What Is Server-Side Tracking and How It Works in E-Commerce

Server-side tracking is a tool that e-commerce businesses are using to analyze customer behaviour and make data-informed decisions. In this article, we will explore what server-side tracking is and how it can be used to enhance e-commerce experiences.

Benefits of Server-Side Tracking for E-Commerce

Server-side tracking sheds light on every step your customers take on your website. See what products pique their interest, where they abandon carts, and what content grabs their attention. Leverage this deep understanding to:

  • Personalize their journey: Recommend products they’ll love, simplify navigation, and offer targeted promotions based on their behavior.
  • Streamline checkout: Identify and eliminate pain points causing cart abandonment.
  • Refine your offerings: Gain insights into customer preferences and tailor your product catalog for better sales.
  • Improve data privacy: Introduce a more secure and privacy-compliant way of collecting data about customer behavior.
  • Improve marketing strategy: Develop a more effective marketing strategy and aspects like ad campaigns and email marketing.

Server-side tracking goes beyond just understanding your customers; it empowers you to create a frictionless shopping experience that drives sales and keeps them coming back for more.

Today, many brands and companies are using server-side tracking to improve their customer experience and drive growth. Below are some examples of brands and companies that are effectively using server-side tracking:

Uncover Customer Behavior with Powerful Insights from Server-Side Tracking

Server-side tracking goes beyond basic clicks and page views. It unlocks a wealth of data about how customers interact with your website, allowing you to:

  • Optimize the Buying Journey: Identify popular pages, pinpoint where customers abandon carts, and see which CTAs (Calls to Action) resonate best. Use this data to streamline navigation, improve the checkout process, and boost conversions.
  • Measure Form Effectiveness: Track form submissions (contact, signup, etc.) to understand completion rates and identify any drop-off points. This helps you refine your forms for better user experience and lead generation.
  • Fuel Smarter Marketing: Track e-commerce transactions and shipping information to build targeted remarketing campaigns and personalize your offerings for different customer segments.
  • Understand Content Engagement: See how customers interact with your dynamic content like carousels and downloadable files. This helps you tailor your content strategy to keep visitors engaged.
  • Analyze Login Patterns: Track login activity to understand customer engagement levels and identify any login process issues. This can help improve user experience and account security.
  • Refine Search Functionality: Gain insights into customer search behavior by tracking keywords, search frequency, and results clicked. This helps you optimize search functionality and ensure customers find what they’re looking for.

Overall, server-side tracking gives you a clearer picture of your customers. This lets you use real data to improve your website, get more sales, and grow your business.

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Comparing Server-Side to Client-Side Tracking

Server-side and client-side tracking are two methods of collecting data on a website. While both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, they can be used together to provide a comprehensive view of a website’s performance. Let’s look at the differences between server-side and client-side tracking.

What Is Server-Side Tracking?

Server-side tracking is the process of tracking user actions on a website by sending data from the server to an analytics platform. This type of tracking is typically used for more advanced tracking requirements, as it allows for more detailed data collection and analysis.

Server-side tracking works by sending data directly to the server instead of the user’s browser. This data includes information about user activities, such as page views, clicks, and purchases.

In addition, the data can include demographic information, such as age, gender, and location. The data is then collected and stored on the server for further analysis and can be used to create detailed reports for further business decision-making.

The main advantage of server-side tracking is that it can collect data from a wide range of sources, including backend systems. This means that data from forms, e-commerce transactions, and other types of data can be tracked.

The main disadvantage of server-side tracking is that it can be more expensive and time-consuming to implement. Additionally, server-side tracking often requires extra expertize.

What Is Client-Side Tracking?

Client-side tracking is the process of tracking user actions on a website by sending data from the user’s browser to an analytics platform. This type of tracking is often used to track more basic data, such as page views and click events.

The main advantage of client-side tracking is that it’s relatively easy to implement and doesn’t require a lot of specialized, tech-savvy knowledge. Additionally, client-side tracking is often more cost-effective than server-side tracking.

The main disadvantage of client-side tracking is that it’s less reliable than server-side tracking.  Plus, client-side tracking can only collect data from the user’s browser, meaning that data from backend systems can’t be tracked.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Server-Side Tracking

Server-side tracking allows businesses to track user activities in real time, identify customer preferences and interests, improve ROI, optimize website performance, etc. At the same time, there are some challenges a business should consider when setting up server-side tracking.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and downsides of using server-side tracking.

Advantages of Server-Side Tracking

  1. Improved data quality. Server-side tracking allows you to collect data directly from your server, which can help ensure that the data is accurate and reliable.
  2. Better data privacy. By collecting data directly from your server, you can keep sensitive information like e-commerce transactions and form submissions on your own server. Security-wise, this is a better way of storing sensitive data as compared to client-side tracking which may expose sensitive information to third parties.
  3. Enhanced data control. Server-side tracking allows you to control which data is collected, how it is collected, and who has access to it.
  4. Improved performance. By moving the tracking from the client side to the server side, the page load time can be faster, and as a result, it can improve the user experience.

Disadvantages of Server-Side Tracking

  1. Complexity. Setting up server-side tracking can be more complex than client-side tracking. It requires additional technical knowledge and resources, so your dev team must be capable of handling it.
  2. Limited availability of third-party tools. Many third-party tracking tools are not yet available for server-side tracking, which can limit the data that can be collected.
  3. Additional costs. Setting up server-side tracking can be more expensive than client-side tracking, due to the additional technical resources required.
  4. Limited browser compatibility. Server-side tracking may not work with all browsers, which can limit the data that can be collected.

Whether you choose client-side or server-side tracking, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the benefits and limitations of each method in order to make an informed decision.

Setting Up Server-Side Tracking

Setting up server-side tracking can be a complex process. With some solutions for server-side tracking, a company may need to set up its own servers and install the necessary software and hardware. Setting up server-side tracking can seem daunting, but if the developer team knows what it’s doing the whole process can go smoothly. Here are the basic steps for setting up server-side tracking.

  1. Choose a tracking platform. There are many different tracking platforms available, such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Tealium, Matomo (Piwik), etc. Make sure to choose one that is well-suited to your needs. In some cases, your dev team will also need to set up a server for collecting and storing customer data.
  2. Install the tracking code on your website. Depending on the platform you choose, you may need to add a tracking code to your website’s header or footer. This code is used to collect data about user interactions and send it to the tracking platform.
  3. Configure your tracking settings. Once you’ve installed the tracking code, you’ll need to configure your tracking settings. This will include things like setting up goals, creating custom dimensions and metrics, and setting up filters to exclude certain types of traffic.
  4. Test your tracking. Before you begin collecting data, it’s important to test your tracking to make sure that it’s working correctly. For this, check if your website is actually receiving data and it is being properly stored on the servers.
  5. Collect and analyze the data. With your tracking set up and working correctly, you can begin collecting data about user interactions on your website. Also, make sure the maintenance of all processes related to server-side tracking is set up and working—for the most part, this means your dev team should supervise most of the workflow and make sure it functions correctly.

Advantages of Server-Side Tracking With Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager (GTM) allows you to easily manage and implement tracking codes on your website. One of the main benefits of GTM is that you can set up server-side tracking relatively easily. Here are the reasons why GTM is a good choice for setting up server-side tracking.

  1. Ease of use. GTM is a user-friendly tool, even for those with little to no coding experience. This makes it a great option if you want to set up server-side tracking without the need for extensive technical knowledge.
  2. Customizability. GTM allows you to create custom tags and triggers, with which you can collect specific data that you need. If you have unique tracking needs, GTM is your go-to option.
  3. Streamlined tracking. GTM allows you to manage all of your tracking codes in one place. This way you can streamline the tracking process and ensure that your data is accurate.
  4. Cost-effectiveness. GTM is a free tool, making it a cost-effective option for businesses of all sizes.

Setting Up Server-Side Tracking With Google Tag Manager

You can set up GTM tracking on your own with almost no involvement of the dev team but the functionalities you get would be limited. Here is a guide with the steps to setting up tracking using GTM for tracking basic customer actions—in an essence, it is client-side tracking but, so to say, with server-side elements. 

  1. Create a Google Tag Manager account. If you don’t already have one, sign up for a free account at tagmanager.google.com.
  2. Install the GTM tracking code on your website. Once you’ve created an account, you’ll be given a unique GTM container code. This code should be placed on every page of your website, typically in the header or footer.
  3. Create a new tag in GTM. In the GTM interface, navigate to the “Tags” section and click on the “New” button. Select the “Custom HTML” tag type and paste into your server-side tracking code.
  4. Add triggers to your tag. Triggers tell GTM when to fire your tracking code. You can set up triggers based on specific pages, events, or other conditions. For example, you might set up a trigger to fire your tracking code only when a user completes a purchase on your website.
  5. Publish your container. Once you’ve set up your tag and triggers, you’ll need to publish your container to make it live on your website.
  6. Test your tracking. Before you begin collecting data, it’s important to test your tracking to make sure that it’s working correctly. You can do this by visiting your website and checking to see if the tracking code is firing correctly. As with any system, it’s important to test and debug the tracking system to ensure that it’s working correctly—this is where you may need the involvement of your dev team.
  7. Monitor and optimize. With your server-side tracking set up and working correctly, you can begin collecting data. This data can then be analyzed to gain insights into user behavior and identify opportunities for optimization.

Basically, setting up an actual server-side tracking with GTM—that involves setting up a server for storing data—would also require assistance from your dev team and doing the following.

Get the Most Out of Server-Side Tracking

Server-side tracking is a powerful tool, but to ensure you’re getting accurate and secure data, follow these best practices:

  • Pick the Perfect Platform: Choose a tracking platform that fits your needs – reliable, secure, and proven to collect accurate data.
  • Prioritize Data Privacy: Since server-side tracking might collect sensitive information like purchases, use encryption and access controls to keep it safe.
  • Accurate Tracking Codes Matter: Double-check your tracking codes are accurate to avoid collecting faulty data.
  • Monitor Your Data Quality: Regularly check your data to ensure it’s accurate and reflects real user behavior.
  • Test, Test, Test: Before relying on your data, test your tracking setup to identify and fix any issues.
  • Stay Up-to-Date: Server-side tracking technology is constantly evolving. Keep learning about the latest developments to optimize your tracking.
  • Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Collaborate with your technical team to ensure proper setup, identify problems, and keep everything running smoothly.

Whether you are just starting to set up server-side tracking or are an experienced user, these best practices can help you maximize the benefits of this technology and achieve your goals.

Unlock Customer Insights & Boost Sales with Server-Side Tracking

By implementing the strategies outlined in this post, you can gain a deeper understanding of your customers and leverage that knowledge to personalize their experience. With a website that caters to their needs and preferences, you’ll see a boost in conversions, customer loyalty, and ultimately, your revenue.

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