Server-Side Tracking: How To Set It Up?

Published on 25 June 2024 - Updated on 25 June 2024

By Andréa Bensaïd

Founder of Eskimoz. I support companies of all sizes in their digital acquisition strategy.

In an ever-evolving digital landscape, where data privacy and cookie regulations are becoming predominant issues, server-side tracking emerges as a crucial solution. Announced in 2020, Google’s end of third-party cookies has propelled companies to reconsider their user data tracking strategies. Server-side tracking now stands as a pivotal element for maintaining robust and privacy-respectful data collection.

We will delve into the details of this technology, examining its advantages over traditional client-side tracking, its implications for user experience, and best practices for its implementation. Whether you are a digital marketing professional or a developer aspiring to integrate privacy-respectful tracking solutions, this article will provide you with the keys to understand and effectively implement server-side tracking.

What Is Server-Side Tracking?

Server-side tracking is an efficient solution to directly gather the data your company needs to define its marketing strategy. Server-side tracking improves data collection performance and third-party experience on your website. Discover everything you need to know about this revolutionarily efficient tool.

What Is Server-Side Tracking?

A Component of Web Analytics

Server-side tracking is an essential component of web analytics. Web analytics encompasses techniques for measuring, collecting, and analysing data from a website or application for continuous improvement.

These analyses are valuable for studying visitor behaviours on websites and mobile apps. It is a necessary element for designing digital marketing development plans.

Definition of Server-Side Tracking

Server-side tracking involves a technique that collects data generated by a user when they visit a webpage. This data is then transmitted to a destination server, which can be a CRM system, a personalisation tool, an analytics solution, etc. Generally, the initial server is the one hosting the visited website. Server-side tracking is relatively hard to detect by systems.

What is Client-Side Tracking?

Client-side tracking is the antagonist of server-side tracking. In this model, data is collected via Javascript tags. These tags are implemented on website pages and executed on the visitor’s browser.

The information obtained through Javascript tags is transmitted from the browser to a remote server. The server processes and stores the data. Client-side tracking is fairly easy for systems to detect.

What is Client-Side Tracking?

What Are the Advantages of Server-Side Tracking?

The advantages of server-side tracking are varied. They demonstrate the system’s efficiency for both the website owner and its visitors.

A Better User Experience

With server-side tracking, the interaction of third parties with a company’s website is directly improved. Loading time is reduced, and SEO, Search Engine Optimisation, is boosted. A better user experience leads to a higher conversion rate.

Obtaining More Accurate Data

Server-side tracking offers the opportunity to retrieve a large amount of data usually blocked by browser ad blockers (Edge, Google Chrome, Safari). The quality of this data is more relevant for companies wishing to exploit it for marketing purposes. Server-side tracking is an excellent solution for collecting data useful for the company from a large number of users in real-time.

Better Data Control

Server-side tracking reduces the impact of ad blockers. An ad blocker is a browser extension. It includes a list of domains and URLs to block.

Ad blockers tend to block all requests sent to Google Analytics. When server-side tracking is used, it allows requests to be sent to the server URL. Ad blockers do not recognise the URL to block. To be fully operational in bypassing ad blockers, server-side tracking must be precisely configured.

Optimal Privacy for Clients

Server-side tracking guarantees better privacy for website users through data anonymisation. Companies using this type of tracking regain control over the data flowing through their website thereby ensuring optimal compliance with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Better Control of First-Party Cookies

Cookies are essential for tracking online activities. They are also important for targeted advertising. Increasingly strict privacy regulations require better control of first-party cookies.

Server-side tracking is an interesting alternative for collecting client data and transmitting it to the company. This data is sent from the website’s server to the tracking server without passing through the visitor’s browser.

When Should You Implement Server-Side Data Collection for Advertising?

Implementing server-side data collection for advertising requires precise planning. Carefully select the right tools and ensure they comply with regulations such as the GDPR.

Before deploying server-side data collection for advertising, pay special attention to cloud server costs. An optimised billing plan eliminates unnecessary requests to focus only on relevant requests.

Careful planning anticipates the technically complex aspect of server-side tracking implementation. It includes collaboration and project management platforms. The company wishing to deploy server-side tracking ensures compatibility with the analytics platforms they plan to use.

After the preparation phase, the company can set up advertising data collection.

What Are the Best Practices for Optimal Server-Side Tracking?

There are several best practices for effectively deploying server-side tracking on a website. Discover an optimal method for successful tool deployment.

  • Create a cloud server

First, create a cloud server using a performant service like Google Cloud Run. The service requires no infrastructure management.

  • Establish a subdomain

Establishing a subdomain for the server allows for more reliable first-party cookies over time.

  • Configure a server container

The next step is configuring a server container within Google Tag Manager (GTM). When associating it with the cloud server, ensure optimal security and privacy settings, especially via the API (Application Programming Interface).

  • Develop a client within the server container

To process data transmitted by users, developing a client within the server container is recommended. It converts data into events for efficient transfer. Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a particularly effective client.

  • Modify the website/application code

Modifying the website or application code allows data redirection to the client developed in the previous step. Several methods exist for code modification: data layer, g tag, etc.

  • Implement the tags

Tags are triggering elements. Their implementation in the server container enables event generation and efficient transfer to analytics servers. It is recommended to opt for custom tags according to the company’s needs.

  • Test to validate

The testing and validation phase can be done using Google Tag Manager tools. It ensures the quality and relevance of the collected data with the company’s collection objectives.

Guide: How to Set Up Server-Side Tracking?

Assess Your Needs

Understanding your project’s needs and objectives is necessary before selecting your architecture tool. Functional and non-functional requirements should be laid out as well as constraints and risks. Based on this information, it is possible to determine the complexity of the architecture needed for your project.

Choose an Attribution Platform: the Example of Google Tag Manager

After determining your needs, choose the appropriate tool for your project. Among the best platforms is GTM. Google Tag Manager offers an effective solution to avoid updating code on your website. This code defines the action to trigger after an event. With GTM, information from your website is shared directly with Google Analytics.

With GTM, your marketing team manages the code directly to collect relevant data. The tool requires a fairly technical skillset for tag and parameter configuration.

Technical Configuration

To successfully configure server-side tracking for your website, several elements must be considered. Ensure tool and IT architecture compatibility with your project deployment. The Data Protection Officer (DPO) is responsible for articulating the project with the technical configuration of your website.

Establish KPIs and monitor them closely. This is especially true for server-side tracking script execution, which requires thorough monitoring. To avoid potential technical issues, conduct audits, updates, or fixes based on a regular plan.

The Testing Phase

After configuring your tool, the DPO should organise a testing phase to confirm its compatibility with the project. This step ensures the tool’s performance and its alignment with the project’s expectations. The DPO identifies potential anomalies and implements corrective actions.

Training for Your Team

Your teams need training to grasp the technological evolutions of various IT tools. To master Google Tag Manager and understand the different issues related to tracking internet user data, invest in a quality training for your employees.

Monitoring and GDPR Compliance

Server-side tracking managers must conduct continuous monitoring regarding GDPR compliance. In the UK, this regulation is enriched by the Data Protection Act. The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) regularly updates to protect internet user data.

Web tracking is a central concern for UK and European supervisory authorities. They aim to strictly regulate data collection from internet users. Cookie and tracker management is constantly evolving to ensure optimal internet security. GDPR audits allow websites to follow compliance with the legislation.

How to Implement Server-Side Google Tag Manager?

To implement server-side GTM, follow the automatic configuration. When selecting the server container, choose ‘Automatically provisioning’. Automatic configuration simplifies server-side tracking setup.

This option requires using the App Engine service deployed by Google Cloud Platform. The user then configures a custom domain name to benefit from first-party cookies. Switching to the flexible App Engine environment avoids data loss.

In Conclusion

Server-side tracking offers numerous advantages for refining a company’s digital marketing strategies. Once deployed, it enables more advanced communication campaigns through a better understanding of internet user behaviour and searches. Even though this solution requires financial and technical investment, it presents real opportunities for capturing valuable data.


Does server-side tracking work with cookies?

Server-side tracking works with first-party cookies. It does not require third-party cookies. This distinction ensures data ownership for internet users.

Do you need technical knowledge to configure server-side tracking?

In-depth training helps grasp all the subtleties of server-side tracking configuration. The setup process requires good knowledge to successfully deploy the project.

Does Google Tag Manager store data from visitors to your website?

GTM does not store data from internet users. It only transfers data to third-party tools.

How to ensure your system’s architecture adaptability?

Ensuring your system’s architecture adaptability is possible by deploying several points:

  • Modularise the system: divide it into several components.
  • Apply design patterns to solve functional issues.
  • Use external resources for the source code system.
  • Deploy feedback loops to measure performance.
  • Adapt the system to changes.

How to ensure your system’s reliability and security?

To ensure your system’s reliability and security, a DPO can follow this framework:

  • Define security requirements.
  • Conduct audits and tests to confirm system reliability.
  • Apply coding standards.
  • Establish a firm security policy.
  • Perform regular updates.

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