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Server Side Tracking: the full explanation

Server Side Tracking is the new method of collecting online data. Online privacy changes are making data collection increasingly limited and burdensome. Online data collection is now done primarily through cookies. However, Google indicates that these tracking cookies, including third-party and cross-domain, will disappear within a few years. Google itself has pushed back the deadline several times, but the fact is that everyone will eventually have to comply. The disappearance of third-party cookies means that collecting data and drawing the right conclusions will become increasingly difficult. Currently, we are already noticing data loss in several sectors, rising to 30%. This is because tracking is blocked due to various causes. More on that later in this blog.

Server-side tagging is the solution to continue collecting privacy-friendly (GDPR proof), all data. It is the logical, next step in marketing strategy. But what does Server Side Tracking entail? And how does the installation work? In this article, we will take you into the world of Server Side Tracking.

What is Server Side Tracking?

This is the question we get most often. Server Side Tracking is an alternative to client side tagging, the traditional way of tagging. Here you place the pixels and cookies, directly in the user’s browser. From there, user data is sent to the software you use (Google Analytics, Google Ads, etc.). The downside is that this data stream can be blocked.

With Server Side Tracking, the data flow runs differently. In this, you load the tracking scripts from your own domain and send the data to your own server first. As a result, you create an intermediate layer. From your own server you can control, which data is shared with which software. The major advantage of this method is that the data stream cannot be blocked. But there are other benefits.

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The benefits of Server Side Tracking

Server Side Tracking has several benefits. The most important are:

  • More data at your disposal
  • GDPR proof
  • Faster website
  • More control over your data
  • More flexibility

Curious about all the benefits of Server Side Tracking? Then check out this blog.


1: More data at your disposal

The great thing about online marketing is data. In many cases, you can directly calculate the return on investment (ROI) of your marketing campaigns. This is possible through tracking cookies and tagging conversions. But that also has a dark side. For privacy reasons, the average user is increasingly uncomfortable with being tracked. The simple solution is to place a cookie banner. However, more and more users and companies are taking matters into their own hands. For example, browsers such as Safari and Firefox block third-party cookies and the latest Iphones (iOS 14.5) also offer users the option of not being tracked. Finally, ad blockers also inhibit data flow for some users. The summation of this means you have less and less data at your disposal.

This makes the return on your campaigns harder to measure and the campaigns themselves have less data to adjust. Indeed, online advertising platforms (Google, Facebook) are increasingly algorithm-driven. You see this, for example, with the introduction of performance max campaigns. More (good) data in, means more conversion out.

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2: GDPR proof

The General Data Regulation plays an increasingly prominent role. Compliance with privacy requirements is becoming more important. This is evidenced, for example, by the lawsuits filed against Google over its use of Google Analytics. Several parties claim this is not in line with the GDPR because the data is stored on servers in the US. This allows the FBI to gain insight into European data.

Again, Server Side Tracking offers a solution. By hosting the data on a European server, you avoid this discussion. At TAGGRS, we host on Dutch servers by default, so you can always continue to use Google Analytics legally.

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3: Faster website

Loading additional scripts takes more loading time. So if you load in all the pixels and cookies from the traditional client side, it extends the loading time of the website. This has a detrimental effect on the user experience, as well as on findability of your website in the search engines (SEO). With Server Side Tracking, loading time is reduced because this is controlled synchronously in the server. We did a study on how much faster your website gets by Server Side Tracking, check it out here.

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4: More control over your data

With client side tagging, you make the data available to the tags you install. With Server Side Tracking, you have more control over what data you want to share and what data you don’t. In some industries, this can be very important. Consider health-related websites, government affairs or sensitive issues.

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5: More flexibility

Companies are using more and more different software for business processes. And every software collects data. The trick to unifying these data. Server Side Tracking offers many opportunities for this. An API allows you to get data from different software into the GTM server container. From there, you can decide what data to combine and forward. For example, you can enrich conversion data with data from your CRM system. This can ensure more conversions from your marketing campaigns.

Are there any drawbacks?

Each solution has advantages and disadvantages. So does Server Side Tracking. The three main drawbacks are:

1: Not every software has the capability for SST yet

A good example of this is Hotjar. You can only install this tag client-side. By using the Google Tag Manager setup we recommend, this is not a problem. You can put both Server Side and Client Side tags in there.

2: The complexity

Setting up tigs, triggers and variables in the web container is now well documented. Server Side Tracking is an additional dimension you add to the existing structure. Developments in this are still so recent that not much has been documented. This will change in the coming years, of course, as more and more companies start using them. Setting up can be complicated, but we’ve created a complete checklist to help you.

3: The cost

To use Server Side Tracking via Google Tag Manager, you need server space. And you can arrange this through Google Cloud. However, this comes at a price. Monthly fees start at €120 per month. Because of the large scale of Google Cloud and its many features, they have to have this pricing. With TAGGRS, we have developed a focused Server Side Tracking hosting product. This allows us to offer this at an attractive rate. Our paid subscriptions start as low as €25 per month. And for small websites, we are free.

What is the difference between a Web container and a Server container?

Simply put, in a Webcontainer you collect data via tags that are sent directly to the user’s browser. On the other hand, with a server container, you send the data to a server first, then you decide which data goes to which platforms such as Google Analytics.

Currently, many companies still work with a method in which data is first sent to the webcontainer, which in turn forwards the data to the server container. However, this process is subject to change, especially because of upcoming laws and regulations.

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Future Changes in Legislation

If you are using Server Side Tracking now, you are probably using both the current method (Web Container) + Server Side Tracking (Server Container). However, this process is subject to change, especially because of upcoming laws and regulations. In all likelihood, the current method via the Web container will be quietly phased out, leaving only Server Side Tracking via the server container.

Why Will This Change?

The current method via webcontainer is coming under increasing pressure due to strict privacy laws such as GDPR and Privacy regulations. As a result, this approach will eventually even be banned. So it is crucial for enterprises to think now about migrating to a full server container approach for data tracking and processing.

How do you get started with Server Side Tracking?

You understand the benefits and are eager to get started, but how do you do it? We understand better than anyone that Server Side Tracking seems very complex at first glance. And it is. Our mission is to make SST accessible to every business.

Server Side Tracking can be implemented in many ways, but through Google Tag Manager is our preference. GTM is used by many companies, so it makes sense to build on it. This is how you build an extension to your existing tag structure. This ensures that you don’t have to rearrange everything.

Google Tag Manager is used differently by each company. Web shops use it for ecommerce tracking, B2B companies for measuring leads and foundations for measuring engagement. As a result, there is no one way of implementation that works perfectly for every company. However, there are some steps you need to take to get started with GTM Server Side Tracking. Below is a list of the steps you need to take to get started.

  1. A Google Tag Manager web container
  2. Optional: a working datalayer (for web shops and online sales)
  3. A Google Tag Manager server container
  4. A subdomain for the server
  5. Hosting for the server

Using TAGGRS, we take you step by step through this setup. During setup, we will explain to you all the components step by step to set this up for your business.

The benefit of Server Side Tracking via Google Tag Manager is that it is built on top of your existing structure. This means that you can easily add it and also vice versa: bring it back to its current state. As a result, you can start testing what this method means for your business fairly risk-free.

Start transitioning to Server Side Tracking

Want to take advantage of the benefits that Server Side Tracking provides for your business and/or your customers? Then create a TAGGRS account for free. We offer you the setup and guidance to get everything out of your tracking.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I don’t make the switch to Server Side tagging?

If you don’t switch to Server Side Tracking and more and more browsers are blocking third-party cookies, both the quality and quantity of your data collection will drastically decline. You only measure significantly fewer events on your website. As a result, your campaigns are going to perform a lot worse. In addition, you get a lot of traffic that cannot be assigned to the right sources. Also, without Server Side Tracking, you may not comply with GDPR/GDPR.

Does my website still need a cookie banner?

A cookie banner will still be required when you switch to Server Side Tracking. You will, of course, continue to collect data from users on your website through cookies. Although these cookies are now first-party cookies instead of third-party cookies, you are still required to inform your website users about them and give them the choice of whether or not to agree to them.

How much extra money does Server Side Tracking make me?

As is often the case in marketing, it is difficult to predict what a particular action will directly produce. In any case, what we know for sure is that with Server Side Tagging you collect more and better quality data. Also, your website will become a faster. Ultimately, this will lead to more better optimized campaigns that in turn lead to more conversions/money.

Ready for the next level?

Start with Server Side Tracking and generate more revenue and conversions in a world without third-party cookies.