Server-side tracking is a method of directly measuring important marketing events on your site with small snippets of code. The point of using server-side tracking is to securely and privately capture data that’s otherwise unavailable with other forms of tracking like third-party cookies.
Using server-side tracking, you can track important events such as when a website visitor signs up for a mailing list, downloads an ebook, or makes a purchase. We’ll show you how to get started with server-side tracking so you can improve how you measure your marketing’s effectiveness.
Why does Server-Side Tracking Matter?
The need for first-party data became urgent when Google announced the Death of 3rd Party Cookies. As brands and adtech providers started to explore what is possible, a growing list of use cases and advantages became evident that make gathering first-party data a worthwhile endeavor regardless of when Google decides to fulfill on their promise to end third-party cookies.
Understanding Server-Side Tracking is easiest in the context of Client-Side Tracking (aka 3rd party cookies). Third-party cookies are used by advertisers and brands to target specific audiences. Third party cookies are used and stored on the users’ browser and help websites display targeted content to visitors. Third party cookies aggregate information like browser, operating system, and IP address. This data is used to determine which ads should be displayed to the user and allow brands to better understand their audience. Server-Side Tracking then, can capture similar data, but the information is stored on the brand’s server, not the user’s browser.
Browser-Side Tracking also comes with a set of limitations that Server-Side Tracking lets you overcome. Third-Party cookies suffer from cookie expiration dates, meaning that they can only be used for a certain period of time before they expire and the information is lost. Server-Side Tracking doesn’t have the same expiration date limitations as third-party cookies.
Privacy regulations will continue to change. In addition to the benefits of being prepared (not going through iOS 14.5 again) the unique strengths of server-side tracking make it a solution worth evaluating.
How Server Side Tracking Works: First-Party Cookies
The most practical and effective way to implement server-side tracking is through first-party cookies, which creates a lifetime cookie (identifier) for every web visitor that gives brands more options for tracking, reporting, attribution, and activation.
A first party cookie is set by a website and stored on their own server. This means that a first party cookie is not used by advertisers to track your activity across the web or to access your personal information; it only provides information about what has been displayed and clicked on within a particular domain.
What Data Can First Party Cookies Capture?
One of the biggest strengths of first party cookies is the information they allow brands to capture. They provide a more in-depth understanding of your visitors’ interactions on the website, including what they’ve clicked on and where they’ve gone. This means that brands can create a more accurate picture of who their customers are and how they interact with your content. This can be used to improve customer experience through personalization and targeting, as well as measuring return on investment (ROI) for advertising campaigns.
There are 30+ different pieces of data that first party cookies can capture, including: ad platform user ID’s, device ID, IDFA, MAID, IP address, etc. If a user fills out a form or converts, the information they enter such as a name, email, or phone number can also be associated with the data captured in their server-side cookie.
What are the benefits of 1P cookies?
Privacy & Security
First-party cookies are also safer than third-party ones because they can only be used by your current website and not shared with other sites or companies. This means that browsing habits won’t be tracked across websites or used in ways that could compromise privacy or security. First-party cookies are more private because they don’t allow third parties to access your data without your consent. Third-party cookies are more open because they allow third parties to collect data from other sites without your consent.
First party cookies don’t present any privacy concerns because they’re not shared with third parties. They’re only used to track your activity on websites owned by the same organization as the website you’re currently visiting. This means that first party cookies are compliant with privacy standards because they don’t track a user’s browsing activity on websites other than the one that set the cookie.
Brands have always owned the data they create, but until now they’ve often had to rely on third parties to manage it. Analytics tools like Google Analytics are great for measuring general trends in usage, but they don’t give you a complete picture of how your customers are interacting with your brand.
With first party cookies, brands can now collect and store user data directly on their own servers. This means that they can access customer information in real time and use it to improve the customer experience, personalize offers and drive sales.
One of the biggest limitations of third party cookies is the data is only stored for 28-30 days, and with recent privacy changes as little as 24 hours. This means that if your sales cycle is longer than 3-4 weeks, you’re going to have a hard time recognizing returning web visitors. First party cookies allow brands to set the expiration date, and when Mint Measure works with clients, we set the cookies expiration for 70 years. This allows for a longer view of the customer journey, which is especially important when you’re looking to recognize repeat web visitors.
With first party cookies brands can collect richer data on their audiences, which can be used for personalization, retargeting and attribution. The first party cookie allows marketers to create unique profiles for each visitor to their website. This allows them to identify visitors as they move from one page or device to another and collect richer data than what’s captured in third-party cookies. The difference is that third party cookies were designed to benefit ad platforms, but first party cookies are built for the brand’s benefit.
First party cookies allow brands to collect higher quality data than third party cookies and begin to build an internal identity graph. Over time, users will have a lifetime cookie that nests ad platform IDs, email addresses, phone numbers, and other details that the customer provides. This is the highest quality of data currently available because it is permissioned, private, and can be directly plugged into ad platforms for advertising.
The last benefit of first-party cookies we’ll cover is that the data can be fed back into multiple platforms to improve advertising. Brands don’t own third-party cookies, so they don’t get to decide how to use the data they’re helping to build. With server side tracking, brands are in full control of how first party data is leveraged. This means a brand can use their internal sales data to segment an audience and use their own 1st party cookies to find those users across platforms without needing to rely on a third party.
Uses Cases for First-Party Cookies
First-party cookies can be used in a number of ways—it all depends on the brand’s campaign and goals. Below are some of the most common:
Feed Native IDs Back to Ad Platforms
The biggest problem caused by iOS 14.5 was that ad platforms like Google and Facebooks lost the ability to track on-site actions on iOS devices, making clear reporting and attribution impossible. Server-side tracking restores this connection between ad platforms and on-site actions when brands are able to feed data captured by server side tracking back to ad platforms.
Remember how we said that first party cookies can capture Platform User ID’s? This is a big deal because other methods will try to match a customer’s email or physical address to ad platform’s profile on the user. Normally brands can only get a 60%-70% match rate. However, server side tracking can get a 100% match rate because you’re giving Facebook, Google, and other platforms their own native ID’s for users.
Feeding this data back into your ad platforms allows them to report on influenced conversions more accurately and improve algorithm performance.
Extended Visitor and Customer Tracking
When Mint Measure sets up first party cookies for clients, we set the cookies expiration for 70 years. This extended cookie lifetime uniquely allows brands to measure a true Customer Lifetime Value, because there’s no more difficulty recognizing users as they revisit your site. The ability to measure users over an extended period of time gives insight to understand your customer journey and path to purchase, especially if you have a longer sales cycle.
Creating Custom Audiences
Up until first party cookies and server-side tracking became possible, all of the power of audience segmentation for web traffic was in the hands of ad platforms or DMPs. You could create targeting parameters to build custom audiences within ad platforms, but that audience could only be targeted within that ad platform and you were limited by their targeting parameters.
With first party data, brands can create their own custom audiences based on different on-site activity and send those same audiences to any ad platform: TikTok, Facebook, Google, programmatic, you name it. This is an excellent way for brands to take back control in their advertising and away from big tech ad platforms.
Construct a Private Identity Graph with Platform Data & Customer Data
As brands serve ads to users across multiple channels, there will be users that click through ads on multiple platforms. The brand’s first party cookie will go ahead and log the user’s click ID from each platform. Over time, brands will passively construct their own private identity graphs. This will help them get better targeting in ad platforms because you are able to store all platform ID’s that a user has, as well as other identifiers like a hashed email address. A private identity graph is one of the things that we think will be critical in the long term, where brands are able to reach users on any platform by using data they’ve accumulated themselves.
Improve Web and Advertising Analytics
The last opportunity we see with first party cookies is to leverage all the data that’s captured to improve analytics. If a brand is able to track users across their entire digital journey, then they can better understand how people interact with their ads, content and products. They can also use this information to optimize ad spend and improve ROI on marketing campaigns. This will help give brands a clearer picture of how ad channels are working together and which are driving incremental growth.
How to Start Using First-Party Cookies
Setting up first-party cookies on your web server from scratch isn’t a task for the faint of heart. For brands that want to build this in house, it will require a team of engineering and web development talent to pull this off.
Fortunately, Mint Measure and other providers can help evaluate what you need from server side tracking and put together a plan to meet your needs. There are varying levels of sophistication with server side tracking and can start as low as a few hundred dollars per month.
If you’re interested in learning more about how First Party Cookies can benefit your advertising and want to understand how to get started, contact us at Mint Measure to learn more.