Get in touch with our team
Feature image for 15.03.2024


6 min read

The future of marketing technology is (and let’s face it, always has been) server-side

As always, in the ever-evolving digital marketing landscape, staying ahead of the curve is essential. As technologies continue to advance, we are constantly seeking new tools and strategies to enhance their campaigns and drive better results.

The rise in the use of cookies as user-level information stores, and the rise in JavaScript technologies have both contributed to an overwhelming number of client-side tracking, analysis and optimisation platforms. 

But now, in 2024, with the technological and privacy headwinds against these practices, a return to server-side technologies is the recurrent theme in our thinking. In this post, I’ll dive into just three examples of how marketing technology is migrating away from the client-side (JavaScript execution), towards the server. Read more to see the benefits of the approach below!

The robustness of server-side third-party ad-tech tag management

While client-side tag management solutions have traditionally been more prevalent, since their proliferation in 2011-2012. Server-side tag managers aren’t new (there is a theme here!) but have recently gotten a lot of attention and usage due to the challenges posed by modern browsers and mobile devices on user-level tracking. By processing tags on the server rather than in the user’s browser, server-side tag managers improve website performance, enhance data security, and ensure consistent tag firing across different devices and browsers.

One of the key benefits of server-side tag managers is their ability to mitigate issues related to ad blockers and privacy regulations. With more users deploying ad blockers to limit tracking and data collection, client-side tags are often blocked, resulting in incomplete data and inaccurate analytics. Server-side tag managers circumvent this problem by executing tags on the server, mitigating the issues caused to marketers by ad blockers and ensuring that valuable data continues to flow uninterrupted. 

Server-side tag managers provide greater control over data governance and compliance. With stricter regulations such as GDPR and CCPA governing data privacy (and long before), marketers are compelled to prioritise data protection and privacy. Server-side solutions enable organisations to centralise data and change-management, implement granular access controls, and enforce data governance policies more effectively.

So, server-side tag managers offer superior performance, enhanced data security, and better compliance with privacy regulations, making them an essential component of any modern marketing stack.

Server-side, Edge SEO Testing

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a mainstay in digital marketing. Investing in SEO drives organic traffic and can improve online visibility to both top-of-funnel and in-market audiences. SEO testing has for a long time either been reasonably absent or based on interrupted time series analysis — i.e. before and after. When analysed in this way, interrupted time series analysis cannot account for externalities and as such isn’t a rigorous analytical method. 

More recently, with the advent of search engines rendering JavaScript, client-side SEO testing is a growing area of focus for some. However, whilst the approach may show some promising results, there are many externalities and out-of-scope factors which these tools cannot control or account for. 

SEO testing on the server, or on the content delivery network (“CDN”) — often called Edge SEO, is emerging as a game-changer in the industry. It’s not a new technique, but with the growing acceptance of other CDN optimisations, we expect these practices to continue to grow into the future. By shifting SEO testing to the server side, marketers can unlock new opportunities to optimise website performance through controlled page-level testing, as well as enhancing the overall user experience. Each will lead to incremental improvements in search engine rankings.

One of the primary advantages of server-side SEO testing is its ability to address technical SEO issues that may go unresolved due to legacy tech stacks, large development backlogs, or needing a value-based approach to business prioritisation. With server-side testing, marketers can identify and resolve issues such as server response times, crawlability issues, and duplicate content more effectively and at a higher velocity, leading to significant improvements in search engine performance. All of which result in pound/dollar-value improvements which can motivate appropriate prioritisation. 

So, server-side SEO testing, or “Edge SEO” offers unique advantages such as addressing technical SEO issues, bypassing development backlogs, putting monetary values on requests, and enhancing website performance, making it an essential tool for marketers looking to stay ahead in the competitive world of search engine optimization.

Stateless conversion rate optimisation without the flicker

A/B, or Conversion Rate Optimisation (“CRO”) testing is a fundamental practice in marketing, allowing organisations to test variations of their website or marketing campaigns to determine which performs best, and therefore drive incremental change over time to improve conversion rates and basket values. While client-side A/B testing tools have been widely used, server-side A/B testing is (and again, has been for a long time) gaining traction for its ability to overcome limitations associated with client-side testing.

There are many benefits to server-side CRO testing, including the ability to dynamically alter pages ahead of the consumers’ browser rendering them with the “Flash of Unstyled Content” – or FOUC for short. 

Server-side A/B testing, or “Edge CRO” when the manipulations are done on the CDN edge, like above, intercepts the rendered page from the CMS or web application, and then dynamically alters this based on the test cohort membership of the consumer. Some consumers receive the page as-is, as in any controls in any experimentation; others receive the variation. 

Crucially, server-side testing tools can also persist first-party cookies which last longer than JavaScript-set cookies can now last.  This means cohort membership can last longer than the session, reducing the chances that consumers receive different experiences throughout the test. 

Additionally, CDN or server-side CRO-tested pages can be fully cached in the service, reducing the time to load and improving the digital experience of the consumer. External services can also be called or polled for additional information, such as CDP segment membership and product tool feature flag settings can also be accounted for. 

In the cached page versions, additional information can be injected into the page’s data layer too, indicating the cohort memberships for accurate post-testing analysis via Tag Manager in your Analytics or BI tools, as well as other connected marketing technologies you may be using for your test analyses. 

Server-side A/B testing offers greater flexibility and control over test implementation and execution. Marketers can dynamically modify test variations on the server side, target specific user segments based on demographic or behavioural data, and measure performance metrics with precision. This level of control enables organisations to optimise conversion rates, improve user engagement, and drive meaningful business outcomes more effectively.

So, server-side A/B testing provides superior manipulations, performance, accuracy, consistency, and control over test implementation, making it a valuable tool for marketers seeking to optimise their digital experiences and maximise ROI.

Are you planning to go server-side?

Please get in touch with our team if you’re interested in learning more about the benefits server-side tagging, testing and optimisation can have for your business.