In this guide, we will delve into the world of GA4 server side tracking and provide a detailed walkthrough on setting it up for your website or app. If you’re unfamiliar with GA4 server side, don’t worry; we’ll start with an introduction to help you understand the basics. By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have a solid understanding of the significance of GA4 server side and how to implement it. Let’s get started!
What’s GA4 Server Side?
GA4 server-side is a method of sending data from your website or app to Google Analytics using a server, bypassing the need for placing all your tracking codes on your website or app’s source code. Let’s break this down in simpler terms: GA4 is a well-known analytical platform for tracking user actions and behaviours on our websites or apps. Typically, these actions are tracked and captured by GA4 tracking codes that we place in the source code of a website or app. When a user performs an activity, the user’s browser or app sends that information to GA4 directly (Client-side tracking). But with server-side tracking, instead of sending data directly from the user’s (client’s) browser or app to Google Analytics, you send it to your server first. Your server acts as a middleman and forwards the data to Google Analytics.
Let’s use an example to break this further. Imagine you have an online store where you sell products or services and would like to understand how your visitors interact with your website or app, the number of visits, the products they view, purchases or even the wish-listed items or their counts and decide to implement GA4 to help capture and track these data for you. There are two ways you can implement GA4: Client-side setup or Server-side setup.
While in server-side GA4 setup, the tracking data is sent from the website or app to a server first. The server acts as an intermediary and forwards the data to Google Analytics. Instead of directly sending the data from the visitor’s browser to Google Analytics 4, it first goes through an intermediary server. Your server takes the tracking data it received and forwards it to Google Analytics. Google Analytics 4 receives the data from your server, processes it, and analyses it to provide insights about your online store performance, such as the number of visitors, popular products, and purchases.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of using GA4 Server Side?
There are several benefits to using GA4 Server Side. Firstly, it provides greater flexibility in data collection. With traditional client-side tracking, data collection is dependent on the user’s browser and device settings. Some users may have privacy settings or ad blockers that prevent client-side tracking. GA4 Server Side allows you to bypass these limitations and collect data effectively, ensuring a more reliable and consistent data stream.
Additionally, server-side tracking gives you more control over the data sent to Google Analytics. This can help you comply with data privacy regulations and ensure secure handling of sensitive user information.
Consequently, GA4 Server Side offloads the tracking process to a server and reduces the burden on the client’s browser or app, resulting in improved performance and user experience. This is particularly beneficial for mobile apps or websites with heavy traffic.
Despite its numerous benefits, there are a few drawbacks to consider when setting up GA4 Server Side. One of the main challenges is the initial setup process, which requires technical knowledge and expertise. It involves server configuration, API integrations, and data forwarding, which may be challenging for non-technical users. Understanding the configuration and ensuring accurate data collection may take some time.
Using a server for data forwarding means you need a server or a cloud-based service, which adds to the infrastructure requirements and costs. It also requires ongoing maintenance, monitoring, and troubleshooting to ensure correct and consistent data.
Since data needs to be sent from the client to the server and then to Google Analytics, there may be a slight delay or latency compared to direct client-side tracking. However, you can minimise this with efficient server configurations.
Additionally, as GA4 Server Side collects data at the server level, it may not capture certain client-side interactions or events crucial for understanding user behaviour. It is essential to carefully consider these limitations before implementing GA4 Server Side.
Setting up GA4 Server Side
In this article we will cover two methods of setting up GA4 server side, via GTM server-side tagging and via the GA4 Measurement Protocol API.
Let’s look at these methods in detail in the next sections.
How to set up GA4 via GTM Server Side Tagging
GTM server side tagging essentially involves running your container Tag in a Server environment rather than the commonly used web environment.
To set up GA4 via GTM (Google Tag Manager) Server-Side Tagging, follow these steps:
- Create a GA4 property in your Google Analytics account
Go to the GA4 Admin section, click “Create Property,” and follow the prompts to set it up. You can skip this step if you already have your GA4 property set up.
- Set up your web GTM container
Set up your web GTM container for the GA4 property mentioned earlier, configure it with tags and triggers as you would typically do for your client-side tracking.
- Set up a GTM Server Container
In your Google Tag Manager account, create a new Server Container that will handle the server-side tagging. You can create your server in the Google Cloud or any platform you desire. Configure the Server Container by providing the necessary details, such as the container name, domain.
Creating a container automatically creates a client within the server container that collects the data from the website or app. Read a more comprehensive guide on how to set up a GTM server-side container in our article.
- Create a GA4 Configuration Tag
Inside the Server Container, create a new tag for GA4 Configuration as you would in your GTM Web container. This tag will define the GA4 property and its associated settings. Configure the tag by providing the GA4 Measurement ID (found in your GA4 property settings) and any required additional settings.
- Create a GTM Trigger
Create the trigger within the Server Container tag, your tag should trigger when your GA4 client receives information. The server container has limited trigger types in comparison to the web container. You can use the custom type and specify that it triggers when your client name equals GA4.
- Create GA4 Google Tag in Web Container and set up data forwarding to GTM Server-side
Configure your web container GA4 Google Tag to send data to the GTM Server Container. To do this create a new user-defined “Google Tag configuration settings” variable in the web container. You can use “server_container_url” as the parameter name and then set the server URL as the value. Now, add the variable created to the configuration settings of the Google Tag in your web container.
- Test your setup in GA4 DebugView
Test your setup to ensure data is sent correctly from your website or app to the GTM Server Container. You can use the GA4 DebugView, GTM preview mode, or check the server logs to verify. Once you’re confident in the setup, publish the Server and Web Containers.
Be sure to consult the GTM documentation or seek assistance from a GTM expert if you encounter any difficulties during the setup process. If you want to understand the differences between GTM and GA4, please check this article: Google Tag Manager vs. Google Analytics.
GA4 Measurement Protocol API
The GA4 Measurement Protocol API provides a powerful way for developers to send data directly to their GA4 properties. With the GA4 Measurement Protocol API, developers can send HTTP requests to the GA4 endpoint with the necessary parameters for the event they want to track. The API supports batch and single requests, allowing developers to send multiple events in a single request for better performance.
To set up GA4 via the GA4 Measurement Protocol API, follow these steps:
- First, generate an API secret and measurement ID from the GA4 property. You can find this in the GA4 Admin section under the Property Settings.
Simply go to Admin > Property Settings > Data Streams > Stream Details > Measurement Protocol API Secrets, then click Create
- Construct the HTTP requests with the required parameters, such as the measurement ID, API secret. You can use the Google Analytics Event Builder to test and evaluate this.
- Send the HTTP requests to the Measurement Protocol API endpoint. The endpoint URL is https://www.google-analytics.com/mp/collect.
You can also explore this comprehensive tutorial on how to send events via the measurement protocol.
In this article, we have discussed GA4 Server side in detail, highlighting it as one of the methods of setting up GA4. It involves using a server to forward your tracked data to GA4. It offers several benefits, including enhanced data accuracy, enhanced data privacy, and reduced client-side load. Although it has benefits, it also has some drawbacks that should be put into consideration when implementing it.
Some businesses use it as a standalone method of setting up GA4, while others combine it with client server-side tracking (hybrid data collection) to combine the benefits of both methods.
Frequently Asked Questions
GA4 server-side tracking is a method of sending your tracking data from your website or app to Google Analytics using a server.
In client-side GA4 setup, the tracked data is sent directly from the user’s browser or app to GA4, while on the server side, instead of directly sending the data from the user’s browser to GA4, it goes through an intermediary server first, and then it is sent to GA4 from the server.
You can set up GA4 server side via GTM server-side tagging or the GA4 Measurement protocol API.