In the late 90s, businesses became aware that they could track their customers’ data with JavaScript tags. The revolution of data tracking began. As the Internet grew, companies could get better insight into their users’ preferences and shopping habits. They can now understand their customers better than ever. They can even figure out when their customers are pregnant—before their own families.

    However, the right data collection is critical for getting value from the data on your website or application. While client-side tracking used to be the primary way to collect data, server-side streaming is now growing in both capabilities and popularity.

    Whether people are concerned about security for themselves or their users, want better data, or customer experience, server-side streaming is best for those who are serious about data tracking.

    Here’s what you need to know about server-side streaming and why it’s the best choice for everyone concerned about their security.

    Client-side vs. Server-side Streaming: What’s the Difference?

    When a user visits a web page or app, the “client” (the web browser or mobile device being used) requests information from the server, which then returns the web page to be rendered on the screen. There are two opportunities, then, to collect data on the user: client-side or server-side.

    Client-Side Tracking

    Client-side involves tracking through the user's device. This is accomplished mostly through using tags. It exploded in popularity from the beginning, mainly because it’s simple to set up. The user browser or mobile device sends data to the server, which then is passed along to the analytics service.

    Some ways to get information on the client-side include:

    • UTM parameters: They allow analytic tools to know what channel or ad campaign the client went through to get to their website.
    • IP address: IP address allows marketers to know where the user is located geographically.
    • Cookies: Allows websites to remember information about users and record their browsing activities.
    • User-agent: Tracks the device and browser specifications of the user. Allows marketers to know what kinds of devices users use to access your website.

    Server-Side Tracking

    Server-side tracking, also sometimes referred to as cloud delivery, uses the server’s information to send to analytics services. Rather than tracking through each device and web browser personally, server-side tracking relies on the information that is on the servers that communicate with the clients.

    Although it requires more set-up than client-side, server-side is gaining in popularity. It offers a few significant benefits over client-side, including:

    More Reliable Data

    Because client-side is open across millions of devices, there is a much better potential that something will go wrong. An ad-blocker, for example, could mess with the data that you receive. An interrupted connection could also change what the data looks like on your end. Page unloading, or when clicking a link opens a new page, often provides less valuable data as well.

    If a client makes a purchase and leaves the thank you page up, it may get refreshed multiple times over a few days. Your data has no way of clarifying this, so it might look like there are more purchases than there were. Here are some stats about client-side data:

    • Cookies miss 12% of conversion
    • 58% of cookie-based measurement is overstated.
    • 35% of cookie-based demographic targeting is inaccurate

    In the modern era, there's little room for error when trying to find out your customer behavior and journey through your website or app. It doesn’t matter how much user data you accumulate if it’s not accurate. Server-side provides more reliable data you can use that won’t have these issues. You can use all of the information you receive to find the best ways to reach your target audience and provide a better customer journey.

    Better Control of Data

    Ad-blockers can do more than mess with your data. They can also block mission-critical data from encouraging the user to take advantage of special offers that you may have for them. For example, they may miss a coupon or email list that you set up on your website.

    Client-side streaming could be costing you business if your users have ad-blockers installed on their web browser. If you have mission-critical data, such as a coupon for new customers, then server-side streaming is the way to go.

    Enhanced Device Performance

    Not only will you benefit from server-side, but your users will as well. Server-side streaming moves the processing burden from the device to the cloud, which means that your users' device won't be weighed down by data processing. A faster processing time for the application and device allows for a better customer experience without any additional effort from you.

    Applications that use server-side also benefit from the fact that they can make changes as needed without requiring clients to update their application. Updating apps can be a hassle, and many users won't do it, so they won't experience any work you put into creating an enhanced app.

    Server-Side for Better Security

    While all of the above reasons make server-side attractive and contribute to its growing popularity, the most significant selling point is its improved security. For businesses that have sensitive data, keeping their information client-side can be dangerous and creates danger of leaking important information. Also, users are growing increasingly concerned, and government regulations are beginning to step in to protect user privacy.

    Server-side streaming protects both businesses and their users that client-side cannot. Here are some of the ways server-side can bring you better security and peace of mind:

    Ditch the Cookies

    Cookies are quickly becoming obsolete. While it was once the fundamental way that the Internet worked, most companies are starting to feel pressure to re-think how they track user data. Even Google, the behemoth of the data world, is beginning to cave to pressure to protect user privacy. They are considering allowing users to delete third-party cookies without sacrificing first-party data.

    The fact that Google would even consider restricting cookies, which contributes a larger part of their revenue, goes to show the incredible pressure businesses are under to protect user privacy. Increased legislation on cookies with GDPR and rise in mobile usage also account for a decline in cookie usage.

    While most cookies are harmless and do nothing to jeopardize the user's privacy, there is an increasing concern over how businesses are using customer’s data. With server-side, though, you can lose the cookies completely while still obtaining the information that you need.

    Hackable JavaScript

    This can be a serious problem if you handle sensitive information, such as returns or revenue figures. Any data that you wouldn't want to be leaked shouldn't go through your client, period. Not only could it be a headache to sort through, but hacks can come at a painful cost. The average cost of a data breach is $46,000 for small businesses and $620,000 for enterprises, but it can end up costing more in a damaged reputation and lost clientele.

    Server-side offers additional security and allows you to by-pass your client with any data you want or need to keep secure. If you have any vulnerable information, server-side streaming is necessary.

    via GIPHY

    Security isn't just crucial for your company image and users. How you collect data could leave you vulnerable as well if you track sensitive information. JavaScript can be hacked, and malicious JavaScript has been used to hack British Airways and thousands of WordPress sites.

    Any code that is outside of your server is vulnerable. Although there may be ways to make it more secure, such as adding security checks that act as a "cache," there's no way to make it completely safe. Once information is with the client, it's out of your hands.

    Keep Your Data Safe with Server-Side Streaming

    Server-side streaming offers customer-friendly, secure data that is more accurate and useful for websites and applications. While many new companies first turn to client-side streaming initially, more and more businesses find that server-side is the best for those who are serious about getting real data and protecting both themselves and their users.

    Interested in how MetaRouter supports your server-side ecosystem? Send us a message—we'd love to chat!

    Kayly Lange

    Written by Kayly Lange