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8 Mistakes to Avoid with Google Tag Manager Server-Side Tagging

8 Mistakes to Avoid With Google Tag Manager Server-Side Tagging

Google Tag Manager Server-Side tagging promises many benefits. The opportunity to reduce the amount of third-party JavaScript run in the user’s browser being one of them. And an incredibly useful one at that! So it makes sense that you’d want to implement it on your site. But there are problems you can run into when doing so and it’s important to avoid making GTM server-side tagging mistakes.

That’s why we’ve created this article… To list some of those mistakes so that you can avoid making them. Because at MeasureMinds, we love empowering people with data. If you read this article and think we missed anything, please let us know in the comments. You may end up helping someone out!

 

Quick Jump To:

1. Not publishing after making changes

2. Forgetting to set the URL endpoint as a constant variable that includes HTTP protocol.

3. Setting A or AAAA records in the DNS incorrectly

4. Not creating a Google Cloud Platform project first

5. Not using any coherent naming structure

6. Not using community-verified templates

7. Not splitting dev and live (especially for banking sites) because it improves access security

8. Not hiring GTM experts

 

1. Not publishing after making changes

The first of the GTM server-side tagging mistakes to avoid might seem obvious: forgetting to publish any changes made to your container. There are cases where publishing slips your mind. This happens especially when you are knee-deep in debugging or are having a long workday. Small details are missed.

Forgetting to publish Google Tag Manager changes can happen when you’re working with different versions of the same container. When going back and forth through container versions or different workspaces, there’s a tendency to miss something like publishing the changes that you’ve just made.

There are cases when you are publishing changes, and then reverting back to make small changes again. When you do this often, especially in large containers, publishing can be forgotten. So here’s your friendly reminder of one of the basics. Hopefully, we’ve just saved you from the “doh!” moment!

2. Forgetting to set the URL endpoint as a constant variable that includes HTTP protocol.

Setting up URL endpoints in Google Tag Manager is tricky, especially when you’re not technical. In Google Tag Manager, there’s a Constant variable. What this does is when you add a value in this variable, the value is reusable as you traverse around Google Tag Manager.

Let’s create a Constant Variable with a URL as its value. Always remember to add the https:// as part of it.

Constant Variable with a URL as its value

Seems obvious. But what’s the connection with server-side tagging? Once the client-side container has been published, the pageview hit is incorrectly sent to the server-side endpoint.

Look at the screenshot below. This is an example of a correct Request URL. The browser provided the correct value with https://.

request URL

Now, if the Constant variable doesn’t include the https://, you would expect something like the below:

Request URL: domain.com/domain.com/collect?v=1&_

The request above is misconfigured. The domain is delivered twice (domain.com). It might seem small, but this is a critical step when setting up Google Tag Manager because the requested URL needs to be correct! Be careful.

3. Setting A or AAAA records in the DNS incorrectly

The fourth of the GTM server-side tagging mistakes to avoid is setting up A or AAAA records for server-side tagging. Which can be a recipe for disaster if not done correctly. And it’s something that can be easily overlooked.

A records or AAAA records are Domain Name Servers (or DNS for short). They’re used to find the IP address of a computer connected to the internet from a name. Just think of it as a phone book or directory. Every entity (in this case the website) has a corresponding IP address and the DNS records name them.

The mistake lies in the mapping of these records to the server-side endpoint. Consider the screenshot below.

DNS record Google Tag Manager

When adding the DNS records, it’s important to have no spaces on the left side and right side. Also, make sure there are no special characters that are otherwise provided. It will misconfigure if the fields are not populated correctly. Hire GTM experts or a developer to guide you in the right direction.

4. Not creating a Google Cloud Platform project first

Mistakes on server tagging provisions fall into the admin side of GTM. Setting up your tagging server is one of the first decisions you make when installing server-side.

Setting up a tagging server

The mistake occurs when GTM creates a new Google Cloud Platform project. The recommended method is to create the new project on GCP first, rather than create the project on Google Tag Manager.

Though it’s not something to fuss over too much, it’s something to think about, especially when serving clients. It avoids unnecessary back and forth communication and avoids difficulties when managing projects. 

If you work with corporate clients that already have a Google Cloud Platform account, it’s probably much easier for them to create a new account for you and connect it to a billing account. Then they can provide you with permissions to the new account. After that, you can connect it with the GCP via the ‘manually provision tagging server option’.  That way it avoids all the hassle with permissions.

5. Not using any coherent naming structure

It’s always important to have a proper naming structure for your GTM containers. Because it provides easier navigation due to the components that make up your container being labelled correctly. Otherwise, it’s like trying to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture without knowing what anything is or even worse labelled incorrectly!

Providing a proper naming structure is one of the first things we do for our clients. It’s also one of the things our free GTM cleaner tool does.

Doing the same when setting up GTM server-side is no different. And forgetting or neglecting to do so, is a big mistake!

6. Not using community-verified templates

When server-side tagging is needed for Facebook conversion tracking, there’s a tendency to create a tag from scratch. It’s recommended to avoid building tags, triggers, and variables on your own, and just use a template instead.

Facebook Conversions API Tag template

The Facebook Conversions API Tag template is an official template from Facebook. It’s also an accepted and reliable template based on the opinions of analytics experts. There’s no need to get in the weeds with code and other potential stumbling blocks. The parameters are provided for you.

7. Not splitting dev and live (especially for banking sites) because it improves access security

Testing setup changes is critical for experimentation. And it’s important to uncover the specific needs of your website tracking plan. That’s said, a mistake most companies make is not having a split between LIVE and DEV containers.

LIVE is what the end-user sees and what most stakeholders use. It’s used for production for analysis and it’s considered the standard setup. DEV on the other hand is where most developers experiment with the tracking setup. This is where things are being debugged and tested for new experimental changes.

Splitting LIVE and DEV is beneficial if the website has thousands or maybe millions of traffic. Every change needs to be tested and have a layered QA before going into production. It requires some technical knowledge to set up both simultaneously so you should definitely consider hiring some help from a developer or analyst.

8. Not hiring GTM experts

The last of the GTM server-side tagging mistakes to avoid is not asking for help when you need it!

Google Tag Manager requires a team of experts with technical knowledge. GTM functions require attention to details. It’s important to be familiar with small changes, as small changes have a big impact on websites. It might seem innocent to change a small variable or field. But in the grand scheme of things, sometimes those changes have high accountability.

So it’s important to get the help of a Google Tag Manager Agency or a developer

Phil Pearce
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Phil Pearce
Phil Pearce
Phil is an analytics expert, author, and web analyst. He's also the Analytics Director & Founder of Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Ads and CRO agency, MeasureMinds Group. Over the past 20+ years, Phil has helped clients improve their analytics and search engine marketing through the introduction of new tools and disruptive techniques.
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