What is Server-Side Analytics and Tracking?
Updated on 31st May, 2023.
The industry standard for website tracking and data collection throughout all these years has been to rely on cookies, use third-party tags, and use pixels. However, there have been some significant shifts in the industry that have made things a bit more complicated.
– A high number of visitors today use ad blockers.
– Regulatory bodies, especially in the EU, are clamping hard at third-party cookies. Google plans to phase out cookies through Chrome by end of 2024.
The direction this points to is very clear. Server-side tracking and analytics mitigate these problems to some extent. Instead of relying on client-side storage, the data is hosted on the servers. How does that help? Let’s find out.
What is Server-Side Analytics Tracking?
Server-side tracking means a tag or pixel sends data into your web server; then, it passes your data to the destination server. A tag or a pixel is placed on each page of the website, and when a user visits the site, this tag or pixel tracks and records their activity. They send this data to the web server, where it is processed and analyzed. This data is then used for analytics and marketing enablement.
Server-side tagging uses the same tag, trigger, and variable model to instrument your application across devices. It also helps you track user activity wherever it happens.
How Does Server-Side Tracking Work?
Before you look for a Google Analytics alternative or another web-tracking tool, let us help you understand how server-side tracking works.
Server-side tracking is based on one central cloud-based repository that collects all audience data on the server side and then transfers that data to third-party analytics platforms.
Usually, while tracking user activity on the browser, a website has multiple tracking scripts running alongside cookies in first-party or third-party formats. However, server-side tracking captures all behavioral events in a single stream and distributes them to the end data-collecting platforms.
You need a robust tag manager to work with server-side tracking. Google has also introduced a beta version for all Google Tag Manager and Tag Manager 360 accounts. But, you can still benefit from a third-party solution (discussed later).
Client-Side Analytics vs. Server-Side Analytics
Client-side and server-side analytics are two methods to track and analyze how users interact with your website and how marketing data is collected.
On the other hand, server-side analytics enables you to send and receive data from the user’s browser to your own server first and then forward it to external locations.
This allows websites to offer an added security layer to their users as they can screen data before handing it over to Google Analytics or any other marketing or analytics platform.
For a while, client-side tracking was sufficient. But not anymore because 70% of people don’t want companies to track their data for marketing purposes.
We can’t blame web users here. All of the data breaches and security concerns have made users feel that way. As a result, many web browsers and operating systems like Apple are building stronger shields to protect their users’ data. Google is planning to sunset cookies on Chrome by the end of 2024.
This shift has further made client-side tracking incompetent, leading to a shift towards server-side analytics tracking.
How Does Server-Side Analytics Tracking Help You Meet GDPR Guidelines?
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a set of guidelines that tell what user information websites can collect, manage, and process. It is a set of 99 individual articles.
This law came into force on May 25, 2018. It is applicable across Europe, but each EU country has modified it according to its needs.
The GDPR rules have emphasized personal data safety. For example, it restricts advertising sharks like Google or Facebook from profiling your user data, which will help protect user privacy. This means client-side analytics tracking can make you fall into the GDPR trap if you send user data to third parties for advertising purposes without their consent.
But, with server-side analytics tracking, you can now comply with GDPR guidelines by storing the data in EU and anonymizing the data before sending it to your servers and restricting the data from third-party access as server-side tracking is supported with first-party to first-party communication.
Here’s how server-side analytics can help you with your GDPR concerns:
Under the GDPR guidelines, websites can’t place analytical cookies on a user’s browser or device to collect information until the user gives permission. This is a problem because not all users give cookies consent. And all those annoying cookie banners disturb the user’s browsing experience.
Also, from the consent banner options to placement, everything is based on getting user consent, which limits the marketers.
Server-side analytics can solve this problem. It allows you to track web events with limited consent requirements. With server-side tracking, you can choose to not collect any Personally Identifiable information (PII) about the user. It allows you to collect data that matters to your business, not to advertising companies (Cough! Google Analytics Cough!).
Keep in mind, you should still get consent if you are collecting PII with server-side analytics. And you can definitely use their data to improve their experience and provide better services. In fact, 56% of consumers don’t mind sharing personal information if they get better services.
Some analytics tools like Salespanel give you the option to only start tracking when users provide consent. This significantly reduces your risks.
Methods Involved in Server-Side Tracking
Server-side tracking has been around since the 1990s when the main attribute of a website’s statistics was the number of hits made on the web server. These user requests were made in a log file. Thus, log analytics became the oldest server-side tracking method. Besides that, SDK/API is also used extensively in server-side tracking.
Log Analytics Server-Side Tracking
Analyzing your website’s log data is the process involved in log analytics server-side tracking. Utilizing specialized software that interfaces with the web server, you can import server-side logs. This technique can be used to find records that meet specific requirements, spot trends, examine patterns, and offer a variety of data insights.
Server-Side Tracking Using SDK/API
Utilizing specialized APIs or server-side tracking libraries, you can gather information about users and their interactions in apps or server backends.
A tracking HTTP API is usually available in contemporary analytics packages if interactions and user information may be manually delivered from the backend of your application. This approach may take a long time, is typically challenging, and may need a lot of resources for software development as well as specific knowledge.
Server-side analytics SDKs offer a collection of tools that developers can use to automatically embed tracking in the app, making it simpler to submit data to those APIs.
As times have changed, more convenient methods have been developed for server-side tracking. Now, server-side tracking is conducted with a first party collector.
Server-Side Tracking with a First Party Collector
When using the server-side tracking with a first-party collector technique, the data is delivered to a reverse proxy server that is housed on the same server as your website or app, and it is then passed to your analytics instance. It implies that you can quickly gather all client behavioral data and set up tracking events using, for instance, a tag management system. It also provides data of the same calibre as client-side trackers, and if you account for ad blockers and browser limitations, even better.
As a result of the request coming to your domain directly and not to a third-party analytics platform, it also implies that cookies are being created from your proxy server, which is housed within the primary website domain. Both browser detection and ad filters do not identify it.
This method combines both client-side data collection and server-side analysis and dispatch. Implementation is just as simple with server-side tracking when a first-party collector is used, and you can also greatly increase data control and accuracy at the same time. Additionally, while using first-party collector with server-side tracking, you can still collect data using a client-side technique, without requiring any help from Google Tag Manager or other Google servers.
Here are the advantages of this technique:
- Improved information accuracy: Ad blockers or intelligent tracking protection (ITP) have little to no impact on your data.
- Enriched data collection: Similar to client-side tracking, high-quality data is collected, including traffic sources, referring websites, page visits, pathways taken, conversion rates, real-time data, browser data, scroll depth, and custom events.
- Easy implementation: Can be implemented without the need for specialized knowledge and equipment.
- Light and inexpensive: Does not involve the deployment of a separate platform (server-side tagging) or substantial on-premises hardware.
Server-Side Analytics Tracking: Pros and Cons
Server-side analytics is a secure and reliable way to collect and distribute data. It is best when you are dealing with sensitive data. It has several advantages over client-side tracking, along with a few disadvantages.
Let’s explore them in detail.
|Server-side tracking advantages||Server-side tracking disadvantages|
|Complete control on data Server-side tracking gives you full control over what data each vendor receives.
The vendors will only be able to collect the information you configured in the server tags. You can control what user data they see.
|Expensive You have to invest in the cloud infrastructure to use server-side tracking.
You need to get a significant cloud storage and data security system to protect your user data. And that can cost a few hundred bucks.
And a fast-loading website means a better user experience, higher search rankings, and more traffic.
|Harder to set up Server-side analytics tracking is a comparatively new concept. Not many people know how to set it up properly.
Plus, most web-based analytical tools are focused on client-side tracking.
|Extended cookie lifetime Using a custom domain, you can set up first-party cookies and deal with intelligent tracking-prevention browsers.
For example, using Google Analytics for web tracking sets cookies from the domain — https://www.google-analytics.com. But these cookies only live for 1-7 days.
However, server-side GA with custom domains can keep cookies live for 2 years.
|Limited supporting platforms Not many platforms support server-side tracking yet.
Popular advertising platforms like Google, TikTok, and Facebook have started using server-side tracking but tons of platforms still do not support it.
|Ad blocking prevention Server-side tracking can help you block ad blockers from identifying the domain that sends the request.
Server-side tagging with the configured subdomain can send tracking requests from your primary domain. As a result, ad blockers can’t detect a tracking script.
|Data enrichment Server-side tracking can give you enriched data silos.
For example, Google Analytics and Facebook can track orders for you. But server-side tracking can help you build a custom audience base and understand where your orders are coming from.
|Hide tracking IDs In the console, anyone can see your tracking ID. But not with server-side tracking. It hides all of your tracking IDs to prevent spam hits.|
What is Server-Side Tagging?
A server-side component allows you to control which data is exchanged with which service with only a single request from the web browser. It also enables you to restrict the amount of data you collect and share with third parties.
Additionally, server-side tagging allows you to transfer tag measurement instrumentation from your website or app to any other external platform, such as a server-side processing container in the cloud, thereby improving performance.
Here are some more advantages of server-side tagging:
- Better data security: When user data is gathered and disseminated in a customer-managed server-side environment, it is more securely safeguarded since you can choose which snippets of information to share with particular vendors.
- Optimized for speed: By shifting the processing burden from a consumer’s device to a server, server-side tagging improves application and device performance. Conversion rates increase with faster application and website performance.
- Data enrichment: You can add pertinent information to incoming data using tools like CRM and tag managers with server-side tagging.
Server-side tracking enables you to do things legally that some websites do illegally.
You need to understand that bypassing GDPR guidelines is never a smart move. It will only limit your website’s reach and leave you with incomplete data. And, today’s customers are smarter than before. They know what cookies are and they don’t think twice before rejecting cookie trackers. On top of it, data protection regulations are constantly getting tighter.
In short, server-side analytics tracking is the future of web tracking. Google’s move to abandon cookies is a clear indicator of it. And, if you want an analytical solution tailored for B2B businesses while avoiding third-party cookies, check out Salespanel.
We are prepared for a privacy-focused cookie-less future. Salespanel provides you server-side customer journey tracking and data storage with an option to start tracking only when users from a particular region provide consent. The data is not used by us (for advertising or any other purposes) and is not shared with other third-party platforms. You can use the data for key marketing actions like segmentation, scoring, and personalization. Check out Salespanel and connect with us if you have any questions!
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