Everything marketers need to know | Getting Started with server-side tagging

Magic Pixel
7 min readMar 16, 2021


In the marketing world, “If you can’t measure it, it did not happen”. So, it is imperative to have the right tagging and measurement technology employed across your digital properties to measure visitor behavior. If you are already using a tag manager, as a marketer, you will be familiar with all the features client-side tagging has to offer. With the changes in the privacy ecosystem and the race to catch up with laws, you would have observed several sharp changes to your site’s traffic and customer data fidelity you have been able to capture. This is where server-side tagging comes in as a fundamental solution to solve many issues we really cannot solve from the client-side. Here is your go-to guide to getting started with serve side tagging.

The old practice of tag management purely depended on client-side tagging. This meant firing tags while storing them on the browser when your website loads. Or adding a third-party tag such that the respective event pixels are fired on behalf of the third-party vendor. Both involve tracking customer data.

While client-side tagging gives marketers the flexibility to implement tags on their own, it comes with its own limitations,

  • Increased page load time,
  • data privacy non-compliance,
  • compromised data security,
  • longer production-publish cycles,
  • little control with third party tags
  • No visibility to tag performance

Especially the milestone of international data privacy laws supporting user’s privacy concerns has changed the game of tagging. Server-side tagging has proved to be a more promising way of tracking data. Many of the top tag management tools in the world have shifted their capabilities. They have moved away from pure client-side tagging to server-side tagging.

Simply put, server side tagging allows you to collect data in a first-party context . While client side tagging worked fine until now, it will no longer help you with ad blockers and browser restrictions on the rise. By the way, server side tagging is not a new concept, but nowadays the preference to use it has increased.

In this note, we will be addressing everything mentioned below about getting started with server side tag management.

  • What is server-side tagging?
  • How does tagging work in the absence of server-side tagging?
  • How to create a media pixel using server-side tagging?
  • Server tagging for websites
  • Server tagging for mobile apps
  • Benefits of server-side tagging with Magic Pixel

Here is a quick introduction to server side tagging.

What is server side tagging?

To track data, marketers publish tags or pixels which are small snippets of code. These are configured in the Tag Managers’ server instead of the user’s browser. When a website is set to load, a lightweight SDK loads onto the page, it captures all the data points required for all the tags to operate from the server, sending to the server in one call. Which means the server makes a direct request to a destination endpoint.

This reduces the time taken by the website to load, increasing the site speed. you can also set your rules about how third-party vendors gain access to user data. It allows you to stay more compliant, respecting user privacy. The threat of tag piggybacking is eliminated which translates to many tangible benefits like protection of PII information, anonymization of IP Addresses, etc.

How does tagging work in the absence of server side tagging?

With client-side tagging, each tag has its own independent cloud dependency. you have very little control on how tags behave, though they are being fired on your website. Eventually, tags were configured to send measurement data to various collection servers.

On the other hand, media tag managers like Magic Pixel transform the tagging mechanism with three aspects that differentiate client-side tagging from server-side tagging. Our tag manager supports both, but with the design of server dependency. You need to understand these three aspects to get started with server-side tagging:

  • Providers of media pixels (Like Facebook, Amazon, Google etc)
  • Qualification criteria, rules that determine when a tag or a set of tags should execute.
  • Tag dependencies, data elements, and variables

We have included the ability to track media pixels that are otherwise restricted by ad blockers. We create HTTPS tags that are safe and accepted by different browser data privacy norms. That is because SDK is hosted in your website’s namespace or domain in a first-party context.

Magic Pixel’s tag manager allows you to configure rules on how and when the tag should fire. The qualification criteria module lets you set conditions on how a tag behaves when it is fired standalone and when it is tied to a group of other tags. This helps you create different scenarios in which a tag needs to change behaviour. Read more about qualification criteria here. If the tags being fired are unable to find scenarios defined by the rules, then they cannot fulfill an action.

Also, each tag depends on various data elements and variables set within the code. Magic Pixel allows you to view which of these data elements and variables does a tag use while being fired. You can therefore make necessary amendments to change behavior.

And, this is where, you would have two questions:

  1. Does that mean I can or cannot control when my tags fail?
  2. Does that mean I can or cannot control the third party tags?

Let’s clarify the two for you.

In short, you can fix tags when they fail and also control third party tags.

How? Here’s how.

Tag Auditing and Third Party tags with server side tagging

The tag auditing feature lets you drill down the issues by each data element and variable. While this is the reactive approach. You can also proactively determine tag failure possibilities using predictive anomaly detection. This capability uses your historic data of tags and using machine learning, it predicts when such failures may reoccur.

Magic Pixel uses the qualification criteria to gate third party vendor tags. It lets you explore the specific tag and whitelist or blacklist the vendor from further action.

How to create a media pixel using server side tagging?

Step 1: Choose the “Tags” module. Step 2: Click on Add tag.

Step 3: Choose the third party tag provider

Step 4: Define the tag by completing

  • Qualification criteria
  • Tag info

Conventional websites did all the heavy lifting because they were designed to load the tags to ensure customer data is tracked properly. But in hindsight, it resulted in poor website performance. Magic Pixel’s smart integration with a light weight SDK allows websites to depend on the server side for web tagging. This not only reduces the load on the website but also improves the site performance, website responsiveness, and provides better insights.

Marketers can configure any pixel or media tag with a simple and intuitive UI. Our lightweight SDK with a small footprint on each page compiles the required data for all the tags. The Magic Pixel engine frees up the browser resources from all the heavy lifting.

Self hosting or not?

Magic Pixel provides the option for you to self-host or host with Magic Pixel. What does that mean?

Self-hosting on your own namespace (CDN) as a true first-party SDK is a Magic Pixel recommended best practice. When you enable our ID Link service, you get to create a first-party HTTP Cookie to store the Unique ID for the visitor. Or, you can choose to host your own CDN with us using a CNAME to Magic Pixel (not a recommended approach).

What is a web tag?

A web tag allows you to measure your website performance in real-time. It is a piece of Javascript code, a small pixel, or a transparent image. It collects unique information about your customers and their on-site behaviors across your organization’s digital properties.

When you evaluate your device strategy as a marketer, you cannot leave mobile devices out of the mix. Especially mobile devices top the list in a media strategy. Mobile app tagging is what will help marketers gain attribution and ad optimization insights.

Server-side, mobile app tagging improves app search, browsing experience, segmentation, and optimizes advertising. Mobile browsers have also gotten stringent with data restrictions. We recommend server-side tagging for mobile apps too. Using Magic Pixel, you can create a strong measurement plan and mobile-app-media implementation strategy similar to your web and other digital properties.

Learn more about server-side tagging here.

The fastest way to learn more is

Many marketers still use client-side tagging because it comes with a unique set of advantages and we encourage that too. In fact, with Magic Pixel, marketers incrementally migrate from client to server tags, also creating a hybrid use of client and server tags.

Originally published at https://magicpixel.io on March 16, 2021.



Magic Pixel

Next Generation Server-Side Tagging platform for web and mobile apps. Improve site performance, tag monitoring, CCPA/GDPR compliance & ROI!