How Does Server-Side Tracking Work?

Data Solutions, Ecommerce Strategy

Over the past few months, we have spoken a lot about the importance of collecting 1st party data; especially for ecommerce brands. The easiest and most efficient way of doing this it to implement a server side tracking solution but how exactly is this different to your current set up and how does server side tracking work?

To start with, it's good to understand how we've been tracking activity prior to the privacy updates and how 1st party and 3rd party cookies work.

How 3rd party tracking works.

Before the privacy revolution, any website was able to track website activity through the use of 3rd party cookies.

When users land on a website, they are assigned an cookie ID; this cookie carries all the data around the users data and activity. This ID is then sent to the browser and can be passed back and forth between the browser and web pages in order to capture user behaviour data. It's called a 3rd party cookie because the cookie is from another website than the one the user is visiting.

For example, a user visits a website called luxuryfashion.com. Cookies placed on this domain by luxuryfasion.com are first-party cookies (something we'll cover in a moment.) A cookie placed by any other site, such as a browser, advertiser or social media site, is a 3rd party cookie.

Blocking 3rd party cookies.

iOS14 and browser privacy updates block 3rd party cookies by recognising those cookies which have been placed by a 3rd party domain and stopping them from being actioned.

When you set up tracking and analytics through Google Tag manager, this is what the code source in the header of your website should look like.


As you can see googletagmanager.com is listed as the tracking domain. This is a 3rd party domain therefore we would expect a large proportion of cookies to be blocked by operating systems, browsers and privacy settings.

Let's look at the workaround.

What is a 1st party cookie?

1st party cookies are cookies hosted by the domain the user is visiting. Most of the time these cookies are placed to remember log in details or contents of your shopping basket and remain on the site without sending user's data to any other 3rd party platform that the user is unaware of.

How server side tracking eliminates the need for 3rd party cookies.

We've mentioned previously that the reason for 3rd party cookies being blocked is due to them being hosted by a 3rd party domain such as Google Tag Manager. By changing this to a subdomain on your existing website hosted on a web server, those cookies turn from 3rd party to 1st party; therefore allowing you to collect a far larger volume of traffic. (In a perfect world, it allows you to track 100% of your website activity). Your cloud based server will collect all the data and then forwards it onto 3rd party platforms.

Image credit: stape.io

How easy is it to implement?

Ultimately, this will depend on your website set up.

If you are using any of the Shopify packages, there will be a number of native app integrations for server side tracking available including

There are also native platform specific Conversion API integrations which can send 1st party data from Shopify to ad platforms such as Facebook and Google Ads.

If you are not running your website through Shopify, we have a full guide on how you can set up server side tracking using Stape.io alongside Google Tag Manager. Download the guide here.

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If you or your brand are looking for support with a particular service or have a question about what you've just read, get in touch and we'll be happy to help!

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If you or your brand are looking for support with a particular service or have a question about what you've just read, get in touch and we'll be happy to help!