What is Server to Server Tracking?

By Tinuiti Team

Server to server tracking (also called “server-side tracking”) is a way to send data directly to secure servers without relying on a user’s browser. Instead of sending tracking requests through a user’s browser window, it’s possible to send on your back end via server, without intervention and rendering on the user’s device. 

How does Server to Server tracking work?

In general terms, server-to-server tracking avoids the use of cookies by creating and storing a unique identifier when a user clicks a tracking link or generates an ad impression. If that user later converts, that unique identifier is matched back to the individual user via your server so you can better assess how your marketing has performed.

Why is Server Side tracking more important now than it was in the past?

In a word, privacy. Increasingly, extensions (such as AdBlock), as well as browsers themselves, are blocking both the initial loading of the JavaScript along with cookie-based identifiers and HTTP responses to known advertising and analytics servers. In addition, with Apple’s latest moves to protect privacy such as Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) & iOS14 updates, third-party tracking within the browser is becoming less reliable.  

Why consider Server to Server?

Because S2S communication bypasses the browser, it removes dependencies such as user settings and browser extensions. You get a lot more control over what is sent to various platforms and how to govern and protect that data. Server side can help you get back those signals that might be blocked on the browser side. There may also be site speed improvements as there is less content to load and render. 

What are the challenges to Server Side tracking?

It can be time-consuming and expensive to make the switch and you will still lose control of some behavioral data. Also, it requires tag management on the server side, which is a skill that may not exist in-house. 

What happens behind the scenes using server to server?

From a marketing perspective, your server/domain would act similarly to what happens when a user loads your webpage. However, instead of relying on the user’s browser to render, evaluate, and send the appropriate responses, your server does the evaluation and response based on the content recalled and served. Most major platforms have API integrations that allow for direct hits from servers. If there is a need to troubleshoot or track in the browser (this is commonly used for debugging purposes), callbacks can be implemented to show visibility in the browser.

Is Server Side tracking a way to bypass privacy restrictions?

No. The major difference lies in where the data is collected: on the user side or on a centralized server. While S2S can be used to bypass a concoction of privacy settings, blockers, and preferences on the browser, it does not mean you are bypassing privacy compliance. 

This is a data fidelity play where the owner of the data takes charge of the chain of custody of events happening within your own server. It’s a workaround to avoid standards changes associated with browsers, not a workaround for the privacy policies of Apple and the regulatory ones that will likely follow. So if you’re trying to use S2S for fingerprinting, for example, that’s foul play.

When should you plan for Server to Server?

That depends. If your business is on a platform like Shopify, Magento, WordPress, or BigCommerce, there are likely already integrations that can be easily enabled to start sending server-side. For example, if you are on Shopify and want to enable server-side tracking for Facebook, this is included in the latest platform integration. 

However, it might be time to start thinking about larger movements towards a server-side system for longevity (such as Google’s Tag Manager’s server-side solution or Customer Data Platforms such as Tealium and Segment). Also, if you are going through a site re-architecture, this is a very good time to have this conversation.

Be sure to check out “The Future of the Web” to find out everything you need to know about the new restrictions, cookies, IDFA, first-party data, and all things privacy from our Tinuiti experts.


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