What is Server-Side Tracking

10 minutes

The world of server-side tracking will continue to grow in popularity in 2022 and into 2023 due to the rapid changes […]

Brad Redding

Brad Redding is the Founder & CEO of Elevar. Specializing in analytics, tracking, GTM, and conversion optimization.

The world of server-side tracking will continue to grow in popularity in 2022 and into 2023 due to the rapid changes happening in our industry:

  • Cookie restrictions making targeting and attribution more difficult
  • Client-side tracking accuracy declines leaving marketers looking for answers regarding incomplete or missing conversion data
  • Compliance requirements grow causing confusion on configuring legally compliant tracking without adversely impacting data collection
  • Consent management through services like OneTrust and Cookiebot
  • Marketing channels — like Meta and TikTok — making conversion API integrations mandatory for accurate performance tracking

Server-side data collection is critical to accurate conversion tracking for Shopify stores.

In this Course you will learn exactly what server-side tracking is and how you can leverage it to power data collection for your business through the following lessons:

Before jumping into how to configure your server-side tracking, learn more about server-side tracking 101.

In this lesson you’ll learn about:


Server-Side Tracking Lessons:

Nomenclature & Technical Jargon

First, let’s get squared away on technicalities and nomenclature:

  • A “channel” or “destination” is equivalent to Facebook or Google Ads and is also known as a “third party vendor”.
  • Each “channel” typically has their own global javascript (“third party script”) they load on your website that can also be referred to as a “pixel” or a “tag”.
  • And each Javascript that loads on your website sets one or more cookies on a user’s browser.
  • And that cookie is typically responsible for sending fingerprinting data back to the channel to help identify the user, match a click to a campaign, and building a profile for audience management, etc.
  • But browsers – like Safari – ultimately control the behavior of these cookies.
  • And they have rules for how javascript cookies can be set by the third party vendor…
  • …like setting a max expiration date of 24 hours instead of the value originally set by the third party vendor (ex. 90 days)
  • In addition to the javascript each channel wants loaded on every page of the website, they also want custom events aka “conversions” triggered for specific user actions
  • For example: view content, add to cart, and purchases are all considered “conversions”.
  • And they require distinct tracking on your website
  • The conversions typically require user parameters and attribution data so the channel can map the conversion back to a campaign.
  • Examples of user parameters can be their unique click ID (like fbclid, gclid, or an affiliate click ID), email and other personal information, and values of the cookie set by the global javascript.
  • Your legal compliance guides what user data you are able to send with your conversions based on consent status of the user on your website…
  • …so if a user opts-out of being tracked (think CCPA, GDPR), then this limits the data you are legally allowed to collect and send to your third party channels. Here’s an overview on this concept with Google’s Marketing Platform.

A few quick definitions:

  • “Client” is sometimes referred to as browser (e.g. “client side” vs “server side”). But there is a feature in Google Tag Manager server-side container called “Clients”. These are *not* the same.
  • Apple ITP generally refers to the browser-led constraints being put on 3rd party tracking.
  • “1st Party” vs “3rd Party”: 1st party data is generated by your own server/domain. 3rd party data is generated by external sources. Facebook script generating cookies and setting on your domain is still 3rd party and has varying cookie expiration dates depending on the browser

What Is Server-Side Tracking

Server-side tracking is when your website or application routes data to your server and then your server relays this data to the destination API or server endpoint like the Facebook Conversion API.


This is in comparison to client-side tracking where data is sent within the context of a user’s browser to Facebook and other tracking pixels.

Client-side tracking is not as accurate and susceptible to errors, ad blockers, and other tracking restrictions which leads to signal loss (i.e. the pixels are missing a % of data).

Another major difference between client-side tracking and server-side tracking, aside from the use of JavaScript, is that with server-side tracking you get to define what data is being sent.

Client-side tracking via Javascript grabs much of the browser information of the user automatically. Things like IP address, user-agent string, etc.

Server-side tracking requires you to be explicit on what information you are collecting from your website and user and sending to your destination.

What Are The Benefits to Server-Side Tracking

Server-side tracking allows you to do the following:

  1. Reduce the gap in conversion and user data missing in your marketing & analytics platforms like Facebook and Google Analytics by:
    • Implementing API based conversion tracking instead of sending conversions through the browser. This ensures conversions that are otherwise blocked by browsers or adblockers are received by your marketing channel.
    • Proxying third party channel scripts from your server instead of the browser so all of your tracking is done in 1st party context (e.g. yourdomain.com).
  2. Improve personalization of user experiences on your website and marketing campaigns by:
    • Maintaining a longer cookie expiration period (i.e. instead of 7 days, 90+ days) so users are more likely to see a marketing campaign you want them to vs being reset to new users more frequently
    • Maintaining a/b test control vs variant user buckets by maintaining a longer cookie expiration period for tools like Google Optimize
  3. Improve attribution by:
    • Improving the quality and accuracy of customer and session related data sent with conversions that can be pulled directly from your platform.
    • Ensuring each channel receives 100% of conversions with the maximum amount of attributable data
  4. Improve site speed by:
    1. Reducing the # of third party javascript (aka tags) from loading in the browser. Many channels don’t require their javascript to run on site if you’ve implemented their server-side tracking.
    2. Reducing the size of your web based GTM container by moving the complex logic of tag/trigger/variables from your web based GTM container to SS container.

One other big reason that marketers are moving to server-side tracking is due to many platforms moving to performance max/automated campaign targeting.

So the primary lever the marketing has is to ensure the platform receives the most amount of data possible so bids in auctions are lower and the algorithms can target more effectively.

What Are Risks to Server-Side Tracking

  1. Conversion hits lack data that vendors require
    • We don’t always know what type of browser data third party vendors rely on to connect back to a user. Some – like Facebook – provide detailed guides on how to implement their conversion API. But other channels may not have these details fleshed out yet (or even have an API)
    • The amount of browser data marketing channels are collecting from their pixels to use for remarketing is unknown to all of us. If you were to move all tracking from browser pixels to server side tags, then you will need to watch performance closely.
  2. Duplicate conversion data
    • If you decide to run a pixel in parallel with server side conversions then it’s critical to ensure data is not duplicated. Some channels – like Facebook – provide very clear instructions on how to use both in parallel so they can deduplicate themselves. Others – like Google Analytics – do not provide this deduplication.
  3. Privacy/Consent legal obligations not followed
    • Moving tracking to a server-side process does not remove the requirement for you to manage user consent and privacy regulations that you have to adhere to. Many of the solutions that you see today (the cookie popup modals) don’t automatically connect with your server-side tracking.
    • Using services like Elevar allows you to implement server-side tracking with OneTrust, Cookiebot, and others.
  4. You “Set it and forget it”
    • If you’re using a GTM server-side container then this type of integration is very new and evolving regularly. Plus the speed at which browsers and privacy regulations are changing, it’s very likely that you will need to make adjustments to your tracking templates every month.
    • We believe that server-side tracking is more reliable & less prone to issues when compared to browsers. However if you don’t have a way to automate the monitoring of server-side tracking that is checking for errors coming back from the APIs you are integrating with, you could risk errors going unnoticed.
    • If you’re high volume and using your own Google Cloud server you need to manage your auto-provisioning of new servers to handle spikes.
  5. Too technical to troubleshoot yourself
    • The benefits are clear for server-side tracking. And this is the future for all of your marketing tags – there is no doubt about this. However this is much more technical than your standard tagging in Google Tag Manager. If you are on your own then be sure you have a solid understanding of how to test, troubleshoot, and fix your tag setup inside of the server side container. Otherwise look to use an end to end solution like Elevar.

Check out our next lesson which explains how server-side tracking works.

Continue Learning

Next 2. How Does Server-Side Tracking Work