Google has finally released the missing piece to the cookieless marketing puzzle, in the form of a server side solution for Google Ads conversion tracking. The relatively straightforward implementation requires advertisers to use GA4 and Google Tag Manager server side.
Set up server side conversion tracking
Setting up server side conversion tracking for Google Ads consists of two steps on your regular Google Tag Manager web container, and four steps on a Google Tag Manager server container.
On your GTM web container:
- Add a GA 4 config tag (if you don’t already have one) and trigger it on all pages
- Add a GA4 event tag for the conversion, and trigger it just as you would any Google Analytics conversion.
On your GTM server container:
- Click Clients and ensure you already have a GA4 client in there. If not, add it as a new client from the pre-defined list of client types
- Select Tags, add the Conversion Linker tag type, and trigger it on all pages
- Add a new tag, configured for Google Ads Conversion Tracking, and fill in the conversion ID and label from your Google Ads account
- Trigger the above tag either based on page views or with a custom event whose name matches the one in your GA4 event tag.
You can see the detailed guide on Google Developer docs.
This solution comes more than a year after Google publicly announced the launch of server side tracking with Google Tag Manager. In fact, Facebook launched their server side Conversions API integration using Google’s own Tag Manager solution long before Google resolved their own ad conversion tracking challenges.
Google has remained very quiet about their plans to handle conversion tracking for advertisers once third-party cookies are blocked by default on Chrome. While this new feature might give a glimpse of what they have planned for the future, the lack of fanfare or major announcement accompanying the launch makes it feel like they’re not quite sure if this will be their recommended way forward for advertisers. Undoubtedly, they will need to incorporate this into the Google Ads system directly if they want most advertisers to use it.
While the process to set up server side conversion tracking on GTM is very straightforward, the underlying mechanism is rather convoluted. Most notably, it still relies on a lot of browser interaction and uses third-party cookies where available.