What is Server-Side Tagging?

May 20, 2024
Jan 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 tagging technology in 2021. 

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.

stape server gtm

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 has become challenging in the past few years. The most extensive obstacles for client-side tracking are:

  • The depreciation of 3rd party cookies.
  • Increasing use of AdBlockers.
  • Tracking restrictions on mobile devices like iOS limitations.
  • Security regulations.
  • Impact on the website page speed.

Client-side tracking disadvantagesCopy link to this section

1. Cookies. Browsers like Safari and Firefox use Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) to limit the lifetime of first-party and third-party cookies. Chrome started to phase out of third-party cookies in 2024

Cookies are crucial for accurate data collection and tracking attribution. If you still rely on client-side tracking, the event and conversion data you collect might not be relevant since advertising and analytics platforms cannot recognize returning visitors to show the entire user journey. Attributing a conversion to paid campaigns is tricky without cookies so that you might get irrelevant cost per conversion or ROAS data. Sever-side tagging can solve these issues since by using ss tagging with a custom domain, you can set long-lived first-party cookies

2. AdBlockers and iOS tracking restrictions. The use of AdBlcokers prevents up to 40% of data collection. On the other hand, iOS tracking restrictions prevent advertising platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Linkedin, Snapchat, etc, from collecting user data, which negatively affects their advertising algorithms. All these can be solved using ss tagging, stape custom loaded, and configuring server-side tracking like Facebook CAPI, TikTok events API, Linkedin CAPI, Snap CAPI, etc. 

3. Security issues. With client-side tracking, you can’t control what data each vendor collects. Third-party Javascript can scrape PII or any other data from your site, and you won’t even know about it. With server-side tagging, you strictly control which data is sent to third-party vendors. 

4. 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.

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 accuracy and reliability. Server-side tracking is resistant to AdBlocker, ITP cookie limitation and restrictions on iOS. This means that it will give you more accurate data about user behavior and better results for paid campaigns. 

2. Cookie lifetime. Browsers are either already limiting the lifetime of cookies, primarily third-party but in some cases first-party as well, or they have started rolling out third-party cookie depreciation. Server-side tagging is the only way to overcome these challenges. This means you will have to implement server-side tagging sooner or later.

3. Data control. Third-party Javascripts placed on your website can scrape any data they want without notifying you. With server-side tracking, you can strictly control which data is sent to the vendors, protecting you from sharing users' PII.

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

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.

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

With the rise of privacy concerns and tracking restrictions, server-side tagging is becoming more popular. Besides that, technology is evolving and offers cool features such as sending offline conversion data to an analytics platform in real time, enriching the data, or modifying it

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. The typical steps of configuring server-side tagging using sGTM are as follows: 

  1. Send data from the web to the server GTM or offline data with the help of webhooks. The two most common ways of sending data from the web to the server are using GA4 or Data Tag/Data Client.
  2. Configure SS tagging. The most popular platforms that support SS tagging are Facebook CAPI, Google Analytics, Google Ads, TikTok Event API, LinkedIn CAPI, Bing, Snap, etc.

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 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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