Six years ago we started Littledata to help brands get more complete data on their customer lifecycle — pushing the advantages of server-side tracking to generate accurate analytics.
We’d seen how custom-coded server-side tracking for bigger brands like MADE.com had brought greater trust in marketing attribution and analysis, and we wanted to bring that technological leap to many more direct-to-consumer brands to enable them to be more data-driven.
Fast forward six years and many others now believe server-side tracking’s time has come. Leading brands such as Dockers, Grind Coffee and Rothy’s are using Littledata to power their reporting and analysis — and your brand should be too.
Here are the top ten reasons why you should swap out your Google Tag Manager (GTM) client-side tracking for a robust server-side tracking implementation.
1. Accurate revenue and orders
Revenue and purchase volumes are paramount for any ecommerce store. However, tracking orders via the thank you page is increasingly unreliable. Getting the revenue in your analytics reports to match what your company is actually selling (as recorded in your financial results) is the #1 reason to switch to server-side tracking.
Last year I wrote a longer article on why 12% of client-side orders don’t get tracked.
In the year that followed, the release of iOS 14 (and beyond), the rise of ad-blockers, and web visitors increasingly opting out of tracking have all helped increase that number of lost revenue tracking to nearly 20% for some stores.
Yes, you read that right — reliance on an outdated tracking script on your thank you page means you might be missing visibility on $1 in every $5 spent on your store. How would plugging that hole change your whole company’s attitude to analytics?
2. Data security
Can you take the risk that important revenue and customer data is leaking out via the end user’s browser?
Yes, data sent to the user’s browser and tracking pings back to Google Analytics are both encrypted. But data on the web page and the network requests can be intercepted by other scripts running via Google Tag Manager or a Chrome extension.
In other words, data in the browser is inherently insecure.
By contrast, if the checkout steps and orders are tracked server-side—directly from your ecommerce platform to your analytics platform—there is no risk of this kind of snooping. You can even add commercially-sensitive stock levels or gross margins to order events, increasing the usefulness of analysis without compromising data security.
Tip: Related reading: Do you need to process customer data in-house to be truly data secure?
3. Consistent data for reporting
Have you ever dived into your website data and been utterly confused by which event names you need to report on? Things like typos, random capitalization (is it “Add To Cart” or “add TO Cart”?), and missing events caused by whoever set up Google Tag Manager. These make reporting a lot harder than it should be.
Littledata’s server-side tracking follows a dependable and consistent data schema; you can be sure add_to_cart is always add_to_cart.
This is especially important when you are working across multiple country stores (or multiple brands) and want to be sure you are comparing apples with apples when it comes to ecommerce conversion rate, checkout completion rate, or other key metrics.
3. Custom dimensions on your buyers
Your ecommerce platform already gives you a fair amount of information about potential customers (more than you can safely expose on the web page as we just found out in the last point).
With server-side tracking, however, you can enrich event data to get even more dimensions for reporting. These help you paint an even better picture of your customer, while still maintaining their privacy
Littledata sends a range of user-scoped custom dimensions with checkout and order events. These reporting dimensions can be used to build cohorts based on when the customer last ordered, analyze customer lifetime value, or link a customer’s web activity in Google Analytics with their customer history in Shopify.
That information goes a long way when you’re determining your best buyers and creating marketing campaigns to reach them.
4. Better sales attribution back to a specific Facebook or Instagram user
Facebook Ads’ ability to attribute your sales to their mobile ads has been so eroded by iOS 14 that they strongly encourage all brands to use their new server-side Facebook Conversions API (CAPI).
CAPI allows you to not only link an order to a browser session but also a range of customer identifiers. These identifiers improve your Event Match Quality score and better attribute your campaign spend—even between devices and browser sessions.
Brands using CAPI have seen up to 30% improvement in their Return On Advertising Spend— so even just one use case justifies any cost in switching to server-side tracking.
Tip: You can now get started with Facebook Ads via Conversions API by connecting your store using Littledata
5. Post-purchase events—refunds, cancellations, and fulfillment
Some events in a customer’s journey from discovery to delivery don’t happen in the customer’s internet browser. So, they can’t be tracked at all without server-side events.
A few good examples of this are order refunds and order cancellations (say due to fraud or delivery stock problems). If you exclude these from your analytics, you may have an overly rosy view of some acquisition channels with a high return or fraud rate.
Your marketing team might also want to trigger email notifications or other campaigns when a customer’s order is out for delivery or delivered. Server-side fulfillment events can achieve this too, triggered by any shipping app that integrates with your ecommerce platform.
6. Seamless tracking—even with a rapidly changing storefront
Before founding Littledata I advised brands like MADE.com and Figleaves.com on analytics setup. Even these larger, well-staffed brands found it really hard to keep their client-side tagging in sync with their store theme updates.
Every time a page layout was changed, inevitably one of the GTM triggers (which expected on-page buttons or images in a particular HTML format) would break. The interruption in tracking wouldn’t be noticed until someone went to check the reports at the end of the month—and the accuracy damage to the data was done.
Server-side tracking removes this risk. Whatever changes you make to the layout of the page, the data layer is maintained on a server and cannot be tampered with.
7. Avoiding custom scripts on the checkout
With Shopify, it’s just not possible to add scripts to the checkout. Although Shopify Plus has a workaround with the ability to edit a
checkout.liquid file, it’s likely at some point Shopify will close the loophole for the reputation of the platform.
This is an area where again server-side tracking provides a better way. As the customer steps through the checkout steps, their progress can be shadowed on the server and the same checkout funnel can be visualized without any scripts on the checkout itself.
8. Faster page loading
Many of the brands we work with support many data destinations. When using client-side tracking, this requires multiple tracking scripts to be loaded and multiple network requests to be made to track a single event. All of this extra browser activity slows down the user experience, especially on mobile devices.
A slower page load, as measured by Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, reduces the SEO of your landing pages.
So, although the overall contribution of client-side tracking on your page load speed might be minimal (~5%), removing the tracking has a doubly positive impact on both traffic and conversion rate.
The more reporting tools or marketing platforms your store is sharing data with, the greater the impact you’ll see from switching to server-side.
9. It’s the future!
For all of these reasons, I believe in 5 years’ time there will only be server-side tracking. The browser limitations, data security risks, and need for accuracy are only going to increase.
Meta might be ahead of the curve with Facebook Conversions API but I would expect other marketing platforms to follow suit once they see its success.
So why wait until your data is really broken? Get started with a no-code server-side implementation today.