What is Server-Side Data Collection?
Data collection can quickly become a tangled web. You are tracking users across channels, platforms and even stitching together different identifiers into a single identifier. Then you add in concerns about security and data privacy and it can be a seriously complicated situation for many organizations.
Traditionally all data has been collected in what’s called “client-side tagging,” meaning the data is tagged and collected at the browser level. However, with rising concerns around ad blockers, privacy regulation and data leaks, many future-looking and privacy-centric organizations are moving to “server-side tagging.”
Server-side tracking is rapidly becoming the preferred choice for organizations with its enhanced security features, improved accuracy, cost efficiency, visibility, and scalability – it allows businesses to make informed decisions quickly while staying ahead of competitors in an increasingly digital world. Server-side tagging future-proofs the data infrastructure for better downstream impact (via MarTech, Analytics, AI, etc.), as it adapts more effectively to evolving browser restrictions and changing industry standards with greater control and flexibility in data management, enabling companies to optimize their digital marketing strategies and customer experiences with precision.
Let’s explore the differences between these two methods and why server-side is set to become the defacto standard for customer data collection and tracking.
Client-Side Tracking: The Traditional Approach
These code snippets serve two essential functions:
- User Identification: Cookies and other identifiers are used to determine who the user is and track their interactions across web pages and content.
- Event Tracking: Information about user actions, such as page views, clicks, form submissions, and product purchases, is recorded and sent to analytics platforms.
Client-side tracking has been the backbone of the customer data industry for the past couple of decades, but it comes with its own set of challenges:
- Performance Reduction: Loading multiple third-party tags on a website can significantly impact page load times. Each tag introduced can add latency, potentially affecting user experience and SEO rankings.
- Signal Loss: Increasing use of ad blockers and tracking blockers by users has made client-side tracking less reliable over time. This can result in incomplete data and hinder decision-making.
- Security Concerns: Third-party tags contain code that the website owner cannot fully control. This raises security concerns and limits control over data handling before reaching third-party vendors.
There are certain pitfalls associated with relying solely on client-side data collection methods such as vulnerability to cyberattacks due to lack of encryption standards and difficulty maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements due to lack of access control measures on user accounts. We’ve worked with customers who’ve been impacted by these things – hacks that took down entire e-commerce websites, data leaks and more. The consequences are lost revenue to the tune of millions of dollars, reputational damage and a general loss of peace of mind. Organizations should carefully consider these risks when deciding whether client-side or server-side tracking is best suited for their needs.
Server-Side Tracking: A Future-Proofed Alternative
Server-side tracking, as the name suggests, relies on the server where the web or app is hosted to collect and transmit data to analytics services. There is just one tag placed on the website that gathers all of the information needed, sends it to a private server and then that server is used to manage, secure and use all customer data. This approach bypasses the need for tracking through individual devices and browsers, offering several advantages:
- Performance Improvement: Server-side tracking eliminates the latency introduced by client-side tags, leading to faster loading times and improved user experience.
- Enhanced Security: Data collected via server-side tracking is first-party data, not subject to third-party blockers, making it more reliable and secure. Server-side makes it very difficult for hackers to gain access to sensitive customer information, keeping companies safe from potential cyberattacks or other malicious activities.
- Heightened Data Control: Organizations have more control over how data is tracked, transformed, and sent to vendors, reducing security and privacy concerns.
- Improved Accuracy: Server-side tracking is more accurate than client-side since it does not depend on the user’s device or browser. All collected data is saved in one centralized place that can be easily accessed by authorized personnel anywhere in real time. This type of technology also offers cost savings and convenience due to its scalability and simplified integration with existing systems and processes.
- Full transparency: With server-side, visibility into customer analytics is greatly improved when using server side solutions compared to traditional client side ones since it provides up to date insights into customer preferences and behavior from any part of the globe. It allows businesses to make informed decisions quickly while staying ahead of competitors through well thought out decision making - all thanks to server side technology.
- Scalability: Many organizations start out with one or two client side tags, and before they know it the site is clogged with multiple tags that represent various security and privacy risks. Server-side tagging allows for marketing to scale their efforts to different platforms and channels with no additional IT work or security and privacy risk.
The choice between client-side and server-side tracking is not a binary one. Both methods have their pros and cons, but many organizations are now moving to server-side tracking. Server-side data tagging provides a range of advantages that make it an essential tool for modern businesses looking to gain a better understanding of their customers. With its enhanced accuracy, real time capabilities, improved security measures and ability to easily segment customers according to behavior and preferences - there’s no doubt that server side data tagging will continue be integral part of customer analytics in years ahead.
Many organizations are beginning to move fully server-side, a change that used to require a significant amount of internal resources and tooling, but with the introduction of next-generation CDI's like Metarouter, it offers a single control-plane of ALL of your customer data.
Our approach to server-side tracking offers a promising way to optimize data collection and analysis while addressing the challenges associated with each method–it offers organizations a secure, accurate, cost-efficient, and transparent solution for collecting customer data for better downstream activation. By doing so, organizations can ensure they have the data they need to make informed decisions in the ever-evolving digital landscape.
Ultimately, understanding the basics of server-side data collection will help businesses maximize their return on investment when it comes to collecting customer data while also increasing security standards for collecting this sensitive information securely and accurately - making it clear why server-side is quickly becoming the future of customer data collection and tracking.