Server Side Tagging: Everything you need to know!

Akanksha Chandan
6 min readMay 22, 2024
Server Side Tagging in GTM

The world of digital marketing is evolving so quickly that every day we have something new to explore. Enter Server-side tagging, the new way for collecting data and user tracking.

Imagine you run a fantastic bakery with the most delicious cookies in town. You want to know how many people come in, which cookies they like the most, and if they come back for more. But here’s the twist: you can’t peek directly into their shopping baskets.

This is kind of how traditional website tracking works. You place tiny “tags” on your website, like little digital crumbs, to see how people navigate your pages. The problem? Some people might not want these crumbs tracked, just like some customers might not want you watching their every move in the bakery.

This is where server side tagging comes in. It’s a new way to collect website data that’s more private and powerful, giving you a clearer picture of your “cookie customers” without feeling intrusive.

As we explore this new method of tracking users, we also need to understand the shortcomings of the old method. So, let’s explore the what, why, when, and how of server side tagging to understand it in the true sense.

What is Server Side Tagging?

Think of your website as a storefront, and your server as the bakery itself. Traditionally, tracking tags live on the storefront window, right in the customer’s view. With server-side tagging, these tags move “behind the scenes” to the bakery, working on your server instead of the customer’s browser.

This means the customer (website visitor) doesn’t see anything happening. They browse freely, and all the tracking information gets collected securely on your server.

But,

You must be thinking, how does it even matter, the method has changed but the concept of tracking user behavior remains the same. How is server side tagging more ethical than client side tagging?

Client-Side Tagging vs. Server-Side Tagging: The Transparency Gap

Traditional client-side tagging can be ethically problematic. Users might be unaware of the extent of data collection happening behind the scenes, creating a sense of being monitored without their knowledge. Additionally, client-side tagging often offers limited control over what data is collected and how it’s used. This lack of transparency and user agency can raise concerns, especially for privacy-conscious individuals.

Source: Google Help

Why Use Server-Side Tagging?

There are several reasons why server-side tagging is becoming popular, with cookie depreciation being a major game-changer:

  • Privacy First: These days, people care more about their online privacy. Server-side tagging allows you to ask for their permission (consent) before collecting any data. This keeps you on the right side of privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA.
  • Ad Blocker Buster: Imagine someone putting up a giant “Do Not Track” sign on your bakery window. That’s what ad blockers do to traditional website tags. Server-side tagging works behind the scenes, so ad blockers can’t stop it!
  • Faster Website: Remember those tiny crumbs? Too many of them can slow down your bakery window (website). Server-side tagging keeps the storefront clean and fast, making your website load quicker for customers.
  • Accurate Data: Sometimes, the “crumbs” on your storefront window might get mixed up or blown away by the wind. Server-side tagging lets you organize and double-check the data before storing it, making sure it’s accurate and gives you the right picture.
  • Cookie Crumbling (The Big One!): Third-party cookies, those little trackers used by many websites, are going out of style. Browsers like Chrome are blocking them to protect user privacy. Server-side tagging doesn’t rely on these cookies, so it can still track website visitors effectively.

Recommended Read: How GTM & GA4 Will Adapt to the Cookieless Future

When is the Right Time to Implement Server-Side Tagging?

Just like deciding when to bake a delicious batch of cookies, there’s no single “perfect time” for everyone to jump into server-side tagging. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. You’re Feeling the Heat of Cookie Depreciation: As mentioned earlier, third-party cookies are on the decline. If you rely heavily on them for tracking website visitors and their behavior, you’re at risk of losing valuable data. Server-side tagging offers a future-proof solution by collecting data independent of cookies.
  2. Privacy is Your Top Priority: Consumers are becoming increasingly privacy-conscious. If you value transparency and user trust, server-side tagging allows you to request explicit consent for data collection. This puts you in control of responsible data practices.
  3. You’re Battling Ad Blockers: Feeling frustrated by ad blockers hindering your website tracking? Server-side tagging swoops in like a superhero, collecting data on your server where ad blockers can’t reach it.
  4. Speed is Key for Your Website: Does your website feel sluggish due to a ton of tracking tags? Server-side tagging can lighten the load by processing data on your server, keeping your website running smoothly for visitors.
  5. You’re Dealing with Complex Data Needs: Do you need to manipulate or enrich data before sending it to analytics platforms? Server-side tagging gives you the flexibility to process data on your server, ensuring clean and insightful information.

Here’s a handy rule of thumb: If any of these situations sound familiar, server-side tagging is definitely worth exploring. It’s a future-oriented approach that can benefit your website in the long run.

But Wait, There’s More!

Even if you don’t face these challenges immediately, considering server-side tagging now can be a smart move. It allows you to:

  • Future-Proof Your Tracking: Stay ahead of the curve by getting familiar with server-side tagging before cookie dependence becomes a bigger issue.
  • Gain a Competitive Edge: By implementing server-side tagging early, you can gather more accurate and reliable data compared to competitors who rely solely on cookies.
  • Be Prepared for Change: The digital landscape is constantly evolving. Having a basic understanding of server-side tagging prepares you to adapt to future changes in data collection methods.

Ultimately, the decision to implement server-side tagging depends on your specific needs and priorities. But by considering the factors mentioned above, you can make an informed choice about whether it’s the right baking recipe (approach) for your website.

How to Implement Server-Side Tagging

Implementing server-side tagging might seem complex at first, but it can be broken down into manageable steps. Here’s a roadmap to get you started:

  1. Choose Your Platform: There are various tools available, similar to selecting a development environment. Popular options include Google Cloud Platform (GCP) with Google Tag Manager (GTM) Server containers. Alternatively, you can build your own server-side tagging solution from scratch.
  2. Container Configuration: Think of a container as a designated workspace for your server-side tagging setup. You’ll need to configure your chosen container, similar to setting up a traditional GTM container. This involves defining tags (instructions for data collection), triggers (events that activate the tags), and variables (dynamic elements used within tags and triggers).
  3. Data Collection & Processing: This step involves determining how data from your website or app will reach your server-side container. It might involve sending messages (API calls) or writing custom code to bridge the gap between your platform and the container.
  4. Testing & Deployment: Just like testing a new recipe before serving it, it’s crucial to rigorously test your server-side tagging setup. This ensures everything functions as intended before deploying it live on your website.

Book a complimentary consultation for GTM Services with Google experts to gain deeper insights into your GTM setup and how you can enhance it for the cookieless future.

--

--

Akanksha Chandan

MBA — Marketing & International Management | Senior Marketing Specialist | Sprouting Interest in Psychology