a deep understanding of the foundational details. The Heart of the Matter blog provides essential insight from Kepler’s Marketing Systems Strategy (MSS) team to help marketers create better strategies. The second in the series, written by Associate Director Valerie Renda, looks at server-side tracking and how marketers need to be implementing it.
It's increasingly important that advertiser technology meets rigorous privacy standards, meaning server-side and server-to-server technology will become increasingly important to the future of tracking and targeting. It’s a powerful tool for advertisers because it is durable, future-proof, and has improved data governance over legacy methods.
Why advertisers need to start implementing server-side tracking
Technological and regulatory changes are challenging the current ways marketers track digital performance and target audiences. With client-side pixel-based tracking becoming less reliable, server-side tracking is becoming the only credible alternative, meaning it’s crucial that advertisers begin implementing it.
But why is server-side tracking different? Mainly because it’s not reliant on cookies. Data on things like website & app activity is collected on a server and then passed directly to other servers. Sharing between servers means it's more accurate and allows for better data security & governance.
In addition to these data privacy benefits, this technology has become important now because it can be used to mitigate the growing complexity of data management and activation, and can help in actioning cross-channel attribution.
How big tech is welcoming this technology
In a bid to enable privacy-centric attribution and targeting by increasing user signals and the strength of those signals, some of the major platforms are already allowing advertisers to use server-side tracking alongside existing client-side tracking. These include Meta’s Conversions API (CAPI), TikTok Events API, and more recently announced Amazon’s Conversions API.
In addition, enabling these server-side methodologies now puts advertisers in a better position for later when third-party cookies are deprecated in the Chrome browser.
What's stopping marketers from moving quickly on this?
Server-side tracking implementation isn’t simple and is far more complex than standard client-side, browser pixel-based tracking. It requires a deeper technical skillset and often additional legal resources. Whereas implementing client-side tracking is usually limited to a simple tag setup that can be done with little to no technical knowledge.
To get implementation right, marketers need to figure out a number of factors ahead of setup. These include questions on data sources and usage, such as the sources of first-party data available, which user signals to prioritize, and which media platforms to integrate with. As well as questions on process and technology, such as the methodology of implementation and what technology already exists in the ad tech infrastructure,
But implementation is only the first step. To maximize impact now and into the future, advertisers and agencies need to plan how they will use this new source of data and how it can improve performance. This means designing both a new media strategy and a testing and analysis plan.
Even then there may be opportunities for this data that sit outside of the usual planning processes. Can you start using it to optimize to profit, or even target advertising based on lifetime value (LTV)?
But server-side tracking is not for everyone
Server-side tracking isn’t perfect, and it might not be the right solution for you at the moment. If you lack first-party data or you are not collecting data at all, or perhaps don’t have the technological infrastructure to support this solution (servers are expensive), this is not the right time.
How to get started
Server-side tracking can be set up in several ways, depending on the technology and resources you have available. Here are some of the best ways:
Customer data platform (CDP):
This is the easiest approach if you are already using a CDP. Most CDPs that accept server-side data sources, like Segment or Tealium EventStream, now enable server-side tracking through pre-built integrations with the major media platforms.
Server-side tag managers:
For businesses already using a tag manager for client-side tracking, this method can be the best. It allows for a consistent tracking approach and means a very recognizable UI and setup. Examples of server-side tag managers include server-side Google Tag Manager (sGTM), Tealium AudienceStream, and Adobe Launch.
Custom server-side implementation:
This solution is only for advertisers with specific data tracking needs, and the technical infrastructure and resources available to implement it. But with those in place, a custom server-side implementation may be the best option.
The long and the short of server-side tracking
With the technological and regulatory changes making client-side pixel-based tracking less reliable, advertisers are increasingly in need of server-side tracking if they are to retain control over their online advertising and meet the incoming rigorous privacy standards. But it's not easy, so advertisers need to start implementing it now to stay ahead of the curve.
If you have any questions about server-side tracking or how to get started with implementation, we would be happy to hear from you.