Meta has finally come up with a solution that significantly improves ad-performance tracking in the post-iOS 14 and post-cookie era— Facebook server-side tracking.
Running Facebook ads in a post-iOS 14 world can be a challenging undertaking. With so much data lost due to Apple’s latest privacy restrictions, you’ve likely implemented some of the prescribed solutions and reaped disappointing results.
Perhaps you tried using Facebook’s Conversions API, but that didn’t help much. Then, you tried tracking your ad performance on Google Analytics, but that didn’t solve the issue either.
If you feel like powerful forces are conspiring against you, you’re not being entirely paranoid.
The latest tech developments—including Google Chrome’s phasing out of third-party cookies in 2023, Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update, and web users’ increasing reliance on ad-blockers and other data masking tools—means that advertisers can no longer rely on traditional, browser-based methods of collecting user data and targeting audiences.
Many have begun to consider alternatives and wonder if the future of web analytics might be server-side tracking.
In this article, I’ll discuss server-side tracking and highlight why it’s the ultimate solution for advertisers trying to solve the attribution problem. Whether you wish to restore your audience segmentation and targeting capabilities, track your conversions more accurately, or identify your most profitable ads, this is the solution the entire industry has been waiting for!
What is server-side tracking?
Server-side tracking enables data to be sent and received from the user’s browser to your own web server first before it is transmitted elsewhere. Your web server functions as an additional layer between your website and your ad network (e.g., Facebook or Google). This method of tracking and transmitting data ensures greater security and control.
Server-side tracking offers digital marketers the following benefits:
- Fewer privacy limitations - Third-party cookies are moved away from your website into server-side processing via the cloud. That turns them into first-party cookies, which are less limited by various privacy policies.
- Reliability - Performance isn’t affected by browser types and versions.
- Access to more comprehensive data - This type of tracking isn’t hampered by ad blockers and Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). That gives marketers access to broader data.
- Greater data ownership and control - Marketers get to decide what data to track and where to send it to.
- Faster site load speed - As the amount of code running in the browser is limited, your website will load faster. That leads to a better user experience and is beneficial for SEO.
- Greater data enrichment - Marketers have the option to enrich incoming data with relevant additional info, such as data from a customer relationship management system (CRM).
Server-side tracking versus client-side tracking
Server-side tracking greatly differs from client-side tracking. The latter is the more conventional way of collecting data and measuring how users interact with a website or app.
These tags and pixels are known as third-party cookies since they were created by domains that aren’t the domain the user is visiting. Site owners primarily use third-party cookies for targeted online advertising. They place the cookies on their websites via a script or tag. Moreover, any website that embeds the third-party company’s (Meta/Google/other ad network’s) pixel code could use third-party cookies.
First-party cookies, in contrast, are directly stored by the website or domain the user is visiting. Website owners primarily use them to collect analytics data and remember user preferences (such as language settings and login details) to provide an optimal user experience.
Server-side tracking allows you to move third-party cookies away from your website or app into server-side processing via the cloud. This form of tracking is known as server-side tagging when it’s done using Google Tag Manager. Using this process, the tag or pixel relays data to your web server, which then transfers the data to a destination server. That could be Facebook Ads Manager, Google Analytics, or any other third-party platform in your digital marketing tech stack.
The latest tech developments and concerns over user privacy have made client-side tracking less effective. It might soon become obsolete.
Collect data with Facebook’s server-side conversion tracking
If you’re still relying on browser-based web analytics to report back on the traffic, conversions, and events that your website is generating, you’re basing your findings on incomplete data.
Both Safari and Firefox utilize Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which prevents cross-site tracking and limits the efficacy of cookies. Meanwhile, the average global ad-blocking rate at the end of 2020 was 42.7%, according to a new report from Statista. In the United States, nearly 39% of internet users admit to using ad blockers, notes the same report.
Of course, advertisers still want to track conversions—which is why Facebook is recommending server-side conversion tracking as the solution. Server-side conversion tracking relays information gathered by your webserver to Facebook’s servers, such as purchases and add-to-carts. That allows Facebook to attribute conversions on your website to ad impressions and clicks.
Facebook server-side tracking is an excellent solution for marketers dealing with browser and third-party cookie restrictions. It gives Facebook access to the data marketers rely on to assess campaign performance and ROAS.
Why is Facebook server-side tracking crucial post-iOS 14?
When the Conversions API was initially released, advertisers hoped it would allow them to utilize server-side tracking (AKA first-party cookies) to send web events and share consumer data from their servers to Facebook Ads Manager.
If you need a quick refresher, Facebook Conversions API (also known as CAPI) is designed to create a direct connection between your marketing data and Facebook’s systems. When harnessed correctly, it can help optimize ad targeting, improve conversion attribution, measure results, and decrease cost per action.
When a user clicks on a Facebook ad that goes to your website, Facebook assigns a unique ID for that user to your server. Your server will then track the user as they perform specific actions, which it will then report back to Facebook.
While CAPI might appear to work similarly to the Meta pixel (indeed, Meta designed both to meet similar objectives), the key difference is how they transmit the data they gather. The pixel transfers web events and conversion data to Ads Manager via a web browser, while CAPI does server-to-server data transfers, thus eliminating the use of third-party cookies.
Fortunately, Facebook has developed two solutions based on the Conversions API:
- Conversions API Gateway (using the Amazon API Gateway)
- Conversions API for Server-Side Google Tag Manager (GTM)
In the following sections, I’ll be covering the Conversions API Gateway and Conversions API for Server-Side GTM in greater detail. I’ll also show you how our latest service, Madgicx Cloud Tracking, could help you set up Facebook server-side tracking and a complete multi-channel tracking system.
Conversions API Gateway
The Conversions API Gateway is a self-service configuration option available in Meta Events Manager (formerly Facebook Events Manager). Set up in partnership with Amazon, the current version only supports Amazon Web Services (AWS)—an Amazon subsidiary that offers cloud computing services to businesses.
Setting up the Conversions API Gateway allows you to begin sharing your web and server events directly from your server to Facebook’s server. You can apply the integration without dedicated developer resources, and it requires no coding or external partner integrations.
This solution makes installing conversions API simpler and cheaper than a manual installation by saving dev costs. All you need to pay are the associated AWS fees. It also lowers maintenance costs since the Gateway automatically updates whenever new features are available.
The Conversions API Gateway is ideal for your business if you meet the following criteria:
- You’re currently using the Meta pixel.
- You haven’t installed the Conversions API yet.
- You’re not working with an eCommerce partner (such as BigCommerce, OpenCart, or Shopify).
On the other hand, if you’re already working with an eCommerce partner to manage your Meta pixel, Meta recommends that you leverage your existing partnership if they support the Conversions API integration.
We recommend setting up both the CAPI Gateway and Conversions API via partner integration simultaneously. Using this setup, you will have better tracking coverage.
Check out this resource for the complete list of Facebook partner integrations for the web.
Multi-subdomain and multi-pixel support
The Conversions API Gateway supports multiple active subdomains (e.g., “shop.domain.com” and “buy.domain.com”). These can be configured within a single Conversions API Gateway during deployment.
Additionally, the Conversions API Gateway supports multiple Meta pixels. To ensure proper configuration, your pixels should be under the same business account.
Conversions API for Server-Side Google Tag Manager
Conversions API for Server-Side Google Tag Manager (GTM) combines the Conversions API with Server-Side GTM. In other words, you can configure your GTM to send events to CAPI.
But before we discuss this solution, let’s first go over Google’s implementation of server-side tagging and discuss some of the ways businesses and consumers can benefit from this feature.
What is Server-Side Google Tag Manager?
First announced on August 13, 2020, server-side tagging allows businesses to move many of their third-party tags off their websites and into a new server container hosted in their Google Cloud account. Server-side tagging was also made available to Google Tag Manager and Tag Manager 360 users on the same day.
When you implement server-side tagging, it loads third-party tags directly in the server container rather than the site. This provides site visitors with faster page load times, which improves the user experience and boosts conversion rates. Moreover, server-side tagging also gives businesses greater control over the information the third-party tags have access to. That means greater security for their customer data and added data controls.
“This helps you ensure that any new tags added to your container follow the same permissions, so you do not need to check tag behaviors in the future continuously,” Google said.
In a product update published on September 23, 2021, Google announced that server-side tagging had been expanded to both Google Ads and the Google Marketing Platform.
Following the update, whenever visitors interact with your site, a single client-side tag would activate multiple tags for the different Google marketing products you use. It does it directly in the server container, which it hosts in your server. Once it sends the data to this secure server container, site owners can filter or augment it before sharing it with their respective platforms.
Deduplication of events
Facebook recommends setting up both CAPI and the Meta pixel for optimal ad reporting and measurement—a process known as the “Redundant Setup.” Advertisers would then need to use a deduplication method to ensure that the ad delivery system can distinguish between unique and duplicate events.
One of the easiest ways to deduplicate an event would be to pass the same event_id parameter value using both the server (CAPI) and browser (pixel). After the event_id parameter has been set up, CAPI will use its deduplication feature to remove duplicate events while also providing reliable server-side event processing.
For more event deduplication options, please check out this guide.
Let Madgicx Cloud Tracking set up everything for you
Madgicx Cloud Tracking offers Facebook advertisers expert setup of Facebook server-side tracking. It’s an additional attribution solution that ensures you get the most accurate performance data.
We’ve seen advertisers spend days or even weeks trying to set up their tracking system—just to find out they’re still getting very partial data at best. That might lead to wasting money on unprofitable audiences and campaigns, which could be avoided. So why not let the experts make sure you’re properly monitoring your ads?
Madgicx Cloud Tracking will set up a multi-channel tracking system for your business:
- Cloud Tracking - We’ll set up your Facebook server-side tracking using the Conversions API Gateway.
- Google Analytics - Our team will handle your Google Analytics setup, ensuring that the GA code is set up correctly on every page of your site.
- UTM Tracking - We’ll enforce a consistent UTM structure across your entire ad account to track conversions better on CRMs and Google Analytics.
- Google Tag Manager
- Facebook Offline Conversions - This allows us to manually add data (known as offline event data) to Facebook.
- Conversions API - This is set up to send events from Shopify’s servers (and other third-party servers) to Facebook.
- Meta pixel: We’ll perform audit and issue fixes.
Reliable data collection is the bedrock of every data-driven marketing strategy; otherwise, you’ll be basing your decisions on incomplete or inaccurate information. Sign up for Madgicx Cloud Tracking today and experience the difference.
Get the only tracking system that sends accurate data back into your Ads Manager, and have it set up in 3 days.
Michael is a Content Writer at Madgicx. He is passionate about crafting compelling content that educates Facebook advertisers, agency owners, and eCommerce entrepreneurs.