Tighter privacy regulations have made it tricky for businesses to collect, store, and process user data. With identifiers gone and third-party cookies soon to be extinct, mapping customer journeys and delivering personalized experiences will prove to be an even tougher challenge.
That’s not to say marketers are left hanging without any workarounds. There are certain tactics to keep attribution and targeting on track in the post-cookie landscape. Among them is server-side tagging, a tracking technique that has garnered a great deal of spotlight within the advertising community lately.
Before getting into the nuts and bolts, let’s take a quick look at the conventional way of using third-party tags.
Client-side tracking stands as the primary means of data collection. Setting aside technical details, it can be broken down into three broad steps:
Had it not been for ever-growing privacy concerns that have turned 3rd party data into the wild west of marketing, client-side tagging might as well have kept its foothold as king of tracking. But with cookies, device IDs, and other 3rd party means rapidly falling out of fashion, now seems to be the beginning of an end for client-side methodologies.
The genius of server-side tracking lies in expanding the boundaries of what first-party cookies can be.
Here’s what I mean.
Instead of encrypting pixels to the web container and having HTML tags send the data to ad networks, server-side setup starts with creating a custom domain as an initial endpoint.
From there, datasets are remodeled into a format that’s compatible with the tag management system like the Google tag manager (GTM) before getting shipped out to 3rd party vendors.
By doing so, server-side tagging moves the workload from the user’s browser to a cloud server managed by the business, which gives full control over the data log customers leave behind without running into privacy risks associated with client-side tagging.
*How much do third-party trackers harm website performance? The latest survey from Pingdom found that the average load time of 50 mainstream news sites fell from 9.46 seconds to 2.68 seconds once trackers were removed.
There are several reasons why server-side tagging has been taking off these past few years.
Page speed matters. Over half of the users in your visitor pool won’t bother to stay if it takes them more than a few seconds for the page to load.
That’s why server-side tagging is a Godsend. It drastically reduces the number of tags a browser has to process, which translates to faster page load time and higher engagement.
Compliance standards such as that of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) brought complications to standard tracking practices. Server-side tagging lets businesses comply with evolving privacy regulations by anonymizing IP addresses.
Server-side tagging helps solve a growing problem in the advertising field - bad data.
Ad blockers and intelligent tracking features are native to both Safari and Chrome. Since the two account for over 80 percent of the browser market, gathering and analyzing ad data has become a major challenge.
Fortunately, marketers have server-side tagging to bypass ad-blockers and move those tracking elements away from the client template.
*41% of marketers believe the inability to track the right data will prove to be the biggest challenge in the coming years.
Server-side tagging is an exciting new trend but not without potential risks and downsides.
For starters, client-side tagging takes place on a user’s device. Meaning, businesses have direct access to cookies, IP addresses, and other pertinent data essential for a range of digital marketing activities. That isn’t necessarily the case for server-side tagging.
Then there’s the issue of cost. Migrating from a client-side to a server-side tagging system calls for a ground-up restructuring of the analytics strategy. Most organizations will need to seek the help of adtech specialists somewhere in the process. Unfortunately, their services don’t come all too cheap.
Is implementing server-side tagging absolutely necessary? Perhaps not at this very moment.
But it surely will be, and given the momentum data privacy is picking up at the moment, that time will come sooner than later.
Either way, it’s always better to be ready than sorry. So, without further ado, heed the takeaways from this post and start making that much-needed transition well in advance.
If you’d like to futureproof your analytics stack even further, consider tapping into the power of an interactive marketing dashboard.
Certified business intelligence tools like Adriel will help establish a clear view of performance goals and keep close tabs on relevant metrics so that the precious data you’ve harvested through server-side means don’t get lost in the shuffle.
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