Google Tag Manager Server Side is the hottest thing under the sun at the moment in the world of digital analytics. Even though companies like Tealium and Segment have been offering similar solutions for years, the fact that now the most used tag management system offers a server-side solution should come as no surprise.
Just as Google Tag Manager Server Side may sound to many people like Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino will to an average coffee drinker, it simply is something you need to experience in order to understand and appreciate it.
Before jumping on the proverbial bandwagon, I want to make you aware of several factors that are involved in adopting a Google Tag Manager Server Side solution approach in your company. If you think the title of this article resembles clickbait, you are absolutely right. Google Tag Manager Server Side is a step in the right direction which many companies need to start considering.
To help you and your company in making the consideration, take note of these 5 reasons not to use Google Tag Manager Server Side:
#1 Setting up Google Tag Manager Server Side is more complex
The process involved in setting up Google Tag Manager Server Side is definitely more complex than the client-side solution. In its basic form, all you really need is a Google account and a credit card, but that is just going to get you started. The main purpose of implementing Google Tag Manager Server Side container is, in my honest opinion, to prevent unintended data loss from the ever-increasing privacy and security settings browser vendors are creating. Sure, the user experience will get better due to the reduced impact of loading Google Tag Manager in a client’s browser, the crackdown of cross-site tracking poses the biggest threat to digital marketing.
For instance, the complexity in setting up Google Tag Manager comes mainly in the form of deploy a so-called virtual container in a sub-directory of your company’s domain. These DNS changes can take time and take some effort outside of your regular way of working. Although it is a one-time change, it does need to be done to make the most out of Google Tag Manager Server Side since then, and only then, will you be able to work from a first-party perspective for all your data collecting activities.
Then you will need to consider how the data will be processed server-side. In the client-side version of Google Tag Manager much, if not all, of the processing logic, is built into Google Tag Manager and the marketing tags you have deployed. By using tag templates, the main goal is to put the right variable in the right input field and verify that the tag is ‘firing’ when it is supposed to. With Google Tag Manager Server Side, you will need to define these processes in your virtual container. It can be up to you to set up how and which data is sent to Google Analytics 4, or which information is shared with Facebook because although you can rely on standards, Google Tag Manager Server Side will give you full control of your collected data and its distribution.
#2 Not all marketing vendors offer server-side APIs
I just mentioned Google and Facebook, which points out another important consideration to make. Which marketing vendor tags are you currently using, and are they already supported by Google Tag Manager Server Side? Google hosts a template gallery in which you can browse to see what is on offer. Just as when the template gallery was initially launched, the offerings are quite few and far between, but given time pretty much all solutions should become available for you to use in Google Tag Manager.
Although templates are great, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use them. You can always build your own or use simple HTTP requests to pass on the collected data to any endpoint you wish.
#3 Using Google Tag Manager Server Side can potentially cost you money
Have you ever asked people why they use Google solutions? 9 out of 10 times they will tell you that it’s because it’s free. I like to add that the online community is a lot larger and active, but that point gets missed by many. What companies who are considering Google Tag Manager Server Side need to keep in mind, is that using it will most likely incur costs. Over at Trakken.de, they performed an analysis on the potential costs of hosting Google Tag Manager Server Side on Google Cloud. Now, although you can host Google Tag Manager Server Side on any cloud platform that supports Docker, these estimates do indicate the potential impact it might have on costs.
Calculations of costs are dependent mostly on the amount of traffic on your website. Additional costs can occur if you don’t disable logging and if you intend to host your own files such as gtm.js, or gtag.js (which is not recommended). Based on Trakken’s analysis, a website with around 75mio server calls per month will cost approximately $146 and some change. The increasing costs come from the additional App Engine instances that need to be activated in order to process the number of requests per second. An example of how this can be seen in the chart above.
Lower traffic websites, or when developing on a Google Tag Manager Server Side solution will most likely not incur costs.
#4 Maintaining Google Tag Manager Server Side will require resources
As stated above, not all marketing vendors have an endpoint to send server-side data to. Facebook’s Conversion API is a step in the right direction and hopefully, it is just the beginning. With the constant development around Google Tag Manager and browser technologies, it is imperative to guard against any potential flaws in your data collection setup. Google Tag Manager Server Side as a solution is pretty new, so online support from Google and communities can be limited, but it never stops either.
An initial implementation can easily be compared to flying a plane, once you take off, you still need to know to fly the thing. Just with tag management systems, a lot of time goes into implementing a well-designed tag management solution, but afterward, it is important to maintain it in order to guarantee proper tracking and sound data quality.
TIP A good place to find community support in the Measure Group on Slack.
#5 Data Governance should be put into place
The pink elephant in the room has to be data governance. Technology is easier to put into use than it is to create company policy around it. For any company, pretty much the biggest consideration to make is the enormous control you will be getting through Google Tag Manager Server Side. Not only will you control what you collect on your website, but it is up to you which data you send to which endpoint. The most commonly used example in the digital analytics community is that of Personal Identifiable Information (PII). Until Google Tag Manager Server Side, any marketing tag loaded through Google Tag Manager (the client-side version) would pretty much allow the marketing vendor to determine which data is collected.
For the non-techs, a user’s browser is a melting pot of data. From the Document Object Model (DOM) and Local- and Session-Storage to cookies, to name just the most common sources. By placing marketing tags on your site, you are placing a black box that you can not be certain of what data it transmits to its servers. Don’t despair, with Google Tag Manager Server Side you are in control, but this control does require a significant level of responsibility to manage.
Data governance will help you better define, document, and monitor data as an asset in your company. In essence, you will need to find answers to questions such as:
- what data do we need to collect (requirements)
- why do we need to collect certain data (need)
- where do we collect data from (source)
- how is the data collected (method)
- what format should the data be in (processing)
- where do we store the data (storage)
- how do we share the data (redistribution method)
- what data do we share (redistribution requirements)
- how do we guard access to data systems (security)
- what do we do in case of a data breach (contingency)
- how do we monitor data governance processes (monitoring)
This can definitely be a tough nut to crack, but one that will benefit your company with regards to data in the long run. Google Tag Manager Server Side will make answers to these questions extremely relevant.
Setting up data governance makes setting up Google Tag Manager Server Side look like child’s play, nevertheless, it will help you define a healthy and reputable data-driven environment.
Google Tag Manager Server Side is a game-changer. It will make me rethink my tag management maturity model to some extent. Is it a solution solely for enterprise-sized companies? Definitely not, but even for small- and medium-sized companies, it should be said that consideration to what is involved in moving to Google Tag Manager Server Side should not be underestimated.
There are plenty of arguments in favor of switching, albeit driven by more consistent marketing data. I feel, and I am not saying this because I am a tag management consultant, that a solid understanding of tag management as a solution is required to design and implement Google Tag Manager Server Side.
If you want to learn more, or exchange thoughts on how to move forward with Google Tag Manager Server Side for your company, please feel free to contact me.