A Deep Dive into GTM: Understanding Server-Side Tagging

By admin

  • January 25, 2024,

Amid the rising privacy concerns and the imminent death of third-party cookies, Google introduced SGTM (Server-Side Google Tag Manager) as a data tracking alternative in 2020. It moves the control of data tracking from third parties to the first parties, enabling website administrators and marketers to choose the data they want to share with third parties.

All of this can sound complicated unless you don’t fully understand how server-side tracking works. But before that, let’s take a quick look at the workings of traditional client-side tagging.


What is Client-Side GTM Tagging?

With client-side GTM tagging, you install a JavaScript snippet into the source code of your website. So, every time your website loads in a visitor’s browser, the GTM code loads too, and fires tags according to the configuration. As the entire process takes place in the visitor’s or client’s browser or device, this is known as client-side tagging.

For instance, if you deploy a custom JavaScript library and someone visits the website, the tags will collect the required data and forward it to third-party tools and platforms. However, as the library will have direct access to the visitor’s browser, it could also collect additional data, including personally identifiable information of the visitor.


How is Server-Side GTM Tagging Different?

The data collection process is more or less the same with server-side tagging but with one significant difference- a server (or servers) for hosting the GTM container. The server functions as a protective buffer between client-side tracking and the third parties.

So, rather than relying on the visitor’s browser or device, server-side tagging depends on the server to execute the tracking code. If we take the same custom JavaScript example from above, the tag will only interact with the cloud server and not directly with the client’s browser. As a result, you can choose the data you want to collect and share with 3rd party platforms.


Client-Side Tagging vs. Server-Side Tagging


Here are some of the most significant differences between the two-

Feature Client-Side Tagging Server-Side Tagging
Execution Location Tags are executed on the user’s browser Tags are executed on the server
Data Privacy and Security Limited control over data privacy and security due to client execution Enhanced control over data privacy and security as the execution takes place on the server
Speed and Performance May cause delays in page rendering Reduces impact on page load times
JavaScript Dependency Dependent on the client’s browser supporting JavaScript Reduced dependency on the client’s browser capabilities

What are the Benefits of Implementing Server-Side Tagging?

Here are some of the reasons to consider server-side tagging-

  • Improved control over the data being shared with third parties
  • Makes it easier for website owners to maintain data privacy compliance
  • Can be an ideal tracking method once third-party cookies are phased out
  • Improves website performance as only a single tag is deployed on the website
  • More granular data for a comprehensive view of visitors across touchpoints
  • Integration with all the digital channels, including web and app

What are the Drawbacks of Server-Side Tagging?

While server-side GTM tracking offers valuable benefits, there are a few things you should keep in mind-

  • Server-side GTM container is a free-to-use service but the cloud/server where the container is hosted is not free. Google recommends websites have at least three servers for SGTM implementation. With Google Cloud, each server costs $40/month. So, that’s $120 per month with three servers.
  • Implementing and maintaining server-side GTM tags is a fairly technical process and would mostly require a professional.

Who Should Use Server-Side Tagging?

As many countries, including India, have already introduced stringent data privacy laws, it makes sense for all websites to move away from client-side tagging. Here are some examples of websites that should consider server-side GTM tracking-

  • Websites that handle sensitive user data, like finance, healthcare, and other sectors where data privacy is a top priority
  • E-commerce platforms can leverage server-side tracking to improve website performance
  • Social networking platforms, interactive web applications, etc., that have complex user interactions
  • Websites struggling with the limitations of client-side tracking, like issues with ad-blockers or browser restrictions

Boost Security and Performance with Server-Side GTM

With data protection laws only getting more stringent with time, server-side tagging is an excellent alternative to client-side tagging as it offers improved data privacy and security. The server-side tracking method is also highly scalable and makes tag debugging and maintenance easier through its centralized nature.

Businesses and website owners can consult with a reputed digital marketing agency to better understand the advantages of server-side tagging and whether or not it is the right approach according to their specific needs and objectives.

Related Blogs