What is Server-Side Tracking in Google Tag Manager? - A Complete Guide

What is Server-Side Tracking in Google Tag Manager? - A Complete Guide

Server-Side Tracking (SST) along with Google Tag Manager offers a transformative approach to data collection, data accuracy, and privacy challenges.

By: Hareem Sajjad | 6 mins read
Published: Aug 10, 2023 2:10:52 AM | Updated: Jun 12, 2024 01:50:07 AM

Before server-side tracking revolutionized the field of capturing and processing data on the server, client-side tracking was dominant. It has a ton of issues regarding data privacy and inaccurate or misleading data due to ad-blockers.

Forbes highlighted this issue by stating that businesses are misled on their website traffic analytics by 25% due to ad-blockers which may show only 5000 of your website traffic when it is 6000.

Validating this stance, Martech also reported that 40% of your analytics data could be skewed due to ad blockers. Forbes mentioned that only 1 out of 4 businesses are leveraging from ad-blocker, whereas, the rest are suffering from inaccurate analytical tools.

Therefore, server-side tracking needs to be adopted immediately. Integrating server-side tracking with Google Tag Manager will help you tag trackers in the server for data accuracy, enhanced website performance, and better data privacy.

Get in touch to avail yourself of our Google Tag Manager Consultancy services.

What is Server-Side Tracking? - Key Concepts

Server-Side Tracking (SST) is a data collection methodology that captures and processes data on the server, away from the user's device or browser. This approach offers several key concepts that provide advantages in terms of data accuracy, privacy, and performance.

Information:

Traditional client-side tracking executes tags and scripts within the user's browser, whereas, SST shifts the data processing load to the server level.

SST processes data on the server which minimizes discrepancies caused by ad-blockers, browser inconsistencies, and network latency. Additionally, it enhances website performance by reducing the reliance on client-side technologies leading to better user experiences.

Moreover, it helps address data privacy concerns by limiting the amount of user data exposed on the client side which can help organizations comply with privacy regulations and build trust with their users.

Furthermore, SST can manage tags from the server side, thereby, giving marketers and analysts more control over how data is collected and processed. This flexibility can lead to better organization and streamlined workflows.

Server-Side Tagging Fundamentals

Server-Side Tagging fundamentals encompass the core principles and mechanisms behind its advanced data collection approach where tags are executed within the user's browser and tags are fired from a server environment. 

At its core, SST is the moving of processing and execution of tags away from the user's browser and onto a server. This improves website performance, as the user's device is not burdened with executing multiple scripts. 

Additionally, it can mitigate issues caused by ad-blockers, ensuring more accurate data collection. It also reduces the exposure of user data on the client side thus enhancing user trust and organizational compliance with data protection regulations by enabling better data privacy. 

Moreover, SST provides a streamlined approach to tag management. Instead of relying on various scripts scattered across different web pages, tags can be managed centrally on the server. This simplifies maintenance and updates, leading to more efficient workflows.

To optimize their data collection processes, organizations need to understand the fundamentals of SST. These concepts can allow businesses to harness the power of server-side tagging to improve data accuracy, user experience, and overall digital analytics capabilities.

Benefits of Server-Side Tracking

Server-Side Tracking offers a range of compelling benefits that make it a valuable approach for data collection and analytics. 

Here are some key benefits of adopting SST:

  • Enhanced Data Accuracy and Reliability: Data discrepancies caused by factors like ad-blockers, browser inconsistencies, and slow-loading scripts are reduced.
  • Improved Website Performance: Tracking tags are executed on the server, leading to faster page load times, improved website performance, better user experience, and lower bounce rates.
  • Effective Ad-Blocker Mitigation: Helps bypass ad-blocker limitations on client-side tracking scripts by executing tags on the server and ensures that data is captured even when users have ad-blockers enabled.
  • Data Privacy and Compliance: Minimizes the exposure of user data on the client side, addressing privacy concerns and helping organizations comply with data protection regulations such as GDPR and CCPA.
  • Centralized Tag Management: Allows for centralized tag management and deployment which simplifies the process of adding, updating, or removing tracking tags, leading to more efficient workflows and reduced maintenance efforts.
  • Flexibility and Customization: Offers greater flexibility in implementing custom tracking solutions. This enables organizations to tailor data collection processes to their specific needs, ensuring that relevant data points are captured accurately.
  • Cross-Domain Tracking: Facilitates cross-domain tracking without the challenges associated with client-side tracking, such as third-party cookie restrictions which is valuable for businesses with multiple online properties or complex user journeys.

Server-Side Tagging in Google Tag Manager

The implementation of SST within Google Tag Manager (GTM) involves a strategic configuration process that enables the execution of tracking tags from the server side. 

This approach offers various advantages, including improved data accuracy, enhanced website performance, and better data privacy. 

Here's a step-by-step guide to implementing SST in GTM:

  • Assess Your Requirements: Assess your tracking needs and objectives and determine which tracking tags need to be executed on the server side and define the data points you want to capture.
  • Choose a Server-Side Provider: Select a server-side provider that aligns with your organization's requirements such as Google Cloud’s Tag Manager 360 that offers SST solutions that integrate with GTM.
  • Set Up a Server Container: Create a server container within your chosen server-side provider that will house the tracking tags and configurations that will be executed on the server side.
  • Configure Tags: Set up the tracking tags you want to execute on the server side within the server container. This may involve configuring various parameters, triggers, and variables specific to your tracking needs.
  • Configure Data Routing: Define how data will be routed from your website to the server container. It typically involves modifying your website's code to send data to the server-side provider's endpoint.
  • Integrate with GTM: In your GTM account, create a new server container and configure the integration with your chosen server-side provider to establish a connection between GTM and the server container.
  • Configure Triggers and Variables: Set up triggers and variables within GTM to determine when specific tags should be fired from the server side based on user interactions, page views, or other events.
  • Test and Debug: Thoroughly test the implementation to ensure that tags are firing correctly from the server side by using debugging tools and monitoring data flow to identify and address any issues.

Tip:

Ensure that you continuously monitor the performance of your server-side tracking implementation. Use analytics tools to assess data accuracy, website performance, and user behavior for this purpose.

Moreover, Keep simultaneous updates and developments in both GTM and your chosen server-side provider. As technologies evolve, staying informed will help you optimize your server-side tracking strategy.

Server-Side Tracking and Data Privacy

SST plays a pivotal role in addressing data privacy concerns while maintaining robust data analytics capabilities. As digital landscapes become more regulated and privacy-conscious, organizations are seeking methods to collect and process user data responsibly. 

One of the main challenges in client-side tracking is the reliance on cookies, which can be susceptible to ad-blockers and other privacy tools. SST helps mitigate this challenge by shifting the data collection process to the server, reducing the dependency on client-side cookies. 

This not only enhances data accuracy but also aligns with privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

By executing tracking tags on the server, organizations can curtail the amount of user data accessible to third parties and potentially malicious scripts. 

SST ensures that only aggregated and anonymized data is transmitted to analytics platforms, safeguarding individual user identities. This approach fosters user trust, which is crucial for maintaining a positive brand reputation and user engagement.

Furthermore, SST enables granular control over data collection, allowing organizations to implement data retention and deletion policies effectively. 

Data subjects' rights, such as the right to access and erase personal data, can be more easily fulfilled through server-side tracking mechanisms.

Optimizing Performance with Server-Side Tracking

Optimizing performance is a critical aspect of maximizing the benefits of SST that can be done by fine-tuning various components of your SST implementation. 

The key strategies to optimize SST performance are:

  • Minimize Server Response Time: Optimize your server infrastructure to ensure swift server response for maintaining a seamless user experience, minimal response times, and reduced latency in firing tracking tags.
  • Load Balancing: Implement load balancing mechanisms to distribute incoming requests evenly across multiple servers to prevent server overload during peak traffic periods and maintain consistent performance.
  • Caching Strategies: Utilize caching techniques to store frequently requested data and responses to improve server response times and reduce the need for repetitive data processing.
  • Compression: Compress data payloads before transmitting them from the server to the client to reduce the data transfer size, leading to faster loading times and improved page performance.
  • Asynchronous Tag Loading: Implement asynchronous loading of tracking tags to prevent tags from blocking page rendering to ensure that tag execution does not hinder the loading of other page elements.
  • Prioritize Critical Tags: Identify critical tracking tags that directly impact user experience or data collection.

Conclusion

Server-Side Tracking (SST) offers a transformative approach to data collection, addressing accuracy, performance, and privacy challenges. It shifts the processing to servers to enhance data accuracy, mitigate ad blockers, and comply with privacy regulations. 

SST has many benefits that span from improved website performance and streamlined tag management to safeguarding user identities. 

You can unlock SST’s full potential through strategic implementation by using platforms like Google Tag Manager that will guide your business toward precise data collection and fortified privacy measures. 

In an intricate digital landscape, SST emerges as an efficient, compliant, and trust-building solution. It signifies a paradigm shift where data flows seamlessly, and user privacy remains paramount.

 

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