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What is server-side tagging?

Learn what server-side tagging is, how it works, and why it may be a key tool for future-proofing your company’s data strategy and developing a consent-centric digital ecosystem.

Updated March 26, 2024.

Server-side tagging (SST) is a strong alternative to reliance on third-party data sources and a successful case for a privacy-driven marketing stack.

With the end of third-party cookies in progress, a major structural change is happening with data processing. Millions of businesses need alternatives to third-party cookies and the often questionably consented data they produce — a source marketers have depended on for decades for analytics, marketing, and growth.

What is server-side tagging?

Server-side tagging presents a unique approach to data tracking that diverges from traditional methods reliant on external services. Tracking code/tags are executed on the server, rather than on the client, i.e. the website or app. This reduces reliance on third parties. The method of data collection enables greater security and control over data access, which can help with achieving and maintaining data privacy requirements, and improves website and app performance.

Google Tag Manager server-side tagging

Google Tag Manager (GTM) offers a robust solution for managing tags, triggers, and variables directly on a server, rather than within the user’s browser.

Widely embraced by marketers and developers for its simplicity, GTM’s server-side tagging provides numerous benefits, including improved website performance, enhanced data quality control, and adherence to privacy regulations.

Ideal for organizations prioritizing data control and website performance, GTM’s server-side tagging offers a streamlined approach to tag management, helping to achieve compliance with stringent privacy standards.

Server-side tagging vs. server-side tracking

Server-side tagging and server-side tracking refer to the same function and how it’s executed.  Server-side tagging involves using tracking code/tags; this is where the difference in terms comes from. The tracking is executed server-side, rather than client-side, hence server-side tracking. It reduces the amount of code executed in the user’s browser or app. This improves client (website or app) performance.

Leveraging Google Analytics with server-side tagging

Google Analytics can be a valuable tool for server-side tracking, offering user-friendly features and seamless integration with a variety of platforms. By transmitting data directly from the server to Google Analytics, this approach enhances website performance and helps to ensure data privacy and maintain superior data quality.

Client-side tagging vs. server-side tagging

Both client-side and server-side tagging facilitate data collection, each with distinct advantages. While client-side tagging relies on user browser data, server-side tagging sends data from tags or pixels to the web server before forwarding it to destination servers. This centralized approach offers greater control over data access and usage conditions, enhancing data security and user consent management.

Who is server-side tagging for?

Server-side tagging is best for organizations looking to move away from tools like third-party cookies, and that are seeking enhanced data control, improved privacy, and better data quality. For example, organizations dealing with sensitive personal data can use server-side tagging to control, limit, and/or modify data before distributing it to third-party partners.

Moreover, server-side tagging is beneficial for marketing teams aiming to improve visibility throughout the purchasing cycle and boost conversion rates and return on investment from advertising efforts. This approach offers enhanced control over data collection and distribution, resulting in more precise insights and improved decision-making capabilities.

Lastly, website visitors benefit from improved privacy and security for their data. Once their consent choices are received, they can be better communicated across systems to help ensure that data collection and/or sharing only happens based on the parameters of their consent. This helps build trust with your website visitors and customers.

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What are the benefits of server-side tagging?

What are the benefits of server-side tagging?

The most direct benefits of server-side tagging include:

  • control of your own and your users’ consented data
  • streamlining achievement and maintenance of data privacy compliance 
  • improved data collection and monetization by bypassing ad blockers
  • increased website performance with single tag deployment versus heavy-duty client-side tag systems
  • improved website and data security
  • a comprehensive view of customers across touchpoints
  • more adaptable to evolving privacy regulations and technology, e.g. Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)
  • centralized information source for privacy compliance requirements, e.g. data protection authority audits
  • multi-channel integration, enabling web and app  communication through the same endpoint/server

Implementing server-side tagging

Implementing server-side tagging requires a systematic approach and the right infrastructure. First, you’ll need a tag management system equipped to handle server-side tagging. Look for platforms that offer robust support and seamless integration for server-side implementations.

Next, you’ll need to set up a web server or opt for a cloud-based solution that supports server-side tagging. This step is crucial as it forms the backbone of your data processing infrastructure. Whether you choose to host your server or leverage a cloud service provider, ensure that it aligns with your organization’s needs and security and regulatory requirements.

Once you have the necessary tools and infrastructure in place, you can begin the process of implementing server-side tagging on your website. This involves configuring your chosen tag management system to route data through the server, and setting up rules and triggers to govern data collection and processing. Collaborate closely with your IT team and external partners to ensure a smooth and successful implementation process.

Throughout the implementation phase, testing and iterating on your server-side tagging setup is essential to ensure optimal performance and data accuracy. Monitor data flows and user interactions closely, making adjustments as needed to fine-tune your tagging strategy.

GDPR and server-side tagging

GDPR and server-side tagging

Server-side tagging can help with GDPR compliance by being part of a system to obtain and signal granular user consent, along with implementing additional robust data protection measures. When using Google Tag Manager server-side tagging, pairing it with Google Consent Mode helps with GDPR compliance by communicating user consent information collected from a consent management platform effectively to Google tags. This mode adjusts tag behavior based on user preferences.

Additionally, employing the IAB Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF) helps to facilitate GDPR compliance by enabling websites and vendors to communicate and respect user consent preferences for advertising. This standardized system enables transparency in data handling practices and enables vendors to easily check user consent status. By implementing TCF 2.2, websites can enhance their GDPR compliance strategy and foster trust with users through transparent data practices.

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Server-side tagging and cookies

Server-side tagging doesn’t mean waving goodbye to all cookies. Whether you use Google server-side tagging or another tool, you will almost certainly still be using other cookies and tracking technologies. These tools are used for a variety of functions in addition to the collection of user data. Plus, as noted, the use of these technologies can be controlled with user consent information to enable their functioning to be privacy-compliant.

Unlike client-side cookies, server-side cookies are managed directly via the server of your choice, thus offering enhanced flexibility and more control over your data management processes. So server-side cookies are not a bad thing. They will help you to be more privacy-compliant by providing you with additional control over data handling and user privacy.

Future-proof your data strategy

Server-side tagging cannot guarantee privacy compliance or full access to user data. It’s a tool to help you evolve your data privacy and marketing strategies. It’s an important alternative to the client-side tracking systems in today’s digital marketing ecosystems, which can leave users with consent fatigue and eroded trust, and expose businesses to data loss and possible legal risks.

Server-side tagging is a consent-centric, future-oriented data privacy solution that does have some initial resource costs, but is ultimately an investment with sustainable ROI. SST will be important for any data-driven business when third-party cookies — and the entire potentially lower quality and non-consensual data tracking network that they support — stop working.

Do you know what cookies your website uses? Run a free cookie scan with Cookiebot CMP today.


What are server-side tags?

Server-side tags are snippets of code that are executed on the server rather than in the user’s browser. They enable data collection and processing to occur on the server, providing more control over how information is managed.

What are server-side analytics?

Server-side analytics involves collecting and analyzing a person’s data directly on your server instead of on the user’s device.

What is the difference between GTM and server-side tagging?

If you use Google Tag Manager (GTM) without server-side tagging, then the difference is where the tracking happens. With GTM, tracking happens on the client side, within the user’s browser, while server-side tagging moves the tracking process to a server.

Can you use Google Tag Manager for server-side tracking?

Yes, Google Tag Manager supports server-side tracking. It works the exact same way as server-side tagging.

How do I set up server-side tagging on my server?

To set up server-side tagging on your server, create a tagging server using a platform like Google Cloud Platform (GCP), then configure your tagging setup and refer to documentation for guidance.

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