Server Side Tagging: The Messiah of the Cookie-less Internet
In our first post of the three-article series on server-side tagging (SST), we discussed how third-party cookies practically served as the basis of the digital advertising ecosystem. We also understood how the industry responded (did it?) to the ‘cookie apocalypse’ and the myriad of prospective replacements.
However, it is one of the solutions from Google (surprising, eh!) that seems to solve the problem and it is none other than the advertising industry’s latest favorite term “server side tagging” i.e. SST.
In this article, we will be having a brief look at the after effects of third-party cookie sunsetting in case there was no solution available.
We will also get an in-depth understanding of SST and how it will work almost like a silver bullet to solve the problem. In the end, we will also go through a list of ad tech platforms that are already supporting SST for tracking purposes.
Let's get started:
What will happen if cookies (client side tagging) cease to work?
Client side tagging allows users’ browsers to directly interact with the analytics services like Google Ads, Google Analytics and so on.
Each time a website loads on the user’s browser, tracking codes (tags) are fired and the interaction data is sent to the analytics services.
With time, ad tech and martech platforms began using third-party cookies, small code snippets that enabled capturing interaction data as well as ‘user data’ to serve marketing goals.
These goals included remarketing, and targeted advertising (for example: Google Ads) but client side tagging had serious repercussions on user privacy.
This is due to the fact that these third-party cookies collected user’s private data apart from the interaction data with virtually zero accountability and the users didn’t have any control over it.
Eventually, users resorted to ad blocker extensions and opted for browsers like DuckDuckGo and Vivaldi as they help secure private data against invasive tracking.
While such tactics reduced the efficacy of third-party cookies owing to lack of end-to-end tracking, a complete cookie blackout will jeopardize the landscape.
It will lead to situations where:
- The cost of acquisition (CAC) will inflate considerably since platforms like Facebook would be shooting in the dark due to complete blackout of user profiling.
- Naturally, Returns on Ad Spends (RoAS) will diminish and probably, it won’t be accurate as well, thereby demotivating advertisers.
- Digital advertising strategies like retargeting will lose efficacy as a huge chunk of digital savvy users will opt out of tracking.
- Advertisers will face situations where they won’t be able to target unique users anymore across browsers, devices and the like.
- Ultimately, businesses won’t be able to allocate an adequate budget to paid advertising campaigns. This can severely affect new and smaller businesses as the lack of proper organic presence makes paid advertising the only reliable approach for prompt demand generation.
That’s a catastrophe for both ad platforms and advertisers with the latter being forced to reallocate their budgets to activities that generate attributable results.
In fact, adtech and martech tool vendors will face severe repercussions as they won’t have suitable data to train their machine learning algorithms.
Even ad platforms like Meta will find it hard to optimize their targeting capabilities due to lesser advertisers running campaigns and even lesser trackability.
Thus, failing to measure campaign performance and attribute revenue will cause a landslide shift in the digital advertising industry.
Decoding Server Side Tracking (SST): Conceptually simple yet powerful alternative to client side tracking (CST)
On July 20, 2021, Google announced that it will support a new tracking methodology where a server is used instead of the users’ (client) browser.
In fact, it emulates client-side tracking to a large extent with the only difference being that a cloud server is added between the client and the tag manager.
Here, the HTTP requests are sent to the server instead of trigger events. These requests are then sent to a new GTM entity known as client for creating the event data object.
The virtual container receives the event data object and maps it to the endpoints using tags.
Publishers and advertisers can expect the following the benefits by implementing server-side tagging:
Advantages of implementing Server Side Tagging (SST)
In this section, we will quickly glance through the benefits of implementing SST:
Increased website loading speed: One of the immediate benefits of implementing SST is getting your website to load faster since third-party cookies are one of the biggest reasons behind slow loading speeds.
Avoid restrictions laid down by Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP): Currently, Apple’s ITP allows you to configure the duration for which the cookie is stored in the client’s browser. Generally, third-party cookies are stored for a duration of 24 hours when consented to while first-party cookies are stored for seven days. But storing first-party cookies in server-side container enables you to set the expiration period as per your will- for instance, you can set it for a period of three years.
Greater control over user data: SST helps website owners gain greater control over the data shared with third parties. Here, the event object data is sent to the server-side container which then sends it to the marketing and adverti sing platforms as per the rules set by the website owner. Thus, you can safeguard your visitors from privacy invasive entities with the help of SST.
Proper measurement and attribution: Since all platforms like Facebook and Google Analytics will use server-side integration to set cookies on your domain via a subdomain, they will be treated as first-party cookies.
Bypass the negative effects of ad blockers: Ad blocking extensions block all requests to google-analytics.com/collect; thereby rendering your Google Analytics tags redundant. These ad blockers don’t block requests sent to your first-party subdomain and hence, you can bypass the negative impact of ad blocker extensions with SST.
Hence you can avail complete measurement and attribution capabilities without bothering about browser preferences, ad blockers, and compliance. And the best part is, your website remains a pro-privacy avenue on the internet for visitors
Only the configured data is shared with the third parties and thus, it will help publishers gain trust of their audience.
Thus, SST helps you bypass the limitations of client-side tagging by transferring the measurement tag instrumentation to a server-side container instead of your website/app.
Square found it increasingly difficult to capture data after the recent compliance changes. It needed a solution to address user data security, support seamless integration with its customer data platform and optimize its marketing campaigns.
Doug Logue, Senior Product Manager of Marketing Technology, said that implementing server-side tracking helped them achieve these goals and that they are planning to securely send data to more marketing platforms as well as leverage mobile in the upcoming days.
In another encouraging piece of news, Nemlig, Denmark’s biggest online supermarket grew its conversions for new customers by a staggering 40% within 90 days after implementing server-side tagging and Consent Mode in Google Analytics 360.
Ad Platforms that have migrated to server side setup
In this section, we will go through a listicle of ad platforms which have already vamped up support for server side tagging:
- Universal Analytics
- Google Analytics 4
- Google Ads Conversion Tracking
- Google Ads Remarketing
- Floodlight Counter
- Floodlight Sales
Email and Martech:
Towards smarter advertising: Level up with Tagmate
While it is understandable that server-side tagging is the way ahead, you must note that there are two main factors that are limiting its adoption: cost and complexity.
Almost every article on the internet reiterates on these two aspects but it is also noteworthy that server side tagging is still in its infancy when it comes to technical support from Google and other ad tech solution providers.
So, how do you get the early bird advantage with server side setup? Try Tagmate now!