When it comes to tracking, or tracking of websites or mobile applications, professionals generally use side tracking, or client-side tracking, which is generally carried out via beacons in Google Tag Manager (GTM).
This method involves setting up a beacon that collects data from the browser (client) and sends it directly to individual data services such as Google Ads, Analytics, and Facebook.
In August 2020, Google announced the launch of “server-side tagging”, which means you can now run Google Tag Manager in a server environment. Currently, Google has only launched the beta version, but this could herald a paradigm shift, geared towards new dynamic tagging methods in the future.
In this article, we will first see what this new solution offered by Google consists of, then explain how it works step by step. Finally, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of server-side tagging.
What is server-side tagging?
Server tagging is a new way to use Google Tag Manager (GTM) in the Google cloud environment.
It has its own benefits, such as reduced page load times, improved security, and better control over the data you send to Analytics and third-party tools. Like the normal Google Tag Manager container, which resides in a client-side environment, the server-side container resides in the Google cloud environment.
A server container also uses the same concepts like tags, triggers, and variables, which you’ve probably used before if you’re using Google Tag Manager. A server container acts as a proxy environment in the cloud that you own. Instead of sending hits (A tracking hit – or tracking request – is a packet of data transmitted to Google Analytics servers) directly to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Phone Number List endpoint server (like in GTM client side), you send hits to a GTM container on the server side and then to the endpoint server which collects the data.
Whenever a server request / request is made by a user with different devices, the configuration of Google Tag Manager without server markup depends on a container in a website to send the hits data to various third party servers, known as ” collection ”.
But in the case of server-side tagging, the configuration of Tag Manager runs in a cloud environment and therefore does not affect the performance of the website or apps by running multiple scripts on the devices.
The server container runs in the customer-owned Google cloud platform, and only the customer has access to the data that is sent to third-party tools. So you have full control over the data, as well as how it is routed to the third-party tool.
Let’s explain the working process of server-side tagging in a step-by-step method:
Step 1: When a user visits your website, a request for pageview is made to the web server through a server request.
Step 2: At the same time, the client-side GTM container triggers a ‘web tag’ which acts as an adapter between scripts executed on a user’s device and your server container. It takes the required data from the user’s device and sends it to the client in the server-side container.
Step 3: The client in the server container receives the “web beacon” metric data, processes that data into one or more events, and aggregates the final data to be returned to the person who made the request.
Step 4: Now in the server container, you can create multiple beacons / tags according to the requirements and then send them to the final third-party tool.
The advantages of server-side tagging
– Reduced page load time
The server container is configured so that it can map all incoming HTTP requests to the provider format required by third-party tools like Facebook, Hot Jar, Google Ads, and Analytics, for example.
– More security
In a typical GTM implementation, the GTM container resides on the client side and the data processing can be exposed to spammers who can send bogus pageviews and events to your property (analytics property).
However, in the case of server-side tagging, the data processing takes place in the cloud environment that only you own, and to which only you have access. This makes server-side markup more secure, as all access to third-party tools is based on credentials, without exposing sensitive data to the device.
– An additional control in the context of data collection
With server-side tagging, your server-side container resides between the user’s device and the endpoint / endpoint. It acts as an intermediary for requests made by users, processes them in the cloud, and then sends the data to the endpoint.
Since third-party tools do not have a direct connection to the user’s device, there is no data leakage or setting of third-party cookies. You have full control over the data sent to terminal tools, and these tools only communicate with your server.
The negative points
While server-side tagging has great benefits, there are a few critical issues worth evaluating before considering this solution as a definitive option for your marketing analytics efforts.
– The cost
With server-side tagging comes the cost of hosting for the server-side container in the cloud. Note that using the server-side GTM container is always free, and only cloud hosting is chargeable.
Typically, a minimum of three servers are required in Google’s cloud platform to host this solution, and it can cost up to $ 120 per month.
If you track more data, and process it in the cloud, the solution will cost more, depending on the number of calls to the server.
– Technical skills
Setting up and managing server-side tagging requires advanced analytical skills and technical knowledge of computer code to develop an analytical model. Thus, this solution is not recommended for everyone, because it can turn out to be much more complex than you might think at first glance.
– GTM resources available
Server-side GTM containers are similar to typical client-side GTM containers, but they lack the available tags and triggers. In fact, there are only three types of tags: “Google Analytics: App + Web”; “Google Analytics: Universal Analytics”; “Http Request”; and only one trigger, “Custom”.
In conclusion, we can say that Google’s server-side tagging allows to obtain great results in terms of tracking, in particular thanks to the reduction of the loading time of the pages, a more secure environment, and an increased control over the data.