During the last few years, it may have felt like the European Union and the United States have struggled over ownership and control of user data. According to the EU, data must not be transferred or stored outside of Europe. On the opposite side, major United States based companies like Google and Meta have built their business models around managing and processing it data. The EU is giving them a hard time by setting up new laws; GDPR is in order, and cookie surveys are popping up on almost every website.
The phrase ”data is the new gold” is one I have frequently used myself. Now it is quickly becoming more valuable than ever. How do you make sure you get your cut and stay in this game?
Tackling problems with server-side tracking
Enter server-side tracking (aka SST, server-side tagging), offering solutions for several problems that are at the moment interfering with analytics and data-driven marketing.
What is server-side tracking?
SST itself is actually not a totally new invention, dating back to the early ’90s where website statistics were calculated by how many service requests servers received. Webservers logged some of these requests, which then led to measuring the popularity of websites. Enhancing this method eventually evolved into modern server-side tracking, though the amount of collected data and its applications are now far more comprehensive. Meta, followed by Google, provided its modern-day current form to counter the third-party cookie challenge thrown in by Apple.
Let’s briefly go through how SST differs from client-side tracking (CST).
CST is the dominant method of tracking today. In client-side tracking, nearly everything takes place in the user’s web browser. When a visitor enters a website, their device sends data alongside with a tag straight to website analytics or perhaps Facebook’s ad services via a tracking pixel.
With SST, tags are stored on servers, not on devices. Data is first sent to servers, from where they are forwarded to other services. This brings a lot more opportunities and control to tracking.
What can we gain from server-side tracking?
Compared to client-side tracking, SST offers lots of advantages for website development and marketing. Here are some of the most important benefits specified.
More accurate data and conversion tracking
Google, in one of their blog posts, has reported as much as a 46% increase in reported conversions using SST. I have not bumped into such grand numbers on Google Ads myself, rather around 3 to 10 percent. As a marketer, I’m equally interested in what happens before actual conversions. These are events (like viewing products (or services), actions on product pages, adding-to-carts, beginning checkouts, etc.) that naturally occur a lot more frequently than purchases, so you’ll get more audience behavioral data from those.
Third-party tracking scripts can slow down website load times. We’re speaking of milliseconds, but when there are multiple scripts loaded, it can add up to a significant amount of time.
Loading time is an incredibly important aspect of website usability. Nowadays, people have the patience of a fruit fly while surfing the web. Content needs to load fast, or otherwise, they start looking for it somewhere else. Long loading times mean more bouncing users.
Loading times are one of the most important technical aspects when optimizing a website. Search engines punish all slow sites without mercy. In SST, tracking scripts are placed on the server where they load notably faster, instead of the user’s device. In this Google blog post, SST has been found to increase page speed by 7% in tests. It might not seem like much, but when we’re talking about small margins in website optimization, the difference can be remarkable.
First-party cookies and elongated cookie lifespan
SST can make third-party cookies first-party cookies. The importance of this to digital marketing is massive: The lifespan of third-party cookies on Safari and Firefox browsers is just 7 days.
First-party cookies can be stored up to 2 years. The advantage of using data that is older than a week is huge.
Manage data usage and how it is stored
I started this article mentioning the arm wrestle for control of data between the EU and USA. With SST, you can govern how your data is being used and forwarded. Here at Raju, we use servers located in Europe (Germany and France), so data is stored in the EU and, therefore, is GDPR compliant.
Using SST, tracking can be implemented in compliance with GDPR. Legalweb article.
Reduce adblock impact
Adblockers stop devices from sending data over to tracking or third parties. Most of them work as browser plugins, so SST allows bypassing them and practicing targeted advertising despite adblock usage.
Server-side tracking allows enrichment of data. By enriching data, it is possible to collect additional compiled events occurring on websites. There are vast numbers of uses for this, but for example, data can be enriched by collecting data from mobile users as a whole according to actions and adding product information before adding products themselves. A more practical example would be benefiting from increasing the quality of leads.
A tracking script placed on the server will not appear in browsers. It is up for debate how useful this actually is. Be that as it may, by law, you have to inform about user tracking with a cookie survey.
Data is being collected and stored safely on a server. Because of this, it is easier for you to keep your data in order.
Data is the new gold, and server-side tracking brings it before you. Here at Raju, we offer a variety of SST implementations for our customers. Make sure to contact us if you wish to know more.
Finally, it should be noted that SST, just like CST before it, does not actually solve any problems unless it is in use. Also, SST won’t bring you any extra profits – it is a tool that can be used to help develop your website further.
Marko Santala | Teknologiapäällikkö
Marko vastaa Rajulla digitaalisen markkinoinnin kehittämisestä ja tuottamisesta. Tuloshakuista markkinointia hän on tehnyt vuosituhannen alkuhämäristä alkaen. Vahvuudet löytyvät kokonaisuuksien hahmottamisessa ja datan hyödyntämisessä markkinoinnin tukena.