Server-side tracking explained
Reliable data is the foundation for successful marketing and analytics. Constantly evolving tracking prevention measures by browser and device manufacturers, as well as stricter data protection regulations, make this increasingly difficult. Many companies are looking towards server-side tracking as a solution to these challenges.
Compared to more traditional client-side tracking, server-side tracking can increase the amount of data you can collect. However, there are also limitations. Below, we’ll explain the concept of server-side tracking and present a comprehensive comparison of client- vs. server-side tracking.
What is server-side tracking (server-to-server tracking)?
The concept of servers collecting data is not new: log file analysis has been providing this form of data collection for decades, although with less data complexity. And there are different approaches. For example, it is possible to collect data purely on the server side, without involving the user’s device. However, this can be very costly and requires a lot of IT involvement as it requires significant changes to the internal server infrastructure.
In this article, we’ll look at the more modern concept of server-side tracking (or server-to-server tracking), where a tracking server acts as an intermediary server, handling incoming requests and sending them out (e.g. to Google Analytics). Data for analysis or marketing purposes is sent in a consolidated form and not directly from the user’s device, as is the case with client-side tracking.
How does server-side tracking work and what is client-side tracking?
So, how does it work exactly? To explain, let’s start by looking at the how client-side tracking works.
With classic client-side tracking, data is sent directly from the devices on which the website or app is running to third-party providers such as analytics (GA4, Adobe Analytics) or marketing providers (Google Ads, Facebook). This can also mean that more data than necessary is sent, which can lead to data privacy violations.
With server-side tracking, instead of sending the data directly to the third-party provider, the data is sent to a separate infrastructure, the tracking server, which runs under your control. You are basically sending the data to yourself. There, the data can be consolidated and, if necessary, cleaned and forwarded to the third-party provider for data collection. For example, personal data that was collected by mistake can be cleaned. This can prevent third-party providers from receiving this data in the first place. It also gives you more control over data transfer, which is vital under new GDPR regulations.
What are the advantages & disadvantages of server-side tracking?
Below are some of the key arguments in favor of using server-side tracking:
Tip: With our customers, we were able to increase the amount of data by about 10-20% just by using a so-called reverse proxy (to integrate the Tag Management Systems’ requests into the customers’ own infrastructure).You can find a case study about it here.
Data protection: Since the data is not collected directly from the client device and the requests are encrypted on the server side, less information can be passed on to third parties, which reduces the risk of data protection violations.
Performance: Because no additional scripts or pixels need to be loaded into the browser, server-side tracking can reduce web page load time and improve website performance.
Control: You retain full control over your data collection and processing, allowing for greater flexibility and adaptability.
Server-side tracking offers many advantages, but there are also disadvantages and challenges that should be considered:
Complexity: Setting up server-side tracking can be more complex than setting up client-side tracking, especially if multiple data sources or systems are to be integrated. If you need support with this process, feel free to schedule a free call with us here
Cost: Server-side tracking may involve higher costs, especially if additional server resources or specialized software are required.
If hosted on-premises (on your own infrastructure), there are costs associated with maintaining and operating your own infrastructure or renting a cloud solution. This involves costs such as server hardware, software licenses, cloud hosting, and ongoing maintenance costs. In addition, the scalability of server-side hosting may require investment as your data and traffic volumes grow.
Maintenance: When implementing server-side tracking for your digital infrastructure, ongoing maintenance and monitoring are essential. Any changes or issues in the server setup can have a direct impact on the accuracy and reliability of the data. To ensure the smooth operation of server-side tracking and the integrity of your data, a robust maintenance and monitoring system should be in place. This should include regular updates, performance checks and proactive troubleshooting to quickly address any issues that may arise.
Server-side vs. client-side tracking
|Feature||Server-side tracking||Client-side tracking|
|Data collection||Occurs on the server||Occurs in the client (e.g. browser)|
|Data protection||More data protection-friendly as more control and processing takes place on the server||Possibly more data sent than necessary|
|Vulnerability to blocking||Less vulnerable to blocking by browser or extensions (First-party cookies)||More vulnerable, especially with third-party cookies|
|Complexity||May be more complex to set up||Usually easier to set up|
|Cost||Potentially higher cost||Lower cost|
Which providers exist?
Various providers, from specialist tools to the big players, now offer server-side tracking. These include:
- Serverside GTM from Google (offers a hosting approach for your own infrastructure)
- Matomo (formerly Piwik, open-source analytics platform)
- Piwik PRO (Analytics Suite, born as an offspring of open-source project Piwik)
- EventStream by Tealium (offers direct integration with their own Tag Management System Tealium iQ)
- WebSDK from Adobe (integrates seamlessly the Adobe infrastructure and direct connection to Adobe Analytics amongst others)
- JENTIS (specialised server-side tracking provider from Austria, self-proclaimed Data Capture Platform (DCP))
- fusedeck (Analytics suite from Switzerland)
We have already gained practical experience and implemented projects with the above providers and have ongoing partnerships with many of them.
You can find case studies here.
In summary, server-side tracking offers significant benefits in terms of data protection. It allows for more accurate and reliable data collection that complies with current privacy regulations. Looking at industry trends, server-side tracking seems to be gaining momentum in the digital analytics and marketing sectors – and with good reason.
If you are interested in planning and implementing a server-side tracking infrastructure, we would be happy to assist you.
Contact us here or book a free 30-minute meeting with us to find out whether server-side tracking is suitable for you. We will be happy to clarify your questions.
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