Server-Side Tracking: Is It Right for Your Business?

by Eugene Venger, Marketing Engineer

As digital privacy continues to be a top concern for consumers and Google plans to phase out third-party cookies for everyone in the second half of 2024, businesses are exploring ways to gather accurate data while respecting user preferences. One solution gaining traction is server-side tracking. But is making the switch from client-side tracking the right move for your company? Let's take an objective look at the pros and cons.

What is server-side tracking?

In server-side tracking, data collection and processing happens on a server rather than in the user's browser. This means tracking scripts are not executed on the webpage itself, but instead data is sent to a server which then forwards it to your analytics platforms.

Benefits of server-side tracking:

  1. Improved data accuracy. Server-side tracking is not subject to browser restrictions on cookies and third-party scripts that can block client-side tracking. Case studies show server-side consistently captures 20-50% more data. One study found a 204% increase in tracked registrations after implementing server-side Facebook Conversion API.

  2. Faster page loads. Moving tracking code off your webpages reduces their weight and complexity, leading to quicker load times. This can boost user experience, SEO and conversion rates.

  3. Enhanced data security. With server-side, sensitive user information can be processed on your server without exposing it to third-parties. You have full control over what data is collected and where it's sent. This is especially important for businesses operating in countries with strict data privacy regulations like GDPR.

Drawbacks of server-side tracking:

  1. Complexity. Setting up server-side tracking requires significant technical know-how to configure and maintain the necessary infrastructure. It's not a plug-and-play solution.

  2. Cost. Running a server to handle your tracking may incur additional costs beyond what you may be paying for client-side tools and platforms. However, vendors like Stape offer generous free plans that are sufficient for small businesses.

  3. Compatibility. Not all tracking and advertising platforms fully support server-side implementations yet. However, this drawback is relatively minor, as you can still use your client-side container alongside server-side tracking.

Is the switch right for you?

Server-side tracking is worth considering if you check any of these boxes:

  • You operate in a privacy-conscious industry or region where user tracking preferences and laws like GDPR must be strictly honored
  • You rely heavily on accurate data for making business decisions, and even a small improvement in data tracking can bring significant benefits
  • Your site's performance is being weighed down by numerous client-side tracking scripts
  • You want maximum flexibility and control over your tracking setup and data flow

However, if your current client-side tracking is meeting your needs and you don't have the technical resources to invest in a server-side setup, staying the course is perfectly viable. As server-side solutions mature and become more accessible, you can always reassess down the line.

There's no one-size-fits-all answer, but by weighing the benefits against the costs and compatibility constraints, you can decide if server-side tracking makes sense for your unique business needs and resources. The most important thing is having a robust tracking strategy that provides you with reliable data while maintaining user trust.

In my experience, I'm seeing more and more businesses choosing server-side tracking by default for new projects, as it does Sanemedia for all its new clients.

Established companies are also gradually migrating their existing setups to server-side to take advantage of the accuracy and performance benefits, as demonstrated in case studies of companies who have made the switch. While server-side tracking requires some upfront investment, the long-term gains in data quality and user experience are compelling.

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