How server-side tracking can tick all the boxes for CX

Dan Jennings is data director at HookflashAt a time when everyone is obsessed with the customer experience, and with measurement in an increasingly tricky landscape, I am still surprised at how few companies are looking at server-side tracking.

With privacy high on the agenda, and the knock-on effect that’s had on cookies, consent banners, ad blockers and tracking prevention tools, traditional client side tracking is no longer the best route for businesses. It’s less robust at measurement, doesn’t deliver on the privacy agenda – and happens to be worse for page load times.

The benefits of server-side tracking are far reaching. Effectively you make tracking requests to your own first-party server, rather than the measurement platforms directly. (And, it’s worth saying, while there are multiple routes to deploy server-side tracking, we advocate for doing this via Google Tag Manager. While technically a hybrid server-side tracking, let’s not split the atom here, it gains many of the benefits of a true server-side deployment.)

And, as the probability of bounce increases 32% as page load time goes from 1 second to 3 seconds, according to Google data, it’s important to speed up your website wherever possible.

Consider how many marketing pixels you have on your website. Five? Ten? A hundred? Marketing tags add bloat to your website and can slow down your page load speed, this can be even worse if you have some of those tags hard coded onto your website.

Let’s suppose you have all your marketing tags in Google Tag Manager (GTM) or some other tag management system. Even though GTM does a good job of speeding up page load times, you’re still asking it to load multiple tags all at once. What if I told you, you only needed to load 1 tag?

This is where server-side tracking comes in.

Instead of a user making a purchase, and then firing a different marketing tag to Google Ads, to Meta, to GA4, with server-side you send one message to the server which then uses that information to fire the right marketing tags. The thinking and doing happens on the server, rather than the browser. A complex way of saying – you get more data and the users see pages loading more quickly. This is huge!

You get all the functionality of your marketing tags but all the speed of only having to load a fraction of the code on your website. This can result in huge improvements to site speed depending on how much code you can mitigate loading. We’ve seen page load time reductions of between 30-50% by moving tagging server-side.

Users appreciate faster websites, but do you know what else they love? Their privacy. It’s no secret that some vendors collect more data than is strictly necessary. This often can’t be avoided when you use their standard tags but if you’re using a server, it’s a different story. In the server, you are in control of the data passed to your marketing platforms. For example, if a marketing platform was collecting data around IP and browser version to “fingerprint” users, we could remove those fields. This results in better privacy and security for your users.

Despite the majority of noise being around a “cookieless world” and the “cookie-pocalypse” – in addition to the requisite photo of a cookie crumbling – there are other challenges that are arguably more impactful.

There are still ongoing repercussions from GDPR, which have in turn had a direct impact on cookie consent banners – and the world of browser-based tools that impact what can be measured – typically ad blockers and tracking prevention features first employed by Apple.

With such multi-faced challenges, there are several solutions. Some are platform-specific and typically involve passing first-party data back to an advertising platform for them to do some matching on who saw an ad and who converted – like Google’s Enhanced Conversions. These are great point solutions, which should be in every modern marketer’s toolkit.

But given the fact that robust measurement, user privacy and delivering a great customer experience are all so high on brand’s agendas at the moment, we believe a solution like server-side, which can tick all three boxes, should also be in that toolkit.

And we’d like to see brands prioritising it as we move into the second half of 2024.

Dan Jennings is analytics director at Hookflash

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