Client-Side Tracking vs Server-Side Tracking: Who Wins?

If you have a website, especially in eCommerce, you know how important it is to track important eCommerce events. It helps to improve your marketing, sales and content strategies as well as get feedback on what works and what doesn't.  So the ultimate question is not about whether to track data or not, but rather how to track it: client-side or server-side.

While most websites use client-side tracking, server-side can also bring a lot of benefits to the table. So today we'll discuss both tracking methods to help you determine which one fits your needs best.

Those of you who use Magento as an eCommerce platform will also find a ready-to-use solution for client-side and server-side tracking. So stick around.

Same as always, before we determine the similarities and differences of both tracking methods, let's talk about them first.

What is Client-Side Tracking?

Client-side tracking is the process of tracking users' actions on your website and sending data from users' browsers to the tag management system or analytics platform. This tracking method is used to collect basic data about page views, clicks, etc. 

It is relatively easy to implement client-side tracking and it doesn't require any tech-savvy knowledge.

Since Google Tag Manager (GTM) is the most popular tag management system you just add the GTM code to your website. Then you set up the tags and triggers that will collect data about users' activity on your website and send it to Google Analytics or other third-party tools. 

browser based tracking

Pros and Cons of Client-Side Tracking

As we've already mentioned, client-side tracking is the most common way of tracking data used by the majority of websites. And there are quite a few reasons for that. 

Nonetheless, some challenges still arise when using this tracking method.

Advantages of client-side tracking 

Easy implementation — Client-side tracking has been around for years. So it's common and relatively easy to implement. You just need to add a snippet of code to your store to enable the tracking. And then use any tag management system to create tags and triggers. 

Low cost — Unlike server-side tracking, client-side tracking comes at a lower price, if not completely free. e.g. Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager cost nothing.

Disadvantages of client-side tracking

Influence on the website performance — To track data in users' browsers you add tracking scripts to your website. Each script slows down your website when loading which could lead to people leaving your store.

Cookies — There are browsers with features that limit 3rd party cookies and tracking scripts. Thus, you can't track any data if users come from any of such browsers.

What is Server-Side Tracking?

Server-side tracking is a process of tracking users's actions on your website and sending data from your server to the tag management system or analytics platform servers.

This type of tracking allows you to track data from a wide range of sources which makes it more detailed. Besides it bypasses the cookies restrictions. So you can track data even if users block the tracking pixels. 

It could be harder to implement and maintain. But, the results are worth it. 

server side tracking in gtm

Pros and Cons of Server-Side Tracking

Server-side tracking requires some technical background to implement. However, the perks it offers make up for the price of hiring a developer.

Advantages of server-side tracking 

Accuracy — Server-side tracking is more resistant to adblockers and ITPs. This makes the data you track more accurate and reliable in various scenarios. So you don't face any missing transactions in Google Analytics.

Better website performance — Since data is tracked and processed through the server, not the client's device, no tracking scripts and pixels are loaded. This leads to better performance.

Data control — You don't send data from users' browsers to the tracking and analytics tools directly. So they can't collect any additional data from your website. Only the data you choose to send them.  

Disadvantages of server-side tracking

Cost — although you can use GA4 Measurement Protocol to enable server-side tracking, it doesn't go further than GA4. If you want to send data to other systems, you need to host your server container somewhere and it comes at a certain price each month. 

Harder implementation — server-side tracking is not common. So fewer people know how to implement and configure it properly. 

Do You Need Both Tracking Methods?

Now we come to the most important question of the article. Many of you wonder if using both server-side and client-side tracking is a necessity.  

Since client-side tracking has been around for a while, it does the job perfectly fine. That's why using server-side tracking is optional for the majority of websites. 

However, if you want to take data tracking to the next level and make sure the reports are more concise and accurate, you need server-side. 

Ultimately, it's best to use client-side tracking as you're used to and set up server-side only for the missing data. In this case, you'll track all data even if some is not captured by the browser's pixels due to some restrictions.

Nonetheless, choose the option that works best for your website and your needs since both tracking methods have their benefits. 

Tracking Data in Magento

Those of you who use Magento can enable built-in Google Analytics settings and track basic events like page views and purchases. However, if you want to track more data about users' actions in your store, you need to set up Google Tag Manager.

Besides, server-side tracking is also a thing for this platform. However, there are no built-in settings for that. You need to configure server tracking in Magento using ready-made tools.