Table of contents
- The Limitations of Traditional Pixel Tracking Methods
- Understanding Cutting-Edge Server-side Tracking Methods
- Client-side Tracking vs Server-side Tracking
- Use cases of server-side tracking
- Implementing Server-side Tracking
- Existing challenges with server-side tracking
- Conducting an Audit for Server-side Tracking Implementation
- Exploring GA4 Server-side Tracking Options
- Accurate Cookieless Tracking with OWOX BI
Server-Side Tracking: Monitor User Behavior without Pixels
Ievgen Krasovytskyi, Head of Marketing @ OWOX
In the world of digital marketing, tracking how people behave online is crucial. But the usual way of doing this, using "pixels," is running into problems. One big issue is that web browsers are becoming stricter about privacy, making it harder for pixels to work properly. This has made it challenging for marketers to gather accurate information about what people do online.
Thus, smart marketers are turning to "Server-Side Tracking" to bypass these problems. Server-side tracking is a different way of collecting data about how people use websites and apps. Instead of relying on pixels, it handles this data on the server where the website or app is hosted.
Server-Side Tracking is becoming a game-changer in digital marketing. It offers a more reliable and secure way to collect data about user behavior. Plus, it can be used for various marketing purposes, from understanding user journeys to personalizing user experiences.
In this article, updated in February 2024, you will learn in detail the limitations of pixel-based tracking and how server-side tracking is helping marketers overcome the same. We will explore the best practices for implementing server-side tracking.
The Limitations of Traditional Pixel Tracking Methods
Pixel tracking, once the go-to method for collecting user data, now faces formidable hurdles that demand our attention. One of the primary culprits behind this shift is the Safari web browser, equipped with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature.
According to recent statistics, as of 2023, Safari holds a substantial 20.43% share of the global browser market, making its influence significant. The ITP feature, aimed at safeguarding user privacy, actively restricts the functionality of pixels, causing disruptions in data collection.
Additionally, the rising prevalence of cookie-blocking mechanisms, employed by various browsers, has exacerbated the situation. Cookies, which have long been the backbone of user tracking, are now under siege. In the last few years, the number has only grown. This cookie crackdown is a direct blow to pixel tracking's efficacy.
For example, Intelligent Tracking Protocol (ITP), a privacy feature introduced by Apple, puts forth the following restrictions:
- ITP blocks all third-party cookies by default. (ITP 1.0/1.1)
- ITP can grant exceptions to third-party cookies with Storage API. (ITP 2.0)
- ITP caps first-party cookies set by the server using CNAME cloaking to 7 days. (ITP 2.3)
Now, ITPs only act on client-side cookies and not on server-side cookies. As a result, it is possible to have an improved cookie lifespan (custom number days/years viz 7 days for client-side cookies) by using Server-side tracking.
The impact of these challenges resonates across widely used analytics tools, including Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, which are employed by millions of businesses globally. Facebook's pixel, a linchpin of social media advertising, has also felt the sting of these limitations. The repercussions are substantial: user actions are no longer accurately captured in these popular analytics tools, resulting in incomplete data for decision-making.
Remarketing efforts, a staple in the arsenal of digital marketers, are thwarted as users are increasingly excluded from these audiences due to tracking obstacles. The ability to trace user journeys, which is instrumental in optimizing marketing strategies, has become progressively intricate.
In essence, pixel tracking, despite its historical significance, is now hamstrung by the widespread adoption of privacy measures and the evolving landscape of user data protection. This pivotal shift underscores the urgency of exploring alternative approaches such as Server-Side Tracking to ensure the continued accuracy and effectiveness of user behavior monitoring.
Understanding Cutting-Edge Server-side Tracking Methods
Server-side tracking is a transformative approach to gathering and managing user data. Traditionally, websites used client-side methods, where scripts and pixels on the user's browser would collect information. However, this method had limitations in accuracy and could raise privacy concerns. Server-side tracking, on the other hand, shifts this data collection process to the server itself. By doing so, it offers several advantages.
- It provides more control over the data, as it's managed directly by the website's server.
- It ensures higher accuracy since there's less room for discrepancies.
- It enhances user privacy, reducing the risk of data leaks or unauthorized access. This method is becoming increasingly popular as businesses prioritize both data integrity and user trust.
- With the introduction of functionalities like ITP, the shelf life of browser cookies is 7 days, thus server-side tracking is the default choice when considering scenarios that play out longer (for example Campaign converting after a month).
Client-side Tracking vs Server-side Tracking
If you prefer to get all of the details about the difference between traditional pixel-based tracking and modern server-side approach in the video format, then watch the video below or continue reading.
Client side Tracking vs Server side Tracking 8 main differences
- Views: 240
- 23 January 2024
Let’s now understand the key differences between Server side & client side tracking:
#1. How the Data is being Collected?
Let's kick things off with how data is being collected.
Server-side: Operates directly on the server, minimizing dependence on client-side methods. This ensures a more consistent data collection process, especially when ad blockers are in play.
Client-side: Relies on browser-based scripts, making it susceptible to ad blockers and browser constraints. This leads to gaps in your data and therefore in your analytics. You miss out on the big picture.
#2. Data Accuracy
Server-side: Offers more accurate data by bypassing issues like ad blockers and browser limitations, ensuring consistent data capture.
Client-side: Can face discrepancies due to browser restrictions and ad blockers, leading to potential data inaccuracies.
#3. Data Privacy and security?
Server-side tracking processes user data directly on the server, providing an added layer of security and reducing breach risks.
Client-side - handles data on the user's browser, which might expose it to vulnerabilities and potential breaches.
#4. Performance Impact and User Experience
Server-side: Enhances website performance by reducing client-side scripts, leading to faster page loads and a smoother user experience.
Client-side: Can slow down page loads due to multiple scripts running on the user's browser, potentially affecting user experience.
#5. Implementation Complexity
Server-side: Requires more technical expertise and resources, making it challenging to implement and maintain.
Client-side: Generally simpler and more straightforward to set up, but might not offer the same depth of data collection.
#6: Data Types
Server-side: Captures a wide range of data, including server logs, offering comprehensive insights.
Client-side: Primarily captures browser-based interactions, which might limit the depth of insights.
#7. Cookie Dependency
Server-side: Specifically designed to be less reliant on cookies, making it adaptable to browser changes that restrict cookie usage.
Client-side: This one is heavily dependent on cookies for tracking, which can be problematic with evolving browser policies. Also, we need to consider that client-side cookies have a lifespan of 7 days (since the introduction of ITP and similar privacy-focused functionalities).
#8. Real-time vs Delayed Data
Server-side: Built to enable real-time data processing, allowing for immediate insights and faster decision-making.
Client-side: Might experience delays in data processing, making real-time insights challenging.
#9. Server Load
Server-side: Can increase the load on servers due to direct data processing, necessitating effective server management.
Client-side: Puts less strain on servers since data processing occurs on the user's browser.
#10. Cross-Domain & Cross-Device Tracking
Server-side: Designed to simplify cross-domain tracking by centralizing data collection, making multi-domain analysis easier.
Client-side: Can be complex when tracking user activity across multiple domains, requiring additional configurations.
#11. Data Enrichment & Transformation
Server-side: Allows for direct data enrichment and transformation on the server, leading to advanced analysis.
Client-side: Not optimal due to the limited ability to enrich and transform data, often requiring third-party tools for advanced analysis.
Use cases of server-side tracking
Server-side tracking has a wide range of applications across various digital marketing functions:
Server-side tracking offers a holistic view of user interactions across various channels. For instance, a study by Google found that 90% of media consumption happens in front of screens, and users repeatedly switch between screens. to complete tasks. Server-side tracking can trace this journey, ensuring each touchpoint gets its due credit in the conversion process.
Accurate tracking of user behavior can pinpoint areas of improvement. For example, a study by Bain & Company highlighted that a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to a 25% to 95% increase in profits. Server-side tracking can help businesses identify and act on such opportunities.
Netflix, using server-side data, personalized its user interface, leading to 75% of viewers selecting films based on algorithmic recommendations. Server-side tracking provides the granular data needed to tailor experiences, driving user engagement.
With detailed user behavior insights, businesses can refine their strategies. For instance, the e-commerce giant Amazon attributes a 29% sales increase to its recommendation engine, which is informed by server-side tracking data. This data aids in A/B testing and optimization efforts.
Server-side tracking can detect anomalies in user behavior, flagging potential fraudulent activities. For example, banks use server-side tracking to monitor transaction patterns, quickly identifying and mitigating suspicious activities.
In the wake of GDPR and CCPA, businesses face stringent data privacy regulations. Server-side tracking, by centralizing data processing, can help businesses adhere to these regulations, minimizing compliance risks.
Real-time data from server-side tracking can be pivotal. For instance, during high-traffic events like Black Friday, businesses can monitor website performance in real time, ensuring optimal user experience and addressing issues immediately.
Several leading e-commerce companies use server-side tracking for A/B tests, leading to better decision-making. With accurate data on user behavior, businesses can measure the impact of different website versions, refining their strategies based on real-world feedback.
Implementing Server-side Tracking
Choose your server
Selecting the right server is very important for server-side tracking. Consider factors like traffic volume, data storage needs, and potential growth. For instance, if you anticipate high traffic, opt for a server with robust processing capabilities. Cloud servers, like those offered by Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud, can be scalable solutions, adjusting to your traffic needs and ensuring consistent performance.
Select a server-side tag management system
A tag management system (TMS) simplifies the process of managing and deploying tags. For server-side tracking, it's essential to choose a TMS that specifically supports this method. Google Tag Manager, for example, offers a server-side tracking option. Ensure the TMS integrates well with your existing tools and platforms for seamless data collection.
Set up your tags
Defining the right tags is at the heart of effective tracking. Determine which user interactions or events are crucial for your business objectives. This could include actions like form submissions, product purchases, or page views. Once identified, set up these tags in your chosen TMS, ensuring they're designed to capture the desired data accurately.
Integrate with your website or app
To enable server-side tracking, you'll need to make specific code changes to your website or app. This often involves integrating the server endpoint provided by your TMS. Collaboration between developers and marketers is essential here. Ensure that the integration is seamless, and data flows from the client to the server without hitches.
Test, troubleshoot, and optimize
Once implemented, it's vital to test the setup thoroughly. Use tools like tag debugging solutions to ensure tags fire correctly. Monitor the data being collected for inconsistencies or gaps. If issues arise, troubleshoot to identify the root cause, be it a misconfigured tag or server issue. Regularly review and optimize your setup, ensuring it aligns with evolving business goals and tracking needs.
Existing challenges with server-side tracking
While server-side tracking offers numerous benefits, it's not without challenges:
One of the primary challenges with server-side tracking is the potential for data latency. Unlike client-side tracking, where data is sent directly from the user's browser to the analytics platform, server-side tracking involves an additional step. The data is first sent to the server, processed, and then forwarded to the analytics platform. This intermediary process can introduce delays, especially if the server is overwhelmed with requests or if there are network issues.
For businesses that rely heavily on real-time reporting, such as e-commerce platforms during flash sales or media outlets during live events, even minor delays can impact decision-making and user experience. It's crucial to have a robust server infrastructure and efficient data processing mechanisms to minimize this latency.
Implementing server-side tracking is not a straightforward task. It requires a deep understanding of both the server environment and the analytics tools in use. Integrating server-side tracking into an existing digital infrastructure can be complex, especially if there are legacy systems involved.
There's a need to ensure that the server can handle the additional load, that data is correctly formatted for the analytics platform, and that there are no conflicts with other server processes. Moreover, as technology evolves, maintaining and updating the server-side tracking setup can become an ongoing challenge. It often requires collaboration between IT specialists, developers, and digital marketers to ensure seamless integration and continuous data flow.
Navigate the complexities of server-side tracking with ease. Leverage the expertise of OWOX BI integrations in data extraction, transformation, and real-time user behavior tracking. Discover more about our integrations and ensure a continuous data flow amidst evolving technologies. Let's bridge the gap between your server environment and analytics tools. Book a demo today!
Tracking user interactions across multiple domains is a common requirement for businesses with diverse digital footprints. While server-side tracking can simplify cross-domain tracking by centralizing data collection, it also introduces its own set of challenges. For instance, ensuring that user sessions are consistently tracked as they move between domains can require additional configuration.
There's also the challenge of data consistency, ensuring that interactions are attributed correctly across domains. Additionally, coordinating tracking setups across different domains, especially if they have different server configurations or are managed by different teams, can be complex. It's essential to have a clear strategy and detailed documentation to address these challenges effectively.
Conducting an Audit for Server-side Tracking Implementation
When auditing your server-side tracking implementation, consider key metrics such as:
Pageviews represent the number of times a particular page has been viewed. When auditing, compare the pageview counts from your server-side tracking with those from other tracking methods or expected traffic patterns. Discrepancies might indicate missing tags, server issues, or misconfigurations. Key data points to check include the total number of pageviews, pageviews by source, and pageviews by device type.
Unique visitors measure the number of distinct individuals who have visited your site during a specific period. Ensure that the count of unique visitors aligns with other tracking tools or historical data. Check data points like new vs. returning visitors, unique visitors by location, and by referral source. Discrepancies might indicate issues with session handling or user identification.
The Bounce rate calculates the percentage of visitors who leave your site after viewing only one page. It's crucial to ensure that bounce rates are accurately captured, as they can provide insights into user engagement and content relevance. Check the bounce rate for specific pages, devices, and traffic sources. A sudden spike or drop might indicate tracking issues or changes in user behavior.
Add to Cart
This metric tracks the number of times a product is added to the shopping cart. When auditing, verify that every 'add to cart' action is being captured. Cross-reference with actual cart additions and check data points like products frequently added, add-to-cart rate by product category, and by traffic source. Discrepancies might indicate missing tags or issues with event tracking.
Checkout tracks the progression of users through the purchasing process. Ensure that each step of the checkout process, from selecting shipping options to entering payment details, is accurately tracked. Key data points include the number of users progressing to each checkout step, drop-off rates at each stage, and checkout completions. Discrepancies might highlight user experience issues or tracking misconfigurations.
This metric captures successful payment transactions. It's vital to ensure accurate tracking, given its direct impact on revenue. Cross-reference server-side data with actual payment gateway records. Check data points like total transactions, transaction amounts, payment methods used, and failed transactions. Discrepancies might indicate issues with payment processing, tracking configurations, or potential fraudulent activities.
Beyond basic metrics, it's valuable to explore:
- New User Registrations for audience growth
- Product View Count for product interest
- Order Processing Time for operational efficiency
Metrics like Review Count and Avg. Rating provides customer satisfaction insights, while Return Rate and Refund Amount shed light on post-purchase satisfaction. Open Rate and Click-Through Rate evaluate email campaign effectiveness, whereas Likes, Shares, and Comments measure social engagement. Lastly, App Downloads and Sessions offer a glimpse into mobile app performance.
Exploring GA4 Server-side Tracking Options
Google Tag Manager server-side
Google Tag Manager (GTM) server-side is a powerful tool designed to enhance the capabilities of Google Analytics 4 (GA4). By integrating GTM server-side, users can centralize their tracking logic on their servers, reducing the reliance on client-side scripts. This not only ensures more accurate data collection but also offers better protection against ad blockers and browser restrictions. It's a seamless way to harness the full potential of GA4, optimizing data collection and analysis.
Don't forget to follow the rules while you track important user metrics. Here is a comprehensive checklist that will help you follow legal regulations.
GA4 Measurement Protocol
The GA4 Measurement Protocol is a set of rules and standards that allow developers to send raw user interaction data directly to Google Analytics 4. By bypassing traditional client-side tracking methods, this protocol ensures more accurate and comprehensive data capture. It's particularly useful for tracking offline events or interactions that don't occur on a website or app, providing a holistic view of user behavior. Utilizing the GA4 Measurement Protocol can significantly enhance the depth and breadth of analytics available to businesses.
Accurate Cookieless Tracking with OWOX BI
OWOX BI offers a useful server-side tracking system that extends cookie lifespans, ensuring accurate conversion tracking. The privacy-centric approach aligns with GDPR and CCPA, allowing data residency choices and encrypting user data.
With real-time data collection, OWOX BI ensures prompt decision-making without data gaps. We also provide backward compatibility with Google Universal Analytics, facilitating a smoother transition. As digital landscapes evolve, OWOX BI's server-side tracking stands out as a reliable, compliant, and efficient solution for marketers.
What is server side tracking ?Server-side tracking involves processing data on the server rather than in users' browsers. It ensures enhanced security, reduced reliance on client-side devices, and allows tracking across multiple channels for accurate analysis and performance evaluation.
How can I measure the success of server-side tracking?Success in server-side tracking is measured by accurate data collection, improved performance, and enhanced security compared to pixel-based methods.
Can server-side tracking be used to track multiple channels and platforms?Yes, server-side tracking can monitor multiple channels and platforms by aggregating data from various sources through server requests and APIs.
Is server-side tracking more difficult to implement than pixel-based tracking?Implementing server-side tracking can be more complex due to server configurations and setups compared to simpler pixel placement for pixel-based tracking.