Marketing Analytics influenced by server-side tag management

Learn what Server-Side Tag Manager is, its role in marketing plans, and how your analytics strategy benefits from the technology.

Marketers face a new world of choices and analytical decisions. The result is more beacon decisions in the face of evolving data management. Marketers are demanding better control over data privacy and verification of data usage by vendors to manage the accuracy of their measurement needs.

Enter server-side tags. They have become fashionable among managers. I’ll explain what Server-Side Tag Manager is, its role in marketing plans, and how your analytics strategy benefits from technology.

A bit of parsing history on tags and tag handlers

Web analytics was originally used for server log analysis, an examination of the performance of website pages in the browser. Log reports showed how page elements loaded in the browser when users typed in the URL of the website they wanted to see. It was the state of the art for measuring internet behavior in 2006.

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

Google has become the largest among these analytics sets. He bought Urchin, a web analytics service, and relaunched it as Google Analytics.

Other solutions have arrived on the market. Omniture, which Adobe later acquired, became the top choice among enterprise solutions. Piwik (not Matomo) has also been widely adopted on websites and apps.

Then came the tag managers. Tag managers introduced a convenient way to capture tag data on the client side 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, client-side code runs on the user’s device to evaluate tag triggers.

Tag management containers for iOS and Android apps have particularly relied on this arrangement. Tag managers eliminated a major QA problem: keeping the tags on a page updated. Without a tag manager, marketers had to delete a page from the host server, modify the code, and then send the page back to the server. Repeating this task – which is typical of web and app development – introduced errors, such as improperly installed tags or missing data from neglected tag installation if not handled properly.

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

How server-side tag handlers work

This brings us to 2022 and the rise of server-side tag managers. Server-side tag handlers streamline calls to a server and simplify data integration with external data sources.

Server-side tags work on a client server in the cloud, not on the browser client. This means that the browser client still generates data, but the evaluation of triggers and the execution of data associated with tags happens on the client server rather than the browser client.

For Google Tag Manager, the user configures the container and then creates a Google Tag Manager client. The GTM client uses the Google Cloud Application Engine infrastructure to play a role in analytics settings as a client server.

Upgrading to server-side tagging with Google Tag Manager has a minor hosting cost. Google provides a sandbox to experiment with the tag – not all templates and tags are available or live. Google will allow the user to put their live tag in a container on Google Cloud, but it’s only free for single-server deployment. Several Google Cloud servers require the application engine, which adds a cost of $30 to $50 per month, according to Google. This makes the server side economically viable for businesses that already invest heavily in their website and application structure, such as a retailer, or have a particular need to integrate data from sources that generate revenue from of a voluminous activity and investments in a large campaign.

Advanced data governance, refined control

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

The second benefit encourages first-party data sharing with vendors. Server-side tag handlers provide a new control to which outgoing data requests are directed. This means marketers benefit from sophisticated API security administration and limit vendor access to sensitive data.

This control also helps provide better protection against manipulation tactics such as injections. Injections consist of inserting untrusted data into client-side sources. It creates dirty data that can ruin statistical data models and make downstream machine learning models dysfunctional. The ability to prevent third-party data is at the heart of many technical debates about how solutions protect user data while providing customer benefits.

The third benefit is better opportunities to manage privacy and security restrictions on data. Server-side tag managers are all about data sovereignty – control over where your data is stored and saved. This establishes a data privacy framework that a business can manage effectively.

Server-side tags introduce a centralization structure that elevates data management to its full potential. Interest in first-party data requires analytics markup that is not limited to measurement on the website or app page. Analytics tags should ensure data flexibility while protecting privacy. Server-side tags are a crucial step forward in overcoming these needs.

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