When it comes to tracking and analysing user behaviour, two primary methods are commonly employed: server-side analytics and client-side analytics. While both approaches aim to provide valuable insights, they differ significantly in terms of data collection, processing, and privacy considerations. This article will delve into server-side vs client-side analytics, exploring their respective advantages and limitations. By understanding these distinctions, businesses can make informed choices about which analytics method best suits their needs and goals.
What is client-side analytics?
Client-side analytics is a popular and widely used method for collecting data on how users use or behave on your website or app. It involves placing tracking codes called tags on each page of your website or app source code or utilising a tag management system like GTM, where you place its container tag on your product’s source code.
For example, If you want to understand how users behave on your website or app and decide to use an analytics platform such as Google Analytics 4 to measure this. To implement client-side analytics for this, you would need to add the tracking code generated by GA4 to every page of your website or app’s source code; these tracking codes are executed on the user’s (client) browser or device each time a user uses your website, the data collected about how the users behave, the actions they take is then sent directly to Google Analytics.
There are several benefits to using this method. First, it is easy to implement as it might not require technical expertise, it is generally more cost-effective, and it provides access to some essential user information. However, it has some limitations; data collection depends on the user’s browser and device settings, which means some users may have privacy settings or ad blockers that can prevent data tracking and collection.
What is Server-side analytics?
Server-side analytics refers to collecting user data on the server side of your website or app. This method sends the collected data to a server that hosts the website or app and then passes it to a vendor platform such as Google Analytics or Facebook.
Server-side analytics simply adds an extra layer to client-side analytics by processing user data through the company’s servers before sending it to the vendor platforms, effectively cutting off direct links from your product or website to the vendor platform.
When a user loads your website or app, the tracking codes execute on the server side; the collected data is then stored and processed on the server before being sent to the vendor platform whose tracking code was triggered.
The primary advantage of server-side analytics is its reliability. Since the data is collected and processed on the server, it is not affected by factors such as ad blockers, tracking protection, or browser restrictions that can hinder client-side tracking. This ensures that the data collected is more accurate, consistent, and comprehensive.
One other key benefit of server-side tracking is the increased control and security it provides. You control the collected data, which third-party providers cannot access or use. This enhances data security and privacy for your business.
Furthermore, server-side tracking improves the browsing experience for users by eliminating the need to process all the tracking codes on the client’s device, leading to smoother and faster site or app speed.
However, it is essential to note that server-side tracking requires expertise to set up and maintain the server-side tracking system. Despite these challenges, server-side analytics offers significant advantages regarding reliability, security, and control, making it a valuable approach for certain use cases, mainly when dealing with sensitive information.
Which type of analytics you should use?
The choice between client-side and server-side analytics depends on your specific needs and goals. Here are some factors to consider:
- Data Accuracy: Server-side analytics bypasses limitations such as ad blockers or privacy settings, ensuring accurate and effective data collection, unlike client-side analytics, which these factors may hinder.
- Data Needs: User location, operating system, device information, and mouse movements are easier tracked on the client side as they are browser-reliant, so it would make sense to use client-side implementation for analytics platforms that offer heat mapping or session recording.
- Privacy and Security: Client-side analytics may raise privacy concerns as it involves tracking user behaviour on their devices. On the other hand, server-side analytics gives you control over the data, which can help you comply with data privacy regulations and ensure secure handling of sensitive user information.
- Implementation and Maintenance: Client-side analytics requires embedding tracking codes or scripts on each website or application page and is cost-effective to implement and maintain. Server-side analytics typically involves setting up server infrastructure, managing containers, and integrating with platforms and APIs, which requires technical expertise, and the cost for setup and maintenance might be high for some businesses.
- System Performance: Server-side analytics can provide insights into server performance, errors, and other backend metrics that impact the overall user experience. This information can help optimise server infrastructure and improve system performance.
Ultimately, your choice depends on your requirements, resources, and priorities. In some cases, businesses may use a combination of both client-side and server-side analytics to gain a comprehensive understanding of user behaviour and system performance.
Why server-side and client-side analytics data don’t match
Server-side and client-side analytics data may not always match due to several reasons, some of the reasons include:
- Data Collection Differences: Server-side analytics primarily relies on a server to collect data, while client-side analytics captures data directly from the user’s device or browser. These different collection methods can lead to variations in the data captured.
- Ad Blocking: Ad blockers installed on users’ browsers can prevent client-side analytics scripts from running, resulting in untracked actions and discrepancies in the data.
- Caching and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs): Caching mechanisms and CDNs can store and serve cached versions of web pages to users, impacting client-side analytics’ accuracy. When a user accesses a cached version of a page, client-side analytics may not record their actions.
- Network Latency: Network latency or slow internet connections can cause discrepancies in the timing of data collection between server-side and client-side analytics. This can result in variations in the recorded timestamps and potentially mismatched data.
- User Behaviour: Users may interact with a website or application differently, leading to variations in the data captured by server-side and client-side analytics. For example, a user may navigate away from a page before client-side analytics scripts can execute, resulting in missing data.
Understanding and considering these factors is essential when analysing and comparing server-side and client-side analytics data. Establishing a consistent tracking methodology and regularly monitoring and reconciling discrepancies is also recommended to ensure accurate data analysis.
In this article, we have discussed the two analytics implementation methods for your products, server-side and client-side analytics, highlighting their differences and when you can implement them. Both analytics methods have their benefits; for example, client-side analytics is easier and more cost-effective, while server-side analytics offers enhanced data accuracy, privacy, and reduced client-side load. While both server-side and client-side tracking methods have their benefits, it is crucial to consider their drawbacks when implementing them.
Some businesses use a combination of both methods to track different metrics and enjoy the benefit of hybrid data collection. If you’re unsure of what method to use to measure your product performance, don’t hesitate to contact us to guide you and help you set up the most suitable analytics method to measure your product performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Server-side analytics is a method of sending your product tracking data of your website or app to an analytics vendor such as Google Analytics using a server.
Client-side analytics collects data directly from the user’s device or browser. It sends the data directly from the user’s (client’s) device to the vendor platform. In contrast, server-side analytics sends your user data first to the server hosting your product and, from the server, sends the data to the vendor platform.
Server-side analytics offers several benefits, such as enhancing data accuracy, improving privacy and security, providing deeper insights into server performance, and enabling tracking of user interactions that client-side analytics may not capture.