Harnessing the power of server-side conversions in Google Ads

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As an SEA specialist, I wondered: how will server-side tagging help me manage my campaigns? So I looked that up. I would like to share my findings with you in this blog. You’ve probably heard of or are in the process of implementing server-side tagging. In short, server-side tagging (SST for short) means that you reconfigure the entire tagging of the website on a second subdomain that is linked to a different server than the main domain, thus bypassing tracking prevention tools. This gives you insight into more data points, the data is more accurate and you can better manage your campaigns in, for example, Google Ads. This makes the advertiser responsible for the data collection instead of the intervention of the browser. The current way of (conversion) tracking/tagging, client-side, is therefore a thing of the past. Working with server-side conversions will be the new standard base implementation instead of client-side conversions (old setup). The power of server-side conversions is that more and more accurate data becomes transparent, which enables us, as an SEA specialist, to better manage our campaigns.

What are server-side conversions?

Server-side conversions are a new way of measuring conversions. Later in this blog I will tell you all about how this can be set up exactly. For now I want to show you a sneak peek of what this looks like.

Server side conversions interface

Above you see a conversion overview of a Google Ads account. Here you can see both the old/regular setup and the new setup with server-side tagging. We have changed the naming of the conversions so that it is clear how the conversion was measured.

  • The existing/old conversion action we had was: Quotation request – Ads. This is a conversion measured in the following way: Google Ads pixel and client-side.
  • We have added a new conversion action, namely: Quote Request – SST. This means that we measure the quote request via the Google Ads pixel and server-side.

Setting up a server-side conversion is therefore a completely new conversion action. If sufficient data has been received and checks have been made to see whether this is being measured properly, you can then have your campaigns steered accordingly. You will then steer your campaigns on a conversion that is set up on the server side instead of the client side. You will notice many benefits here. Your question probably is: why?

Why use server-side conversions?

Server-side conversions play a critical role in accurately tracking and attributing conversions that happen outside of web browsers. In the world of digital marketing, Google Ads has traditionally relied on cookies as its primary means of tracking user interactions and conversions. However, this is going to change. In recent years, many steps have been taken to provide consumers with an online experience that guarantees privacy and anonymity:

  • Legislation that requires you to ask visitors for permission to track cookies.
  • Companies and individuals who develop extensions and apps to block third-party cookies, such as ad blockers.
  • Browsers that block third-party cookies. Safari and Firefox already do this, and Chrome has it planned for late 2024.
Server side tracking vs.  client side tracking

This has implications for the attribution of each interaction point in our customers’ customer journey. We can look less and less far into the customer journey of our customers due to the last-click attribution, and we receive less data, so we make decisions based on incorrect numbers.

Blocking cookies minimizes insights into marketing activities. All conversions are attributed to the last click, which means you’re “blind” and unnecessarily slacken channels due to a “too high” CPA or too low ROAS. If you cut back on campaigns/channels that actually perform better, you end up in a vicious circle where you miss out on conversions.

As an SEA specialist, it is therefore a challenge to make the data more accurate and richer. As an SEA specialist, we want to make the customer journey transparent again and make the attribution of conversions more accurate. Based on this, we want to make decisions about which campaigns to scale up or scale down. One of the aspects that can help with this is setting up conversions via server-side tagging.

The pros and cons of server-side conversions

Benefits of server-side conversions

Server-side conversions bring more insightful data points into Google Ads. You will notice that the same conversion action, when provisioned server-side, yields more conversions than when the conversion action is provisioned client-side. This is due to the following:

  • Improved tracking accuracy: Server-side conversions provide a more accurate and complete picture of your campaign’s performance by capturing conversions that would otherwise go unattributed. This accurate data enables you to make informed decisions and effectively optimize your advertising budget.
  • Improved privacy compliance: With privacy concerns growing, it is critical that advertisers respect user privacy and comply with data protection regulations. Server-side conversions allow you to maintain a high level of privacy compliance by reducing reliance on third-party cookies and browser-based tracking.
  • Cross-device and browser tracking: In today’s world where customers interact with brands across devices and browsers, server-side conversions enables cross-device and browser tracking, so conversions are accurately attributed regardless of the platform used by the user is used.
  • Reduced data loss: With cookie-based tracking, there is a risk of data loss due to various factors, such as ad blockers or users clearing their cookies. Server-side conversions mitigate this risk by sending conversion data directly from your server to Google Ads, minimizing data loss and providing a more complete picture of your campaign’s performance.

Disadvantages of server-side conversions

  • Before you can get started with server-side conversions, you must have set up server-side tagging.
  • Server side tagging required:
    • An extensive implementation that requires a detailed implementation plan and close cooperation between advertiser and agency.
    • Monthly fixed costs, depending on the chosen server. In addition, there are additional variable costs depending on the number of hits.

Outline step-by-step plan for setting up server-side conversions

Implementing server-side conversions in your Google Ads campaigns follows a well-defined path:

  1. Set up server-side tracking for your website or app.
  2. Define the conversion actions.
  3. Setup of server-side conversion actions.

1. Set up server-side tracking for your website or app

Start by setting up server-side tracking on your website or app. I will not go into this further in this blog. If you need help with this, Traffic Builders is happy to help. In short, the following happens for you as an SEA specialist:

  • A subdomain is created and connected to a second server. For example, this server can be requested from Google Cloud.
  • A second Google Tag Manager is placed on the server of the subdomain where events are re-provisioned.

2. Define the server-side conversion actions

The next step is which conversion actions you will measure server-side. How do you do that?

  • For existing accounts, a new tracking setup offers opportunities to clean up and carefully assess which measurements are still relevant. I sometimes see many conversion actions in older accounts that no longer work or are relevant. Therefore, when moving to server-side tagging, it is important to redefine the conversion actions so that only the relevant actions are set. However, make sure that this list is as complete as possible, including any soft conversions via server-side tagging.
  • For new accounts, this is an important step as no conversion actions have been defined yet. Set specific actions on your website or app as conversions, such as transactions or form submissions. List both hard and soft conversions.

3. Set up server-side conversion actions

Once the conversion actions are defined, setup can be done through Google Tag Manager . My colleague Estéban explains in his how-to blog how to do this in Google Tag Manager. If the conversions are set up through GTM, you can then use them in Google Ads. For further design in Google Ads, I have the following advice:

  • Conversion action names: Include “server-side tagging” or the abbreviation “sst” in the conversion action name so you know these conversion actions are implemented using server-side tagging.
  • When setting up server-side conversions, you can immediately see whether you can immediately include the implementation of enhanced conversions, consent mode and GA4. I won’t go into more detail about this in this blog, but before you set it up, it’s important to understand its effect on your data and how to use it.
  • To check whether the data is received correctly, it is advisable to compare the data of server-side conversion actions with the old settings (client-side). The advice is therefore not to immediately delete the ‘old’ conversion actions, but to keep them in the account. You can have the following set of conversion actions for RFQ conversion.

In Google Ads it looks like this:

Server side conversions interface
  • EC = Enhanced conversions
  • SST = Server side tagging
  • Ads = Google Ads Pixel
  • GA4 = Google Analytics 4 Pixel

Drive server-side conversions

Checking the data via server-side conversions

However, the deployment process does not end with the initial configuration. Now that the conversion actions are set up separately in Google Ads, you can include these actions in custom columns in Google Ads to compare the data. In theory, of course, the number of server-side conversions should be higher. It is also interesting to segment by device and browser so that you can identify potential problems or insights.

Drive campaigns based on server-side conversions

If you see that the data is set up correctly and you receive enough data, you can switch to the server-side conversion action(s). Adjust your custom conversion/goal associated with your campaigns and you’re good to go!

Yesss, now you can also use the power of server-side conversions.

Server-side conversions is thus a method that provides more reliable and accurate conversion tracking, as it is not affected by browser settings or ad blockers. By implementing server-side conversions, we bypass browsers and ad blockers, which in turn helps us gain more insight into conversion paths and conversion attribution. This change contributes to more accurate data, enabling us as an SEA specialist to make better decisions to achieve the objectives of our company or our customers. Want to read more about the cookieless era?

  • Do you want to know what the impact of the era without cookies is on your website? Calculate it with the impact tool .
  • Or do you want to learn more about the era without cookies? We wrote a white paper about it.

Need help with server-side conversions or do you have another digital marketing issue? Contact us , we are happy to help you!

Article originally posted by our Partner Agency Traffic Builders as “Het benutten van de kracht van server-side conversies in Google Ads“.

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