Understanding Server-Side Tracking

Learn how server-side tracking can help digital marketers improve their ROAS by increasing the accuracy and reliability of their conversion data. Get the most out of AnyTrack with our comprehensive guide to server-side tracking.

Introduction to Server Communication

The internet is composed of nodes that communicate with each other using standard protocols.

For example, when you navigate to a website, your browser will display content that the website provides.

In this simple scenario involves a "client" and a "server".

βœ… The client being the browser, and the server being the website.

In a similar way, when you buy something from Amazon, the action happens between your browser (client) and the Amazon website (server).

1. Server-Side Interactions

But what happens in Amazon Server during the Purchase? This is a simplistic and logical scenario which can be expanded at will...

  1. Amazon will send a request to your Credit Card company
  2. Your credit card company will respond with an approval or decline
  3. A transaction will be approved
  4. Your browser will receive and display the transaction approval
  5. Amazon will record the transaction in its database
  6. Amazon will create an order fulfillment request (in another database)
  7. The Fulfillment request will be sent to a warehouse
  8. The Warehouse will dispatch your order
  9. You will receive an email with a tracking number
  10. etc.. etc...

As you perhaps understand, except for step 4, all interactions involving your Purchase do not happen in your browser.

They happen "server-side".

In other words, servers talk to other servers, in a certain language, according to certain rules.

Now, in order for the servers to talk to each other, they use common "keys" that enable Amazon to trace the status of your Order (among other reasons).

The "keys" can be your customer id, the transaction id, the order id, and/or a combination of these keys to uniquely identify your order at each step of the order fulfillment process.

How Client Side and Server Side Tracking Works

How Client Side Tracking works

You probably heard about the "thank you page".

That's the page that loads when you complete your purchase on Amazon or other merchants.

When the "thank you" page loads (client) a few things happen:

  1. The Response from the Credit Card company appears on your browser with a "transaction id"
  2. The Facebook Purchase Snippet loads
  3. When the FB Snippet loads (from the browser/client), it sends a request to the Facebook Server
  4. The Facebook Server records the Conversion
  5. The Event Manager displays the Conversion Event
  6. The Ads Manager display the purchase event and updates the ROAS

Here is an example of the Facebook Event Snippet

fbq(
'track', 'Purchase', {
 value: 40.00,
 currency: 'USD'
});

What is (was) the upside of this method?

Quite simply: It only required a simple copy/paste of your Facebook pixel on the "thank you" page and it worked out of the box.

We're post iOS14 tracking transparency "act" and that doesn't work anymore.

3. How server side tracking works

When you complete your purchase, one of Amazon server will do the following:

  1. It will record the transaction
  2. It will transform the recorded data according to the Facebook CAPI requirements
  3. Hashing personal data
  4. Map their internal names to Facebook Standard Names
  5. It will send a POST request to Facebook Conversion API (CAPI)

πŸ“˜

Good to know: The example below is only a short version of the data you can send to the FB api.

{
    "data": [
        {
            "event_name": "Purchase",
            "event_time": 1661941807,
            "action_source": "website",
            "event_id": "123123123123123123",
            "event_source_url": "https://amazon.com",
            "user_data": {
                "em": [
                    "7b17fb0bd173f625b58636fb796407c22b3d16fc78302d79f0fd30c2fc2fc068"
                ],
                "ph": [
                    "72fe84274df481a1ad439dbd462c76f6304a99a8e009e583924ff04f9c17cc01"
                ],
                "external_id": [
                    "932f3c1b56257ce8539ac269d7aab42550dacf8818d075f0bdf1990562aae3ef"
                ]
            },
            "custom_data": {
                "currency": "USD",
                "value": "142.52"
            }
        }
    ]
}

As you hopefully realize, what was once a walk in the park and only required to add a piece of code on the Thank You page, now requires lots of programming and orchestration that happen "server-side".

4. The Key Element

We've omitted a Key element in this example.

What is the Key that the Amazon and Facebook Servers can use to talk to each other and make sure they actually talk about your purchase?

  • Transaction ID: No, because the transaction ID is generated by Amazon and doesn't mean anything to Facebook. The Transaction ID can, however, be used by Facebook to deduplicate conversions sent from both the browser and server, but only when sent alongside other values.

  • Customer Email: Yes, but you might have a different email address in Facebook and in Amazon. So it might work in some cases, but not all cases.

  • First and last name: Yes, but they have to be sent hashed and together with other parameters; otherwise, they will be discarded.

  • Phone number: Yes, as long as they format and hash it.

πŸ“˜

Good to know: If you're familiar with the Facebook Conversion API, you'll notice that these values, among many others, are the ones giving you the "match rate."

5. Advantages and Disadvantages of Server-Side Tracking

5.1 Advantages

  • Accuracy: When servers talk to each other, they usually don't fail. If they fail, they know it, and they can "retry." If they fail, you can get a notification with the Why, fix, and retry.
  • Ad blockers: They don't see server-side communications, so whatever goes on between servers can't be blocked.
  • Privacy safeguarding: Because it's happening server-side, data can freely pass from one server to the other, as long as the customer gave its consent.
  • Data instrumentation: When you process the data server-side, you can clean it, hash it, normalize it, and so much more.

5.2 Disadvantages

  • Complexity: It's complex to set up as you need to know what happens in your server, as well as in the server that you want to talk to.
  • Limitations: If you don't control the servers or if they don't have public APIs, you're basically stuck. If you don't have the "keys," you're stuck.
  • If you don't know what you're doing, you might send wrong data and hurt your campaigns.
    • It requires regular maintenance and updates to ensure the integration stays up-to-date with any changes in the APIs being used.
    • It might require additional resources, such as servers or cloud services to handle the server-to-server communication.

6. Conclusion

Server-side tracking has become increasingly important for digital marketers in recent years due to changes in privacy regulations and the limitations of client-side tracking. Although it can be more complex to set up and maintain, server-side tracking offers significant benefits, including increased accuracy, better data privacy, and bypassing ad blockers.

In order to effectively implement server-side tracking, digital marketers need to have a solid understanding of server communication and be able to work with different APIs. By doing so, they can ensure that their marketing efforts continue to provide valuable insights and drive successful campaigns.

7. Why Use AnyTrack?

While server-side tracking can be done manually, tools like AnyTrack can simplify the process and save you time, effort, and resources.

7.1 Benefits of Using AnyTrack

  • Seamless integration: AnyTrack is designed to work with many platforms, making it easy for you to connect your marketing data across multiple channels.
  • Reduced complexity: With AnyTrack, you don't need to worry about understanding server communication or dealing with different APIs. The platform handles all the technical aspects, allowing you to focus on your marketing campaigns.
  • Improved data accuracy: AnyTrack helps ensure that your data is accurate by streamlining the data collection process and eliminating potential errors.
  • Regular updates: AnyTrack is continuously updated to stay current with the latest APIs and best practices, ensuring that your server-side tracking remains up-to-date and effective.

7.2 AnyTrack in a Nutshell

AnyTrack is a connector that provides you with the keys to insert, process, and extract data to and from the platforms you work with. By leveraging AnyTrack's powerful features, you can focus on optimizing your marketing efforts without getting bogged down by the complexities of server-side tracking.

In conclusion, server-side tracking is an essential component of modern digital marketing. Tools like AnyTrack can help you navigate the complexities of server-side tracking and make the most of your marketing campaigns. With the right tools and strategies, you can harness the power of server-side tracking to drive better results for your business.

8. Additional Considerations for Server-Side Tracking

While server-side tracking offers numerous advantages for digital marketers, there are some additional considerations to keep in mind when implementing this tracking method.

8.1 Privacy Compliance

Ensure that your server-side tracking implementation is compliant with privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). This involves obtaining user consent when required and handling personal data securely.

8.2 Cross-Device Tracking

Server-side tracking can help improve cross-device tracking, as it's less reliant on cookies, which are often cleared or blocked by users. By using unique identifiers and server-side data, you can gain a better understanding of how users interact with your website and ads across different devices.

8.3 Data Enrichment

With server-side tracking, you can enrich your marketing data by combining it with data from other sources, such as CRM systems or third-party data providers. This can give you a more complete picture of your target audience and help you make more informed decisions about your marketing strategies.

9. Getting Started with Server-Side Tracking

Ready to start implementing server-side tracking? Here are some steps to help you get started:

9.1 Assess Your Tracking Needs

Determine which platforms and data sources you need to track and integrate. Consider your existing marketing channels, as well as any additional data sources that can provide valuable insights, such as CRM systems or third-party data providers.

9.2 Choose the Right Tools

Select the appropriate tools and platforms to support your server-side tracking needs. This may include using tools like AnyTrack to simplify the process and save you time and resources.

9.3 Develop a Tracking Plan

Create a detailed plan outlining the data you need to collect, how it will be processed, and how it will be shared with other platforms. This plan should also cover privacy compliance and any necessary user consent processes.

9.4 Test and Validate Your Implementation

Before fully implementing server-side tracking, thoroughly test your setup to ensure that data is being accurately collected and shared between platforms. This may involve using test data or running small-scale experiments to validate your tracking configuration.

9.5 Monitor and Optimize

Once your server-side tracking is in place, regularly monitor your data to identify any issues or opportunities for optimization. Keep up-to-date with changes to APIs and industry best practices to ensure your server-side tracking remains effective and compliant with privacy regulations.

By following these steps and leveraging the power of server-side tracking, you'll be well-equipped to improve the accuracy of your marketing data, overcome privacy challenges, and drive better results for your digital marketing campaigns.

Final Thoughts

As the digital marketing landscape continues to evolve, server-side tracking has become an indispensable tool for accurately measuring and optimizing marketing efforts. By understanding the benefits and challenges of server-side tracking, as well as leveraging tools like AnyTrack to streamline the process, digital marketers can stay ahead of the curve and drive better results for their businesses.