What Shopify brands need to know about server-side tracking

Tracking and collection are the first steps.

While there are a few different ways that ecommerce businesses can collect first-party data, the most common method is through server-side tracking.

Server-side tracking is immensely powerful, but until recently it was too complex for most DTC brands to set up, even those doing $50M+ a year in online sales!

Client-side vs. server-side tracking

To understand what server-side tracking is, let’s go over the two main ways a website owner tracks visitor behavior—client-side and server-side—and look at the differences.

Client-side tracking

Let’s start with the old, leading tracking method—clientside. This form of tracking relies on data taken from a user’s browser (in this case the “client”) to the analytics reporting tool set up for the website.

Client-side tracking has been the most common way of implementing analytics and other third-party tags. With client-side tracking, data is transferred directly from the user’s browser (known as a client) to an external server such as an analytics vendor.

This data transfer is enabled by deploying small pieces of JavaScript code (called tags) on each page of a website.

The downside of client-side tracking is that it can be prevented through blockers and intelligent tracking prevention. It’s also been cut down significantly by privacy regulations and tracking opt-outs.

Server-side tracking

As we mentioned, server-side tracking collects data from the server the client is using to access your site, rather than the client (or web browser).

This tracking method keeps data collected anonymous while still recording actions users take on your website.

In addition to these benefits providing a smoother user experience, server-side tracking also captures visitor behavior on your site.

That’s crucial information to see what products are being
browsed most, where buyers drop off in the buying cycle, and helps you pinpoint where you can improve your store design.

Why rely on server-side tracking?

There are a handful of benefits you get from using serverside tracking. They include:

  • Faster page load speeds thanks to using a smaller
    script in the browser
  • More data security to protect sensitive info
  • Complete event capture for the checkout flow,
    including sales and refunds/returns
  • Avoiding no tracking of an order when a user doesn’t
    wait for the thank you page to load
  • Avoiding double tracking of the order status page
    when the user reloads
  • Accurate marketing attribution (sessions stitched
    together) across all checkout types

What are brands doing now with server-side tracking?

Overall, brands using server-side tracking see benefits in a number of areas. The most valuable, though, is in understanding user behavior.

Server-side tracking of visitor behavior informs design
changes, product decisions, advertising strategies and
more.

That’s because server-side tracking shows you information about what potential buyers are doing at each stage in the funnel. When a shopper first arrives at your store, you can see which products they move to first and total up which have the most adds-to-cart, or which have been most frequently viewed.

You can also identify common drop off points where you
might need to make a design change or smooth out the
user experience to convert more sales.

Think of server-side tracking like having a complete view
of the shoppers in your store. You don’t need identifying
information to get valuable insights on what they like and
don’t like, so server-side tracking respects their privacy
and keeps their data secure while giving you the best
insights into what shoppers are looking for from your
business.

Tip: To get the most out of the first-party data you collect, you need to make sure you’re sending it to the right reporting tools. Google Analytics is the market leader for data reporting and with the Littledata to Google Analytics connector you can be sure you’re getting 100% accurate attribution data and crystal clear insights on your customers

Eliminating data silos and owning your data

When you’re using a handful of different tools to manage everything you need for your store, disconnection becomes almost inevitable.

Likewise, if you build your tech stack without making sure your email tool can connect with your advertising platform, CRM, and analytics, you’re creating data silos that trap important customer info and make it harder for you to create a cohesive data picture.

Data silos also lead to inflated numbers about both marketing spend and revenue, because every platform wants to claim the lion’s share of “influenced revenue.”

Tip: With Littledata you can now see your revenue in app that would be missed without enhanced tracking with Littledata Assisted Revenue (LAR).

These data silos become an expensive problem quickly. Your marketing and engineering teams may waste countless hours creating and promoting products that customers simply don’t want, all because your data wasn’t linked to show you what they actually do want.

Adding the right tools to your first-party tech stack and making sure they sync together will help you eliminate silos and truly own the data you’re collecting.

When you have a clear flow of data and know exactly what you’re using your database, reporting tool, and data connectors for, you can leverage that data more efficiently to make data-driven decisions.

Even worse: if your growth teams only have access to siloed data, they can easily get lost in optimizing for short-term gains instead of long-term customer success, such as higher lifetime value and stronger customer loyalty.

And none of this is their fault! They just don’t have the unified first-party data they need to make truly data driven decisions.

Move your brand to first-party data

There are three main methods you can follow to move to relying on first-party data for your business. They vary in the amount of time, resources, and expertise required, so we’ll break each one down by level of coding involved (and level of difficulty overall).

No-code solution (Easy)

It doesn’t matter if you’re a lean ecommerce business that needs to save on developer costs or an established brand with a robust data and development team—easy is always better.

This “easy” solution doesn’t skimp on any power in data tracking and reporting, either. Stores of every size, including multinational sellers and billion-dollar brands, have made use of this no-code setup to get accurate first-party data for their store.

What am I talking about? Littledata’s tracking script of
course! The Littledata ecommerce reporting application for Shopify works by simply adding a snippet of code to your store.

Our team can walk you through adding it if you like, and the process takes just a few minutes before your store is processing accurate first-party data through a combination of client and server-side tracking.

Once installed, you can also take advantage of an array of connections Littledata offers, including:

  • Reporting data into Google Analytics where you can
    customize reports, track the complete customer
    journey, and create deep profiles of your customers
  • Automatically connect with Facebook and Google
    Ads and retarget your most valuable customers
  • Access granular data about purchasing behavior and
    customer lifetime value (LTV)
  • Add subscription management apps that track
    recurring transactions and provide accurate data on
    first-time and subscription customers
  • Prepare for the future of first-party data using
    Google Analytics 4 (and follow guides created by our
    data experts)

Adding Littledata to your store is as simple as signing up for a free 30-day trial or scheduling a demo with one of our team to create a completely custom setup.

We’ve had nothing but smooth sailing
with Littledata. You don’t need a
technical understanding to get going
with Littledata – it’s an easy method
of server-side tracking that ensures
GA is as accurate as it can be. And the
support has always been great.

Tom Cox, Data and Analytics Manager @ Swanky

Low-code solution (Intermediate)

One popular solution to get first-party data is Google Tag Manager (GTM). This tag management system doesn’t require adding analytics code directly on your website, instead it works as a “helper” to reduce the amount of code needed while keeping your analytics in the same place.

Using a solution like Google Tag Manager (GTM) changes things a bit not only from a setup complexity perspective but from a maintenance perspective as well. For one, you will need to set up each individual tag on your store and maintain it through the GTM system.

This means ongoing tag maintenance and asking for support when any of these tag platforms are updated or change over time. If these tags are broken, your data accuracy suffers and
you miss crucial customer information.

You’ll also need a special version of GTM called server-side GTM set up if you want to collect first-party data. This adds extra cost—as much as $150 a month depending on your tracking needs—and requires the cost of time in maintenance as well.

While some believe a GTM setup offers more customization, in reality, it’s similar to what you’d receive from simply adding a strong tracking script backed by a reputable solution like Littledata.

Mo’ code Solution (Expert)

This last method of setting up server-side tracking is reserved for the select few who have robust in-house teams of data scientists and developers.

You can build a complete data infrastructure in-house, meaning that you own each piece of your data stack and need to be in charge of monitoring and maintaining its health going forward.

This of course gives you complete control over your reporting solution, but it comes at a cost. Developer time and overall company resources need to be dedicated to building this solution so that it is on par with what’s already offered by other solutions on the market.

In addition, that cost remains for maintaining the solution and adapting to future privacy updates, cookie blocking, and other unforeseen changes to tracking and data reporting we don’t even know of yet.

Brands like GRIND that have already made the switch

Over the years, GRIND built an incredible brand through their popular brick-and-mortar stores and newsletters—going beyond coffee to become a part of their customers’ lives in a meaningful, authentic way.

After losing their entire physical business overnight, GRIND needed to quickly pivot to ecommerce and get an accurate picture of their online customers LTV for “onetime” and “recurring” orders. They also needed a solution to see and report customer behavior happening on their Shopify store to build ideal customer profiles, retarget customers using dynamic social ads, and make crucial decisions using accurate data.

Littledata’s Recharge connection made it easy to get accurate sales and marketing attribution data across the subscriber journey.

This smart technology connected GRINDS’s Recharge checkout with Google Analytics for accurate data about
subscription revenue, including first-time payments, recurring transactions, and subscription lifecycle events.

If you want to learn more about first-party data, server-side tracking, and utilize our mini-data process worksheet you can download our recent white paper, How Shopify stores can boost sales with first-party datahere.

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