What Is Google Tag Manager Server-Side Tracking?

September 30, 2020

In this article, I want to tell you about a new feature from Google Tag Manager – Server-Side Tagging. GTM server-side is a hot topic right now for all marketers, website owners, and developers. The main change in this technology is moving tracking from client-side to server-side. This functionality allows you to hide business logic in the server code, speed up website loading, and improve the protection of user data by restricting access to third-party scripts.

What Is Google Tag Manager Server-Side?Copy link to this section

There are two ways to collect data: client-side and server-side, both with their benefits and restrictions. Existing tag management, analytics systems, and advertising services collect data using the Client-Side Tracking method. How does it work? With Client-Side Tracking, the browser sends a request directly to a third-party tracking service like Google Analytics. The interaction takes place between two parties: the browser and a third-party service.

With Server-Side Tracking, an intermediate point is added. In this case, it is the Google Tag Manager cloud server. The request goes first to the cloud server, then the server processes this request and sends it to a third-party system (Google Analytics). It means that instead of the client browser, the request is processed by the cloud server.

server-side events

Why is GTM Server-Side Container Important?Copy link to this section

Many of you saw this screenshot on Apple WWDC where they showed that Safari would start blocking 3rd party cookies on a new version of macOS. It was a shock for everyone since they showed us that Google Analytics is blocked, and you won’t be able to track the behavior of Safari users (who make around 15% of your website visitors). Even so, some say that they did not see any 3rd party pixel blocking when they installed Big Sur. This macOS is still in beta and not released to public usage. So, for now, you cannot tell how it will work on production and if there will be data protection updates in future versions. Mozilla Firefox is also blocking 3rd party cookies by default since summer 2019. If the browser blocks 3rd party cookie, you cannot follow the user all over the internet with your remarketing ads.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention technology is there, and it is designed to limit website owners’ ability to track users across domains. As privacy concerns increasing during the last several years, marketers and business owners expect that ITP technology will spread across all popular browsers and devices. 

Nevertheless, Intelligent Tracking Prevention technology is there, and it is designed to limit website owners’ ability to track users across domains. As privacy concerns have been growing during the last several years, marketers and business owners expect the ITP technology to spread across all popular browsers and devices. 

How can you prepare for Intelligent Tracking Prevention? Move from using third-party cookies to first-party cookies. And you can achieve that by integrating the Google Tag Manager Server-side container. If you set up GTM server-side on your website, AdBlockers and ITPs won’t be able to find your tracking technologies, which will lead to better data quality. 

Another significant benefit the Tag Manager Server-Side container offers is the increase in your site speed. Most of the time, heavy third-party codes and Javascript execution in user browsers are the biggest problems causing low website speed. Besides, it demands a lot of developers’ time to fix it. If you move javascript execution to the server-side, it will make your website load faster and rank higher. 

site speed

Tips and Reminders for Implementing Google Tag Manager Server ContainerCopy link to this section

Setting up the GTM server-side is not an easy task. You’ll need various knowledge about Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Google Cloud, and web technology in general. Plus, your development team will be involved in this process, especially if you want to test it in the production environment. 

Google offers a free test environment. But if you want to integrate it into production, you will need to pay a minimum of $120/month + additional fees that depend on the website traffic. You can use this calculator to have a more detailed estimate of how much a GTM server will cost on Google Cloud. 

We created a tool that will help you set up GTM server-side container. It can be hosted either on your subdomain or our subdomain. The benefit of hosting it on a custom subdomain within the same top-level domain is that all requests will be considered a first-party cookie and prevent data loss.

How can you test Server-Side Tagging in Google Tag Manager?Copy link to this section

You can easily set up server-side GTM using our service. Click this link to sign up.

After you create an account, to set up Server-Side Tracking, you will need:

1. Access to your website domain name registrar.

2. Access to publish content on your site, as the method requires hosting a GTM container.

We will set up the GTM server container and Google Analytics client. And GA requests will stop using the browser but will go through an intermediate link in the form of a cloud server.

ConclusionsCopy link to this section

Should you try server-side tracking? The answer is YES if you want to start collecting data about your website visitors and prepare for things like Intelligent tracking protection.

Since Google Server-Side tracking has just been released and still has a lot to improve, you should not switch to it completely and turn off regular tracking. However, you can already take advantage of this new technology.

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