Marketers are facing a new world of analytics choices and decisions. The result is more tag decisions in the face of an evolution of data management. Marketers are demanding better control of data privacy and vendor vetting of data usage to manage the accuracy of their measurement needs.

Enter server-side tags. They have become in vogue among managers as a result. I will explain what server-side tag manager is, its role in marketing plans and how your analytics strategy benefits from the technology.

A Little Analytics History on Tags and Tag Managers

Web analytics was originally used for server log analysis, a review of website page performance in the browser. Log reports indicated how page elements loaded into the browser when people typed a URL for the website they wanted to see. That was the state of the art for measuring internet behavior in 2006.   

But in that year, a new analytics framework emerged. Page analytics arrived, merging log data into the first form of client-side tracking — data generated from entire HTML page loads rather than the individual elements. Dimensions and metrics appear in a user interface dashboard that users could connect page activity to business needs more easily.

Google became the most prominent among these analytics set. It purchased Urchin, a web analytics service, and relaunched it as Google Analytics.

Other solutions came into the market. Omniture, which Adobe later purchased, became a top choice among enterprise solutions. Piwik (not Matomo) also became widely adopted on websites and apps.  

Then came the tag managers. Tag managers introduced a convenient way to capture client-side tag data through a data layer, which then sent data to the analytics server, which in turn sends the dimensions and metric to the dashboard. In this configuration the client-side code runs on the user’s device to evaluate the tag triggers.

Tag management containers for iOS and Android apps particularly relied on this arrangement. Tag managers eliminated a major quality assurance issue — maintaining updating tags on a page. Without a tag manager, marketers had to remove a page from the host server, edit the code, then return the page to the server. Repeating this task — which is typical in web and app development — introduced errors, such as poorly installed tags or missing data from overlooked tag installation if not handled correctly.

Related Article: CX Decoded Podcast: Brian Clifton on Big Changes to Google Analytics

How Server-Side Tag Managers Work

That bring us to 2022 and the rise of server-side tag managers. Server-side tag managers streamline the calls to a server and simplifies data integration with outside data sources. 

Server-side tags operate at a client server in the cloud, instead of at the browser client. The means the browser client still generates data but the evaluation of the triggers and the execution of data associated with the tags happens at the client server instead of at the browser client. 

Learning Opportunities

For Google Tag Manager, user set up the container, then creating a Google Tag Manager client. The GTM client uses Google cloud app engine infrastructure to play a role in the analytics settings as a client server.

Upgrading to server-side tagging with Google Tag Manager does have a minor hosting cost. Google provides a sandbox for experiment with tag — not every template and tag is available or live. Google will allow user to make their tag live into a container on Google Cloud, but it is free only for a single server deployment. Multiple Google Cloud servers require the app engine, which adds a $30-$50 cost per month, according to Google. This makes server-side economically viable for companies that already invest heavily in their website and app structure, such as a retailer, or have a particular need to integrate data from sources that generate revenue from voluminous activity and investment in a large campaign.

Advanced Data Governance, Refined Control

But server-side tags offer several benefits for advanced data governance and refined control. First, the tags send only one data request to the client server rather than multiple requests in a client-side arrangement. The result is reduced page loading speed, enhancing page performance in the browser and protecting user experience from slow-loading page.

The second benefit incentivizes first party data sharing with vendors. Server-side tag managers provide a new control where outgoing data requests are directed. This means marketers gain a sophisticated administration of API security and limit vendor access to sensitive data.

That control also plays into providing better protection from manipulation tactics such as injections. Injections are the inserting of untrusted data into the client-side sources. It creates dirty data that can ruin statistical data models and render downstream machine learning models as dysfunctional. The ability to prevent third party data is central to many technical debates about how well solutions protect user data while delivering benefits to customers.

The third benefit is better opportunities for managing privacy and security restrictions on data. Server-side tag managers addresses data sovereignty — the control of where your data is being stored and saved. That establishes a data privacy framework that a business can manage effectively.

Server-side tags introduces a centralization structure that raises data management to its fullest potential. The interest in first party data requires analytic tagging that addresses more than measurement on the website or app page. Analytic tags must ensure flexibility with data while still protecting for privacy. Server-side tags are a crucial advancement in exceeding those needs.

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