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      Tag Management System

      Server-Side Tagging in GTM – The Future of Website Tracking

      Jul 04, 2024

      11 minute read

      The digital marketing landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. By the end of 2024, third-party cookies, a cornerstone of online advertising, will be phased out by Chrome and its derivatives. Safari and Firefox have already implemented Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) to block these trackers. This means traditional digital advertising techniques, which are heavily reliant on third-party cookies for audience targeting, are on the verge of obsolescence.

      But fear not, marketers! Server-side tagging with Google Tag Manager (GTM) offers a powerful solution for navigating this ever-growing landscape. This innovative approach empowers you to optimize website performance, enhance data accuracy, and ensure compliance with ever-stricter data privacy regulations, all while future-proofing your tracking strategy through dynamic and data-driven tagging.

      Server-side tagging allows for efficient server-side rendering (SSR) and tags, which streamline data collection and processing. This method ensures your tags are executed on the server side rather than the client side, offering a more secure and reliable tracking mechanism. Furthermore, integrating server-side tagging with a headless CMS and tags can significantly improve content delivery and user experience.

      Tag Management Systems (TMS) like GTM are evolving to meet a few new challenges. It includes – stricter data privacy regulations, third-party cookie deprecation, and a growing focus on user privacy. They provide the necessary infrastructure to manage tags dynamically and ensure seamless data flow across various platforms.

      This blog post explores server-side tagging, a privacy-focused approach to website tracking that offers greater control and performance. We’ll cover its advantages, key considerations, and how to get started. But before that, let’s find out if server-side tagging is an alternative for third-party cookies.

      Is Server-Side Tagging a Replacement for Third-Party Cookies?

      With the phase-out of third-party cookies on the horizon, marketers are seeking alternative solutions for user tracking and data collection. Server-side tagging (SST) has emerged as a strong viable alternative in this privacy-focused landscape.

      Unlike traditional cookies, which are placed directly by third-party domains, SST leverages a website’s server to manage tracking tags. This offers several advantages:

      1. Enhanced Privacy: Data collection occurs on the server side, minimizing user data exposure to third parties. This aligns better with evolving data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA.

      2. First-Party Data Control: Companies retain control over collected data, allowing them to leverage valuable first-party insights for marketing and analytics.

      3. Improved Security: Since sensitive data doesn’t reside directly on user devices, SST can potentially mitigate security risks associated with third-party cookies.

      However, SST is not a perfect replacement. Implementation can be more complex compared to traditional methods, and it may require additional technical resources.

      That being said, server-side tagging offers a promising solution for navigating the cookieless future. As the technology matures and adoption grows, SST is likely to play a significant role in unlocking a wealth of valuable first-party data insights while prioritizing user privacy.

      Legacy Website Configuration and the Rise of Server-Side Tagging

      Before the emergence of server-side tagging, website configuration for analytics and tracking purposes relied on a client-side approach. This method involved the direct integration of tracking code snippets, often managed by a Tag Management System (TMS) like Google Tag Manager (GTM), into website pages.

      Upon a user’s visit, these scripts would execute on their browser, collecting data on their activity (e.g., page views, clicks) and transmitting it to various analytics or marketing platforms.

      However, with the evolving landscape of data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA, coupled with limitations on third-party cookies, server-side tagging has emerged as a more robust and secure approach.

      Let’s delve deeper into the traditional configuration process and how server-side tagging addresses its shortcomings.

      The Limitations of Legacy Website Configuration:

      1. Manual Tag Management: Traditional tag management involves the manual insertion of code snippets for each desired analytics or marketing platform. This process, commonly referred to as “tag soup,” could become cumbersome and error-prone as the number of platforms integrated increases. The potential for configuration inconsistencies grows alongside the complexity, which can negatively impact data accuracy and collection efficiency.

      2. Client-Side Data Collection: Tracking code snippets resided directly on website pages. When a user visited the site, their browser would execute the code, collecting behavioral data. This inherent reliance on the client-side (user’s browser) for data collection raised privacy concerns, as user data became readily accessible to third-party platforms.

      3. Limited Control and Security Risks: Website owners possessed minimal control over the data collected and how it was utilized by third-party platforms. Additionally, the presence of third-party scripts on the website could introduce potential security vulnerabilities.

      The Introduction of Server-Side Tagging

      Traditional website configuration without server side tag manager

      Website configuration with server side tag manager

      Server-side tagging allows for more efficient and secure data collection by shifting the tag execution from the client (browser) to a server. This improves website performance, enhances data privacy, and provides better control over data flows, reducing the risk of data loss and ensuring compliance with privacy regulations.

      Unlike traditional methods where data collection occurs directly within the user’s browser, server-side tagging leverages a website’s own server environment for managing tracking tags.

      However, it’s important to distinguish between server-side tagging and server-side tracking, as these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

      Server-Side Tagging Vs. Server-Side Tracking

      While both server-side tagging and server-side tracking involve processing data on the server side, there’s a subtle difference in their functionalities:

      Server-side Tagging Server-side Tracking
      This approach focuses on managing and deploying tracking tags within a secure server environment. It acts as a central hub for collecting data from various sources and then sending it to designated analytics or marketing platforms according to pre-defined configurations. This term encompasses the broader process of collecting and analyzing user data on the server side. Server-side tagging is a key component that facilitates this process by providing a mechanism for deploying and managing tracking scripts within the server environment.

      In essence, server-side tagging is a tool that enables server-side tracking, offering a more granular level of control over data collection and transmission.

      Google Tag Manager Server-Side Tagging

      One of the popular solutions for implementing server-side tagging is Google Tag Manager (GTM) server-side containers. It allows marketers to leverage the familiar GTM interface for managing and deploying tags within a secure server environment.

      GTM server-side containers offer several advantages:

      1. Simplified Workflow: Existing GTM users can leverage their knowledge and workflows to manage server-side tags, reducing the learning curve.

      2. Centralized Management: All tags, including server-side and client-side, can be managed from a single platform, streamlining the overall tagging process.

      3. Flexibility: GTM server-side containers provide flexibility for integrating it with various analytics and marketing platforms, future-proofing your tagging strategy.

      While server-side tagging offers a compelling alternative, it’s essential to consider the potential drawbacks, such as increased implementation complexity and the requirement for additional technical expertise. However, as server-side tagging becomes more established and user adoption increases, solutions like GTM server-side containers are poised to become a cornerstone in navigating the cookieless future while prioritizing user privacy.

      Having explored the concept of server-side tagging and its integration with familiar platforms like Google Tag Manager, let’s revisit the traditional client-side approach and directly compare the two methods to understand the key differences and advantages of server-side tagging.

      Client-Side Tagging vs. Server-Side Tagging

      As we move towards a more privacy-focused future, understanding the key differences between client-side tagging and server-side tagging is crucial for website owners and marketers.

      Client side tagging vs server side tagging

      Let’s delve into a side-by-side comparison to highlight the advantages of server-side tagging:

      Parameter Client-Side Tagging Server-Side Tagging
      Data Collection Location Tracking code snippets reside on the website pages themselves. When a user visits the site, their browser executes the code, collecting data directly from the user’s device. Data collection occurs on the website’s server. User data is sent to the server first, where the server-side tag then processes and transmits the data to designated platforms.
      Privacy and Control User data is readily accessible within the user’s browser, raising privacy concerns. Limited control exists over how third-party platforms utilize the collected data. Data processing on the server minimizes user data exposure on the client side (browser). This enhances user privacy and aligns better with data privacy regulations. Additionally, website owners retain greater control over the collected data.
      Security Reliance on third-party scripts on the website can introduce potential security vulnerabilities. Since sensitive data doesn’t reside directly on user devices, server-side tagging can potentially mitigate security risks associated with third-party cookies.
      Implementation Complexity Generally easier to implement, requiring the manual insertion of code snippets or utilizing a Tag Management System (TMS) like Google Tag Manager. May require additional technical expertise and server-side development resources for configuration and maintenance.
      Future-Proofing The effectiveness of client-side tagging might diminish as browser restrictions on third-party cookies tighten. A more future-proof solution that can adapt to evolving privacy regulations and browser limitations.

      Benefits of Server-Side Tagging

      So, why should you consider server-side tagging with GTM? Here are some compelling reasons:

      1. Enhanced Privacy & Regulation Compliance: Third-party cookie deprecation and stricter data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA pose significant challenges for client-side tagging. Server-side tagging empowers you to collect data on your server, giving you greater control over what information is gathered and how it’s used. This fosters a privacy-first approach and simplifies compliance with evolving regulations, enhancing user privacy and data security.

      2. Improved Data Accuracy & Security: Browser limitations can sometimes lead to data discrepancies in client-side tagging. Server-side tagging eliminates this concern by leveraging your server’s processing power for data collection. This ensures enhanced data accuracy and allows server-side scripts to perform data manipulation tasks like anonymization before sending it to analytics platforms, ensuring data quality and adherence to privacy regulations. This method increases security by reducing potential vulnerabilities in client-side processes.

      3. Greater Control & Management: Gain granular control over tag deployment and management with server-side GTM. You can define precisely which data points are collected, and when they are sent, and leverage server-side processing for complex rules and filtering. This greater control over tags minimizes the risk of exposure through browser vulnerabilities, further enhancing overall security.

      4. Reduced Reliance on Client-Side Resources: Server-side tagging takes the burden off the user’s device by minimizing the amount of code executed in the browser. This can lead to faster page load speeds and a smoother user experience, especially on slower devices or connections. Improved SEO performance can also be a beneficial side effect, as faster-loading pages are favored by search engines.

      5. Improved Campaign Management: Server-side tagging allows for more sophisticated data collection and user behavior analysis. You can leverage server-side processing to create custom user segments and tailor marketing campaigns with greater precision, potentially leading to improved campaign performance. This flexibility can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your marketing strategies.

      6. Data Enrichment: Server-side GTM empowers you to enrich user data with additional information from your server-side databases before sending it to analytics platforms. This can provide a more holistic view of user behavior and interactions, leading to more effective marketing strategies. Enhanced data accuracy from enriched data allows for better decision-making and targeting.

      7. Flexibility and Scalability: Server-side tagging offers greater flexibility since it allows easier integration with various analytics and marketing platforms. It can also adapt and scale more efficiently as your website grows and your tracking needs evolve. This adaptability ensures that as your business and data requirements change, your data collection methods remain robust and compliant.

      Server-side tagging with GTM can be a powerful tool for navigating the cookieless future while prioritizing user privacy, data security, and marketing effectiveness. This comprehensive approach not only meets current regulatory standards but also prepares your business for future challenges.

      Things to Consider Before Starting with Server-Side Tagging

      Before diving into server-side tagging, here are some factors you need to consider:

      1. Potential for Slower Tag Firing: Compared to client-side tagging, there’s a slight possibility of slower tag firing with server-side tagging due to the additional server-side processing involved. However, optimization techniques can often mitigate this potential drawback.

      2. Implementation Costs: Setting up server-side tagging might require additional server-side infrastructure, incurring some cost and complexity. However, cloud-based hosting platforms offer cost-effective solutions, and the long-term benefits often outweigh the initial investment.

      3. Technical Expertise: Implementing server-side tagging might require some technical expertise, particularly for complex setups. However, Google provides extensive resources and documentation, and GTM’s user-friendly interface streamlines the process significantly.

      GDPR and Server-Side Tagging

      Data privacy regulations like GDPR demand website owners to adopt compliant tracking solutions. Server-side tagging shines here, offering a perfect match for GDPR compliance.

      Why it Works:

      1. Transparency & Consent: More control over data collection on the server allows for clear user consent mechanisms, a GDPR must-have.

      2. Data Minimization: Server-side scripting languages (e.g., Python, PHP) can filter data before sending, adhering to the principle of collecting only essential user information.

      3. Data Subject Rights: Server-side tagging, with strong data layer integration, simplifies managing user rights to access, rectify, or erase their data.

      Technical Considerations:

      1. Secure Data Transmission: Secure data transmission methods (e.g., HTTPS) are vital for chosen tag implementation methods (APIs, server-side frameworks).

      2. Tag Firing Rules and Triggers: Tag firing rules should respect user consent to ensure data collection only happens when approved.

      3. Debugging and Troubleshooting: Implement a robust debugging and troubleshooting process to identify and fix potential data privacy breaches quickly.

      Setting Up Server-Side Tagging with Google Tag Manager

      Server-side tagging with GTM is no longer a futuristic concept – it’s a practical reality. Popular platforms like Google Tag Manager (GTM) now offer server-side container options, making implementation more accessible.

      Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

      1. Preparation: Before diving in, ensure you have a solid understanding of traditional client-side tagging with GTM. This foundational knowledge will be helpful when navigating the server-side environment.

      2. Create a Server-Side Container: Head over to your GTM workspace and choose “New Container.” Under “Container Type,” select “Server-side.” Give your container a descriptive name and click “Create.”

      3. Link Your Website: You’ll need to link your website to the server-side container. This process involves adding a small snippet of code to your website’s server end-side environment. Google provides specific instructions based on your server setup (e.g., Apache, Nginx).

      4. Configure Tags, Triggers, and Variables (Optional): Similar to client-side GTM, you can configure tags (tracking tools), triggers (when the tag fires), and variables (dynamic data) within the server-side container.

      5. Test and Preview: Before deploying changes live, thoroughly test your server-side tags using GTM’s preview and debug mode. This ensures everything functions as intended.

      6. Deployment: Once testing is complete, you can publish your server-side container to make the changes live on your website.

      How Grazitti Can Help You Implement Server-Side Tagging?

      Server-side tagging is a game-changer for website analytics in the face of stricter privacy regulations and the elimination of third-party cookies. It moves data collection from the visitor’s browser to your secure server, offering several advantages. First, it enhances privacy and compliance by giving you more control over what data is gathered and how it’s used. Second, server-side processing improves data accuracy and security. Finally, it grants you greater control over tag management and filtering. As data privacy takes center stage, server-side tagging equips you with a future-proof solution for gathering reliable insights while respecting user privacy.

      Grazitti’s team possesses extensive experience in website analytics and data privacy regulations. Their understanding of both these areas can be instrumental in guiding clients through the implementation of server-side tagging in an effective and compliant way.

      Boost Data Accuracy & Control with Server-Side Tagging – Get Started

      Want to implement server-side tagging? Drop us a line at [email protected], and we’ll secure your website tracking processes.


      1. What is server-side tagging, and how is it different from regular tagging?

      Traditional tagging (client-side) involves placing code snippets directly on your website pages. These scripts collect user data within the user’s browser and send it to analytics platforms. Server-side tagging, on the other hand, leverages your website’s server environment to manage tracking tags. Data collection occurs on the server, offering greater control and enhanced privacy.

      2. Why is server-side tagging gaining popularity?

      Two major factors are driving the rise of server-side tagging: privacy concerns and the deprecation of third-party cookies. With stricter data regulations and limitations on cookies, server-side tagging offers a more secure and privacy-conscious approach to data collection.

      3. Does server-side tagging mean I don’t need user consent anymore?

      No, user consent remains crucial. Server-side tagging simply provides a more secure way to collect and manage data based on user consent preferences. You’ll still need to obtain clear and granular consent from users before collecting any data.

      4. Is server-side tagging complex to set up?

      While it offers advantages, server-side tagging can involve additional technical steps compared to traditional tagging. However, platforms like Google Tag Manager (GTM) offer server-side container options, making implementation more accessible.

      5. What are the benefits of using server-side tagging?

      Server-side tagging offers several benefits, including:
      a. Enhanced privacy and security for user data
      b. Greater control over what data is collected and how it’s used
      c. Improved compliance with data privacy regulations
      d. Potentially faster page load times due to reduced browser workload

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