What is server-side tracking?
Google released a Server-side tagging beta version in 2020 to the public. Let’s take a look at how it should be used, its implications on digital analytics, and how it differs from client-side tracking.
In brief, Server-side tagging means running a Google Tag Manager container in a server-side environment. You get full control over the server-side environment and your data. You have access to tools and methods to control the traffic between network sources and your advertising and analytics endpoints.
Server-side tagging continue to use some concepts in Google Tag Manager, such as:
- Tags fire on triggers and pull in data from variables.
- New container versions can be previewed and published.
- Users can create their own custom templates.
However, there are new, concepts and different features as well. GTM has introduced a new Server container, which is inside the Google Cloud environment. Instead of triggering events, processes are initialized by incoming HTTP requests. A new type of GTM entity called a “Client”
collects these requests. Then the “Client” parses the requests, generates an “event data object”, and feeds this into a virtual container, where tags can use this event object to map and send data to their endpoints.
Read more about this process from official the Google documentation.
Benefits of Server Side Tracking
Reduced client load
Content Security Policy (CSP)
A CSP is what your site would use to control the HTTP traffic between your website and the user’s browser. You get the control and ownership of the data collected by the container in your Google Cloud. Google guarantees the following.
- Google Cloud only processes data that you instruct it to process.
- You own your data. No data is processed by Google Cloud for advertising purposes.
- You’ll always be aware of where your data is regionally located.
- Your data is secured by independently certified and audited security standards.
- Since you own and control the data collected by the Server container, its usage and data processing falls under the privacy policies, T&Cs, and contracts your organization has with its customers and end-users.
Concerns with Server Side Tracking
Privacy-friendly browsers block communications between the browser and known trackers, such as “Disconnect.Me”. It could also be a feature of the user’s device, such as “Intelligent Tracking Prevention”.
Many websites employ client-side consent management tools, which require input from the user with regard to what data they allow to be collected from them. And it is the responsibility of the website admin and should be done even when deploying the server side tracking.
There will be costs associated with usage. As an example, a Server-side tagging setup that collects around 60 requests per second, will cost around 250€ per month excluding the domain cost.
It is advised to create a custom domain to your Server container endpoint because, then, you can incorporate the server-side “data collection endpoint” that you own in your first-party domain namespace.
Differences between Server Side Tracking and Client Side Tracking
There are some benefits to this form of data collection, such as follows
- Direct access to data: Since the client-side tracking is done at the user’s device, this gives direct access to more concrete user data that could be used for ad targeting.
- Implementation: Very commonly used, it can be considered as a standard option. It is easy to implement.
- Lower cost: client-side tracking costs less compared to server-side.
Server-side tracking is a more reliable, secure, and controllable way to track events since it does not request information directly from a client’s browser, which makes it very useful when dealing with sensitive information. Some advantages and one disadvantage of server-side tracking over client-side tracking are mentioned below.
- More control over the data and higher security: Data remains in control of the advertiser and cannot be viewed or used by third-party providers. This means more security for the company.
- More independence: With server-side tracking, you are less dependent on browsers. This reduces problems like browser restrictions and “adblockers”.
- Optimized analytics & marketing: The data can be used for marketing automation, analytics, personalization tools.
- Smoother user experience: Since the operation is done at the server, the information moving from a client’s device to the cloud is not needed.
- Increased site speed: Much higher site speed since there are no analytics pixels in the way. Since that server-side has the possibility to speed up your site speed which in return will improve user experience and also SEO.
- Server-side tracking requires the maintenance of an additional tech infrastructure, which can be expensive.
Google Tag Manager’s Server-side tagging service doesn’t come with a license cost, even though it costs you to create the domain in Google cloud and usage of triggers. Along with that, we have discussed many concerns about Server-side tagging that you have to focus on if you are going to implement server-side tracking in your organization’s website. It’s been just over one year since it has been introduced, but surely server-side tracking will be the future of digital data analysis. With time, more templates will be developed with specific tagging features which you can select according to your requirement. Until then, you can also contribute to GTM server-side tagging by creating and publishing a tag manager template after reading enough about this new and effective method of tagging.