What is Server-Side Tagging?

Author
Stape
Published
January 31, 2022
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Online advertising is ever-changing, and new challenges come with it. Among these is server-side tracking, a method of tracking users’ activity on websites that rely on cloud servers instead of user browser. This blog post will explore what server-side tracking is, how it works, and some of its benefits and drawbacks compared to client-side tracking. So let’s get started!

Difference between client-side and server-side tracking?Copy link to this section

Client-side tracking is the most popular way of connecting websites with tracking platforms. It utilizes the user’s browser (client) to send information to the tag managing system or analytics platform. One of the most popular tag management systems is Google Tag Manager. After your site is connected with Google Tag Manager, you can use it to send information to any platform, like Google Analytics, Facebook, TikTok, Mailchimp, etc. 

To make client-side tracking work, you need to add Google Tag Manager (or any other tag management system) code to your website, ideally, create a data layer. After that, set up tags and triggers that send information about user activity to third-party tools. 

With server-side tracking, your website first sends data to the cloud server. Then the cloud server distributes data between third-party vendors and tracking platforms. The most popular ss tracking platform is again Google Tag Manager. They released their server-side container a couple of years ago. 

A cloud server works as a proxy between the information you send to a third-party tool and your site (or any other data source). To use server Google Tag Manager, you need to set up a cloud server that should (but not must) utilize the subdomain of your website. Then, use server GTM requests to send information further to the tracking platforms.

Pros and Cons of client-side trackingCopy link to this section

Client-side tracking has been the most common way of tracking website users’ behavior, but it started to challenge for the past few years. The most extensive obstacle for the client-side tracking is decreased page speed performance, security issues, and 3rd party cookies. Let’s get into more details about each of these factors. 

Client-side tracking disadvantagesCopy link to this section

1. Decrease in page speed performance. Site speed is crucial for user experience. Every tracking script slows down your site, decreasing revenue from ads and organic positions. Some research shows that people will leave if the page takes too long to load - especially on mobile devices where the internet connection is slower. We compared site page speed with client-side tracking vs. server-side, and the results showed that moving tagging to ss can improve Google's performance score by around 40 points.

2. Security issues. With client-side tracking, you can’t control what data each vendor collects. 3rd party javascript can scrape PII or any other data from your site, and you won’t even know about it. 

3. Cookies. Some browsers, like Safari and Firefox, have Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) features designed to limit 3rd party cookies and tracking scripts. If you use client-side tracking, then cookie lifetime will be limited to 1 or 7 days. 

Client-side tracking benefits:Copy link to this section

1. Simplicity. Client-side tracking is more popular and older than server-side tracking. Because of that, more people are familiar with client-side tagging, meaning it will be easier to find a person who would implement client-side tracking on your site. It is also easier to find documentation and guides describing how to implement browser tracking. 

2. Cost. Client-side tracking is free or cheaper than the server-side since you don't have to pay for the tagging server.

Pros and Cons of server-side trackingCopy link to this section

Server-side tracking is a more reliable, secure, and controllable way to collect and distribute data. This makes server-side great when dealing with sensitive information. It had numerous advantages over the client-side. We have a blog post that describes all server-side tracking benefits. For more detailed information, please click this link. I will focus on the most important ones here. 

Server-side tracking benefits:Copy link to this section

1. Data control. You have complete control over what data each vendor receives. They will get only the information you configured in the server GTM tags and see in the outgoing HTTP requests. They can’t collect any additional information from your site.

2. Improved site performance. You can remove/reduce Javascript that runs in a user’s browser. It will lead to faster page load time, better user experience, and higher ranking.

3. Cookie lifetime. If your server tagging URL uses a custom subdomain (that is located within your main site hierarchy), server GTM will set first-party cookies. This drastically changes how browser tracking protection treats these cookies and helps prevent issues when third-party cookie lifetime is decreased.

4. Better ​​accuracy, reliability. Since ss tracking assigns cookies in 1st party concept and is more resistant to ad blockers and ITPs, these factors make server-side tracking more accurate than the client-side. 

Server-side tracking disadvantagesCopy link to this section

1. Cost. It is required to use a cloud server for your server-side tracking. Cloud servers are not free. Stape offers your server Google Tag Manager hosting for $20/month.

2. Harder to implement. The concept of server-side tracking is new, meaning not many people know how to implement it, and even fewer can set it up properly. By the way, if you need any help setting up server-side tracking, we can help, just answer these simple questions and set up a quote for you.

3. The limited number of platforms that support server-side tracking. All popular tracking and advertising platforms (like Google, Facebook, TikTok, etc.) started to support server-side tracking and already have ss tag templates in the Google Tag Manager Gallery. But tons of platforms do not support server-side tracking yet. We collected a list of platforms that support server-side tracking in one blog post

Why should you implement server-side tracking on your site?Copy link to this section

Let’s start with the fact that for now, it’s not possible to switch to a server-side completely since a lot of platforms do not support ss tracking yet. 

If you're concerned about data accuracy, user privacy, and website performance, then it's essential to start implementing server-side tracking. Some platforms like affiliate networks make this a requirement, while others such as Facebook or Google only recommend implementing server-side tracking.

The more accurate information about users will help you make better decisions. Not only it help you understand users' behavior, but it also affects the results from your PPC campaigns since advertising platforms have more data about users; thus, their algorithms will learn better.

How to utilize server Google Tag Manager?Copy link to this section

The release of the Server Google Tag Manager container was a groundbreaker in server-side tracking. You can connect web and server Google Tag Manager and use web GTM as a data source for your server GTM container. You can utilize either Google Analytics 4 or Data Tag/Data Client to feed data to the server GTM.

Though the server GTM container looks similar to the web, the logic of using server-side tracking is entirely different from the web one. Check out this blog post that explains how to set up and start using server Google Tag Manager

How can you use stape.io to for server-side tracking?Copy link to this section

Stape is hosting for the server Google Tag Manager container. Using stape, you can set up server GTM in less than 1 minute, and we are the cheapest solution on the market. Stape is affordable because we buy servers in bulk and for an extended period. Plus, we optimize our servers to work only with Google Tag Manager. 

Besides that, we have other advantages: custom gtm.js loader, preview header, faster gtm loading time, etc. You can read about all of them in this blog post

Conclusion:Copy link to this section

Server-side tracking is a powerful tool that offers several benefits over client-side tracking. However, it also has some drawbacks that should be considered before implementing it on your website. One of the main disadvantages of server-side tracking is its complexity, But the good news is that if you need help setting up server-side tracking for your business, our team of experts can assist you. Contact us today to get started!

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