Server Side Tagging in Google Tag Manager – What is it? Should we use it?

Written by Michael Wilson

Michael is the Digital Analytics Director at GlowMetrics, implementing complex tracking for our largest clients via Google Tag Manager while leading our wider analytics work across Google Analytics, Data Studio and Optimize.
August 19, 2020

Google Tag Manager is one of our favourite tools which allows us to control all our advanced tracking and conversion pixels from within one interface.  Until now, GTM has been a client-based system – in other words, it loads with your page and any tracking hits that need to be sent happen from within the user’s browser.

The visualisation below shows you how things have been done with GTM so far:-

 

https://developers.google.com/tag-manager/serverside/intro

 

That is now about to change – or at least, we’re being given the opportunity to do things differently thanks to Google’s announcement that server-side tagging is coming to Google Tag Manager.

 

What is Server Side Tagging?

 

Server side tagging allows us to move the tracking so that the hits are no longer sent from the user’s browser – instead, the requests are actioned from a server which sits in the cloud – moving the data collection process from client side to server side.

 

https://developers.google.com/tag-manager/serverside/intro

 

What are the Advantages of Server Side Tagging?

 

  • Faster Page Loading

You will no longer have to load lots of scripts on your website to send data to multiple third parties (e.g. Google Analytics, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter) – you can send one request to the server and it can send the data on wherever it is needed.

 

  • Increased Security & Control of Data

Rather than relying on third party scripts to collect data – putting the trust in the vendor – you have full control over exactly what data will be transmitted.

 

  • Broader scope for GDPR compliance

Browsers are increasingly blocking tracking and limiting cookie usage with the introduction of ITP and so on.  Privacy is an important issue and websites must ensure they are GDPR compliant but moving tracking to the server-side will theoretically bring with it solutions to ensure non-PII data can still be collected, allowing us to approach data collection in a more nuanced way rather than the current all or nothing approach.

 

What are the Disadvantages of Server Side Tagging?

 

  • It’s not free

To use server-side tagging, you need… a server. At present, you’ll need to use the Google Cloud Platform.  The cost depends on the number of hits you’ll be sending but you’re likely going to be looking at a couple hundred pounds/euros/dollars per month.

 

  • Involves a Technical Rebuild

It is a completely new way of tagging your website – so you’d have to tear it down and rebuild it – and if you think GTM is currently ‘complicated’, brace yourself…

 

  • Still in Beta

Maybe wait until the full release before investing a lot of time and money into it.  The future of data collection is a little unclear right now with increased legislation, privacy concerns, browser updates and so on.  While it’s good to be an early adopter, it may be sensible to hold tight and see what happens in the coming months before making drastic changes…

 

For a much more in-depth look at the pros and cons of server-side tagging, we’d recommend Simo Ahava’s blog and of course, Google’s official documentation.

 

 

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