Server to Server (S2S) Conversion Tracking

The modern digital advertising sphere is undergoing a drastic change with the advent of the server to server conversion tracking.

At present, there are two tested and proven ways to track transaction flow. They are: 

  • Tracking user through the means of cookies, or
  • Through server to server transaction.

In this article, we will cover some of the basics of server-to-server tracking, benefits, and various implementations.

As a marketer, you might have some experience working with Pixel tools. This is, of course, a powerful technology but has its limitations.

Tracking your marketing efforts requires specialized skills and techniques. Many of you might be aware of the scenario in which you make optimization based on the present day’s performance and realize that the next day’s results give a completely different picture.

This happens mainly due to decisions that are made out of incorrect data.

There are various reasons to set up a server to server tracking. You might want to have accurate data to fine-tune your marketing strategy, or trigger conversions based on CRM data, track and optimize towards in-app events, etc.

One of the main flaws of Pixel tool is that for it to count a conversion, the pixel needs to be loaded in the browser of the visitor and it needs to read the cookie stored in the browser.

If any of these steps fails during the process, the conversion won’t be taken into account and won’t be visible in the interface. 

Pixels won’t be helpful if you want to see and optimize towards post lead events and in-app events.

In situations like these server to server tracking is the right choice. 

What is Server to Server tracking?

The server to server (S2S) conversion tracking does not use any cookies. Here the information is stored at the server-side.

In S2S tracking, when a user clicks on a tracking link or generates an ad impression, a unique identifier of some kind is generated and stored. This individual ID is matched to the user when he makes a conversion later.

This is done by posting the unique user-generated ID back to the tracking server.

Here, you don’t have to place any specific code on our website or landing pages. A tracker will be used to send the traffic to a merchant that is capable of handling the information and transmitting the conversions back through postback URLs.

As the ID is unique for each user, all the essential information about the visitor can be easily stored by the use of one metric.

Unique user information such as browser, country, operating system, internet service provider, time and date at which the information was sent, etc. can be understood simply based on the click ID alone.

Thus, in short, click ID is the only parameter that you will need when buying traffic as long as you have a fully functional S2S conversion tracking set up.

Server to server conversion will help you to know exactly when and where and at what time the conversion was generated. This helps to make the optimization process quick and easy when compared to other forms of the campaign.

Postback Tracking Protocols

In general, there are two protocols for server postback tracking. One is with a partner ID, and the other is with the transaction ID.

The transaction ID is the ideal choice as it is assumed that advertisers and networks use the same protocol, but in some rare cases, Partner IDs are used where the transaction is not usable.

Server Postback with Transaction ID

The postback tracking protocol is very much useful in tracking individual conversions and clicks. 

This protocol uses transaction IDs. It is a unique identification code that is generated when a user clicks an offer.

The code is sent to the advertiser along with the click parameter that is relevant to the offer. This also includes the offer ID.

At the side of the advertiser, a dedicated server stores the offer ID, transaction ID and other relevant information passed on to it. If a specific user creates a conversion, the site of the advertiser indicates this event to the platform by calling the postback URL of the offer.

Along with this, all the desired conversion parameters such as offer ID, transaction ID, etc., are passed.

At the receiving end, it is verified whether the transaction ID is duplicated or not. If valid, the conversion is recorded.

If the transaction ID is not valid or duplicated due to server errors, fraud, or any accidental user action, it will be immediately rejected.

Server Post back with a Partner ID

In this method of tracking, the Partner ID or publisher ID is used. This ID is sent to the advertiser along with all the click parameters that are relevant to the offer.

The server of the advertiser stores the offer ID, partner ID, and other relevant information passed on to it.

Limitations with Partner ID Tracking

Due to the nature of this technology, there are a couple of shortcomings. This might deter marketers from using this method.

This protocol faces some issues as the transaction ID isn’t passed on the click.

Here there is no single value that enables the ad server to locate which click the conversion is associated with.

If you review a report that shows the statistics of a partner ID conversion you can see all the metrics that are attributed to the click such as creative files, mobile parameters, partner sub IDs, etc.

The conversion is displayed on a separate line with the advertiser metrics.

It will be difficult to say which all campaigns are performing better and which are not.

It is highly recommended to use transaction IDs over partner IDs as there are minimal chances of fraud.

The reason why partner ID tracking is used

The primary reason why networks use partner ID tracking is mainly to handle offers with conversions that trigger regularly.

In some instances, a publisher is credited for each rebill of a customer they have brought to the advertiser. In cases like these, you should use the partner ID protocol because transaction IDs have a very limited lifespan and multiple conversions cannot take place with the same transaction ID.

How does the advertiser store the transaction ID?

There are several ways in which an advertiser can store the transaction ID. One of the most commonly used methods is to generate a cookie on the landing page and store it in the browser. However, this method has several disadvantages since the digital world is slowly transitioning to a world without cookies.

Another method is to log the transaction ID as a hidden variable. The third method is to carry the transaction ID as a URL parameter until the conversion completes.

This process is entirely dependent on the CRM tools used by the advertiser.

Different types of identifiers

The transaction ID that is generated from the server sidetracking can greatly vary. An ID will be a combination of variables such as username, email ID, IP address etc.

  • In certain instances, it will be a randomly generated id.
  • In some instances of affiliate transactions, affiliate ID is also used.

How to set up S2S tracking?

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Setting up S2S Tracking for your website/CRM process or in-app events are a bit different. The steps which are mentioned below are specifically for website/CRM events, but some are similar for app events as well.

1. Include the click-id in a URL parameter

As mentioned earlier, to understand who has made the conversion, a unique user ID will be sent back with each hit delivered to your campaign.

This is known as click-id. This will be unique for an ad impression and will get assigned when you are serving your ad to a user.

The click-id enables to map it to a specific impression and the related advertiser, ad, site, and campaign through which the user came through and when the ad was shown.

2. Store the click id and include the postback URL

Once you have included the click id, the traffic coming to your website from ad campaigns will have click-id in the URL.

This is where you will need some technical assistance. 

You need to store your new click-id among the other URL parameters that were previously tracked.

You might be wondering why?

This is because the click-id has to link the conversion in your back-end system and the CRM platform.

After this, you need to set up the URL call to trigger after the conversion happens.

After this, you need to set up the URL call to trigger after the conversion happens.

As this entire setup has to be installed and run from a server, you will have to seek technical assistance for the implementation.

3. Create conversion events in the Ad platform

The last step is to create conversion events. This step is quite simple, and the user can implement this step without any technical assistance.

All you have to do is to go to the conversion tab in the interface and click on it to add conversions.

Under the type, you will have to select the event-based conversion.

You will have to ensure that the Name matches exactly what is passed through the Postback URL.

Once you have filled the remaining fields with relevant information for the specific conversion of your choice, click on to save.

Benefits of Server to Server tracking

Image by Mudassar Iqbal from Pixabay

1. Security

In server-to-server tracking, you will get additional security mainly because the transactions can only be generated through a click ID that is matched with a Lead ID.

Besides, you could use HTTPS encryption on your postback URLs.

This will help to maximize the page security and also prevent any chances of fraud. The server-side tracking also helps to prevent cookie stuffing, a method of fraud in which cookies are stuffed into the browser to generate maximum commission when a purchase is made on the website of the merchant. 

In 2008 eBay filed a case in which they have accused a super affiliate of fraudulently generating 700,000 transactions using cookie stuffing.

Server-to-server tracking helps to solve all these problems.

2. Accuracy

In a server, to server tracking, greater accuracy is ensured since it is generated only when a user clicks a tracking link.

Here the advertisers can track individual transactions back to specific affiliates. To maximize the accuracy, you can associate the Click ID with an email ID or Lead ID.

As antivirus programs are getting smarter to detect and remove cookies, server-to-server tracking stands high as the tracking methods are immune to cookies.

3. Delayed Reporting

This method is ideal for situations where delayed reporting happens. By using a server-side post, you can wait to post a conversation until the expiry of the refund period.

This ensures that you only pay for true conversions. For banks and financial institutions, this is a useful tool as they need to delay firing conversions once they have completed the credit check.

4. Mobile Tracking

In a mobile platform, cookie placement has many restrictions. 

This is mainly because:

  • Mobile browsers such as Apple’s mobile Safari have cookies turned off by default.
  • Limitation of placing cookies in in-app download stores.

By using Server to Server tracking, you can ensure the tracking of your ads is smooth and accurate, without having to worry about cookies.

What is the difference between server to server and pixel tracking?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Pixel tracking and server-to-server tracking are two major methods of tracking your conversions and ads.

The choice may vary depending on the requirement and method of tracking. If you compare two of these methods, you will understand that the S2S Postback URL is the better choice, but a little complex to set up. 

The world is soon moving towards strict data privacy, and companies are taking stringent actions to ensure that the user’s data is safe by all means.

Pixel tracking has lost its importance after browsers such as Firefox and Safari have added updates to prevent Tracking. Google, on the other hand, has announced to implement 3rd party cookie blocking quite soon.

1.Tracking Pixel

These are pieces of HTML code that are placed on the landing pages or websites to track conversions and user activities.

Tracking pixels can actively track websites, conversions, ad impressions, and other user activities.

To keep track of your conversions, you have to put a tracking pixel on a page that follows confirmed sales. Usually, it will be a thank you or order confirmation page. As soon as the user visits this page, the Tracking Pixel HTML code registers the conversion, if the user made this specific purchase or conversion because of the advertising campaign.

The method of Tracking Pixel is based on the fact that the web browser temporarily stores information about the activity of a user on a specific website. This information is most commonly called cookies.

When a specific conversion happens, these cookies are reviewed to authenticate the session of a user and to accredit the conversion to a visit.

To set up Tracking Pixels, you don’t need to have any heavy technical expertise. All you need to do is to place a piece of HTML code on the page which confirms the sales.

Let us take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of Tracking Pixels.

1.1 Pros

Quite easy to set up. Simply copy-paste the HTML code on the sales confirmation page. 

Tracking Pixels are highly beneficial to marketers, email senders, and SEO specialists.

It is beneficial in the analysis of sent email newsletters since they show opening rates of newsletters and emails through user data statistics.

1.2 Cons

Pixel Tracking is not as reliable as server-to-server postback URL tracking. Since all the information of the user is stored in the cookies, there will not be any tracking if the cookies get deleted.

This happens when the user himself deletes all the cookies on his computer.

Browsers such as Safari and Firefox have inbuilt Intelligent Tracking Prevention which blocks the third-party cookies from tracking conversions.

Another biggest drawback of this technology is that marketers have to create one tracker for every campaign. If you run multiple campaigns with the same tracker, you won’t be able to distinguish which campaign led to pixel” firing” or conversions.

2. Server to server tracking

Unlike pixel tracking, there is no need to resort to last-touch attribution for server-to-server tracking, mainly because every time a user views the ad, a unique transaction ID will be generated which will be passed on as a parameter.

Steps in which S2S tracking occurs are :

  1. An offer is shown to the user.
  2. User clicks on the offer.

3. The click goes to the server.

4. The server records the click and generates a unique ID for the session.

5. The user is directed to the landing page of the offer.

6. The user sees the offer page on the advertiser’s site. The site will manage the recording of that session if found appropriate.

2.1 Pros

This is a very accurate method of tracking conversions. Tracking is done at the server-side. The results are less random and unaffected even after the user deletes all the cookies.

Since all the information about the user sessions is available at one click, S2S tracking can be used to verify if there are any distinctions in the number of conversions.

Highly reliable and secure. Lesser chances of fraud, as there are several options to prevent postback fraud.

2.2 Cons

The main drawback of S2S is that it is a bit difficult to set up and requires some technical expertise, unlike the Tracking Pixel where you just need to simply paste a code.

This is mainly because here you will need to have direct communication between the advertiser and affiliate network. Here technical expertise is required from the side of the advertiser to store the data and send it back.

How does S2S conversion tracking work in XPO

At present, the modern digital advertising industry is facing several challenges, mainly due to the phasing out of third-party advertising cookies.

To meet this challenge, Knorex has introduced server to server (S2S) to advertise in a world without cookies.

To enable S2S conversion, it is important to keep in mind that a postback URL mechanism should be enabled on your server. As soon as it is enabled, you will be ready to use it.

With S2S technology, you can track the conversion of your customers directly from the server. In this technology, cookies are not used, but in the form of unique IDs once a customer starts interacting with an ad.

With the unique S2S technology from Knorex, you will be able to track conversions across multiple channels without the need of embedding pixels on your website.

The tracking is done so perfectly that you will be able to analyze and derive significant insights into your customer actions and in turn, custom tailor your strategy to fit your business aptly and ensure maximum conversions.

Steps for S2S tracking in XPO

The Server to Server account is created at a partner level. You can create conversion goals for all the accounts created under it.

The moment a customer has an interaction with an ad, Knorex will automatically generate a Kcid(click ad ) which then redirects the customer to the clicked URL.

The Kcid will be sent back to the server. Once a conversion takes place, you will have to send the click ID to knorex from the server utilizing a postback URL.

Read more on S2S tracking with XPO here.

Final Words

Tracking cookies are soon going to completely disappear from the online world. Marketers need to equip themselves with even more powerful technology to effectively market and leverage their business.

With server-to-server tracking in your hands, you will be able to make more effective and strategic decisions with greater confidence.

If you are someone who wants to implement newer strategic decisions for the success of their business, go ahead and set up your server to server tracking. And that’s because in the business world, every second count!