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 analyse 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.
What Is Server-Side Tracking?
Server-side tracking is a form of web analytics that records user activities on a website by sending data directly to the server. E-commerce businesses use it to track customer activities, such as page views, clicks, and purchases. The server-side method for aggregating customer data can handle a high volume of traffic without slowing down the website. With the data you get, you can gain insights into customer behavior and preferences and use it to optimise the user experience and improve ROI and sales.
The Benefits of Server-Side Tracking for E-Commerce
Server-side tracking can help you understand how customers interact with your websites, what types of products or services they are most interested in, why they are not buying specific products, etc. Here are some of the benefits of using server-side tracking in an e-commerce website.
Improved customer experience and increase in CTR. Such data as page views, clicks, cart abandonment, etc. can be transparently tracked with server-side tracking and then used to identify issues that may be preventing customers from making a purchase. For example, it can be used for improving the navigation or can help streamline the checkout process.
Better data privacy. Server-side tracking is a more secure and privacy-compliant way of collecting data about customer behavior. Unlike client-side tracking, which collects data using cookies and scripts on the customer's device, server-side tracking collects data on the server, reducing the risk of data breaches and providing better protection for customer data.
Improved marketing strategy. Server-side tracking insights can also be used for developing a more effective marketing strategy and aspects like ad campaigns and email marketing.
Enhanced UX on the website. With server-side tracking, you can get comprehensive insights on page load times and website speed. You can use this data to identify and fix performance issues, improve the overall user experience and reduce the risk of customers leaving the website due to its poor performance.
How Server-Side Tracking Works
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.
What Customer Actions Can Be Tracked With Server-Side Tracking
Here are some of the customer actions (metrics) that can be tracked with server-side tracking:
- Page views, clicks, cart abandonment. These metrics can help understand customer behavior on the website and identify any issues that may affect purchases. Tracking page views can show which pages are the most popular and which pages are not performing well. Clicks can provide insights into which links are being clicked the most and which are not like Buy now, Subscribe, Save for later, etc. Tracking shopping cart abandonment can help to identify why customers are leaving items in their cart without completing a purchase. This can help improve the checkout process and reduce abandonment rates.
- Form submissions. Server-side tracking can be used to track form submissions, including contact forms, subscription forms, and registration forms. This data can help you understand the effectiveness of your forms, including the number of submissions, the conversion rate, and the types of data that customers are submitting.
- E-commerce transactions. By tracking data like customer purchases or shipping information, you can build up solid re-marketing strategies and target different customer audiences.
- Dynamic content interactions. Server-side tracking can be used to track customer engagement with your website's content, including the actions they take, such as interacting with image carousels, downloading a file, etc.
- Login activity. Server-side tracking can be used to track customer login activity, including the number of logins, the frequency of logins, and the duration of each login session. This data can help you understand customer engagement and identify any potential issues with your login process.
- Product and catalog search behaviour. With server-side tracking, you can learn more about the search behaviour of your customers, including the keywords they use, the frequency of their searches, and the search results they are interested in. This data can help you understand customer intent and improve your search functionality.
Why Should an E-Commerce Business Track Customer Actions?
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.
Amazon is one of the world's largest e-commerce companies and is known for its sophisticated use of data to drive growth. Amazon uses server-side tracking to collect data about customer purchases, shipping information, and customer behavior, which helps them understand customer behavior and make data-driven decisions to improve their customer experience.
HubSpot is a leading inbound marketing and sales platform that uses server-side tracking to collect data about customer behavior on its website. HubSpot uses this data to optimise its website and improve its customer experience, including the performance of its lead generation forms and engagement with its content.
Netflix is a leading streaming service that uses server-side tracking to collect data about customer behaviour, including the content they watch, the frequency of their streaming, and the duration of each streaming session.
Airbnb is a leading home-sharing platform that uses server-side tracking to collect data about customer behavior, including the frequency of their bookings, the location of their bookings, and the duration of each booking. Airbnb uses this data to tweak its pricing strategy and improve customer experience.
Google is a technology giant that uses server-side tracking to collect data about user behaviour on its search engine and other products and platforms. Google uses this data to improve its search functionality and the user customer experience across its platforms.
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.
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 expertise.
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 specialised, 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.
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, optimise 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Enhanced data control. Server-side tracking allows you to control which data is collected, how it is collected, and who has access to it.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Additional costs. Setting up server-side tracking can be more expensive than client-side tracking, due to the additional technical resources required.
- 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.
How to Set 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Collect and analyse 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.
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.
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.
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.
Cost-effectiveness. GTM is a free tool, making it a cost-effective option for businesses of all sizes.
How to Set 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 bu, so to say, with server-side elements.
Create a Google Tag Manager account. If you don't already have one, sign up for a free account at tagmanager.google.com.
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.
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 in your server-side tracking code.
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.
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.
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.
Monitor and optimise. With your server-side tracking set up and working correctly, you can begin collecting data. This data can then be analysed to gain insights into user behavior and identify opportunities for optimisation.
Basically, setting up an actual server-side tracking with GTM—that involves setting up a server for storing data—would also demand involving your dev team and doing the following.
- Create a GCP (Google Cloud) account. If you don't have one, create a new GCP account.
- Set up a GCP tagging server. After you have created the server container, you need to deploy a tagging server. This can be done automatically—Google Tag Manager will set up a new GCP project and an App Engine tagging server for you.
- You need a GCP billing account. If you don't have one, create a GCP billing account (requires the Billing Account Creator role).
- You need the Project Creator and the Billing Account User role. Learn more about adding roles.
If your needs are complex, visit this page for detailed technical guidelines on setting up server-side tracking with Google Tag Manager.
Server-Side Tracking Best Practices
As technology continues to advance, more and more companies are turning to server-side tracking to collect data about user behavior on their websites. While server-side tracking offers numerous benefits, it's important to follow best practices to ensure that the data collected is accurate and secure. Here are some best practices for server-side tracking.
Choose the right platform. When setting up server-side tracking, it's important to choose the right platform that fits both your business and technical needs. Also, look for a platform that is reliable, secure, and has a track record of collecting accurate data.
Implement data privacy measures. Server-side tracking often involves collecting sensitive information like c-commerce transactions and form submissions. To protect this information, it's important to implement measures like encryption and access controls.
Use accurate tracking codes. When setting up server-side tracking, it's important to use accurate tracking codes to ensure that the data is being properly collected.
Regularly monitor data quality. Regularly monitoring data quality is critical to ensure that the data being collected is accurate and reliable.
Regularly test tracking configuration. Testing of the tracking configuration is important to identify and fix any issues before they become bigger problems.
Keep up with the changes in technology. Server-side tracking technology is constantly evolving, so it's important to stay up-to-date with the latest developments to ensure that your tracking is as effective as possible.
Collaborate with technical teams. When setting up server-side tracking, it's important to collaborate with your technical teams to ensure that the tracking is set up correctly and that any issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner.
Whether you are just starting to set up server-side tracking or are an experienced user, these best practices can help you maximise the benefits of this technology and achieve your goals.
With server-side tracking, you can gain deep insights into customer behavior and preferences. This highly valuable data that can be used to optimise the user experience, improve ROI, and boost sales. By following best practices and collecting the data in the right way, you can create a personalised user experience that will keep customers coming back and contribute to revenue growth.