What is a Tracking Pixel and how does it work?

The tracking pixel may be one of the most helpful and insightful tools you’re not using today.  Imagine, if you will, a tool that could teach you everything you need to know about how your customers interact with your website, your ads, and your email.

While it can’t tell you what these folks are thinking, it can tell you a lot about the way people use your outreach.  These behaviors, in turn, can help you understand a lot more about what your customers want, and what prospective customers need to be led into the sales funnel.

Let’s take a look at the mighty-yet-tiny tracking pixel, and what it can tell us about our business and marketing practices.

Tracking Pixel Explained

“Pixels” are the official name for the unit of measurement for online images.  If you search Google for an image of something – let’s say “horses”– and hover over that image with the mouse cursor, you’ll see a number in the bottom corner of the image, like “931 x 524.”  Those are the pixel counts for the length and width of the image.

A tracking pixel is just one pixel: 1×1.  That means it’s incredibly tiny.  The benefit of its small stature is that it can casually and invisibly fit in anywhere.  In fact, most developers make sure they match the color of a site or email’s background, just to make sure it doesn’t interrupt the flow.

Essentially, whenever the person who receives your email, visits your site, or clicks on your ads takes action, the server is triggered to download the tracking pixel that’s been inserted into your site.  Since it’s very, very small, it doesn’t interfere with page loading, or set off warning bells, because it’s less harmful than a tiny freckle on your wrist.

So What Does a Tracking Pixel Track?

Tracking pixels can do a lot of things, depending on how they are programmed, but it typically depends on the actions taken on the receiving end.

As an online business owner, knowing that someone is opening your email, clicking on your ad, or interacting with your website can be really great information when gauging the success of certain marketing campaigns.

For example, if you run a banner ad on x number of sites, the tracking pixel will be able to report how many times that banner ad was clicked on.  You can compare the number of clicks to the number of times the ad ran in order to gauge overall success.  

But that’s not all a tracking pixel can provide in its report back to you.  You can learn about which browsers your visitors are using, or whether users typically interact on a computer or mobile device.

Also, you can discover whether they’re using iOS, Windows, or Android, where they found your ad/link/email, and interact with Google Analytics.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter (this is our page) also allow businesses to enable tracking pixels in their ads on these social media platforms.

Tracking User behavior

Have you ever found yourself cruising the internet, and it seems like, no matter where you go, an ad for the pair of rainboots you were looking at the other day appears?  That’s a tracking pixel doing its job.  Because you interacted with that website, it “knows” you’re in the target market.

For instance, Facebook offers its own tracking pixels, which can be very easily requested within the “Create a Pixel” tab in Ads Manager. These pixels specifically track cross-device interactions (whether you eventually buy those rainboots on your phone or your laptop), define targets for your Facebook ads, retarget visitors who might make the conversion, and demonstrate how folks interact with your site after they’ve clicked on an ad.

Google Analytics also helps you create a tracking pixel code to add to your website.  This handy little pixel will then act as the eyes and ears of Google Analytics while others interact with your webpage.  Want to know where most of your customers live?  Want to know what time of day you receive the most conversions?  This tracker will do that, and then some.

Isn’t That Basically What a Cookie Does?

For the most part, yes.  Cookies are designed to be apparent, however.  Cookies can store user settings, and are limited by being stored in the user’s browser.  You can block or disable a Cookie, and from time to time, users clear their cache to remove a backlog of cookies.

Pixels, on the other hand, transmit information from your interaction to a server, where the information they “learn” can be shared with the programming party.  You can’t disable them, and because they’re linked to the server, instead of a browser, that ad for rainboots might show up on a users Chromebook, phone, and tablet.  

Additionally, pixels can be targeted, and programmed for specific market segments, particular pages, specific campaigns, etc.  In fact, best pixel practice is to NOT include them on absolutely everything.

How Do I Get a Tracking Pixel?

Tracking pixels are programmed into the HTML page of your website.  If you’re not exactly the most web-savvy person, it is completely ok to ask your web developer to handle this part.

If your website is on a user-friendly site like WordPress, you’re in luck- there’s a plugin for that.  Sites like WooCommerce actually have built-in integration managers that allow you to pop in a quick Google Analytic or Facebook tracking pixel.

It is possible to add the code yourself, of course.  Most users prefer to add the tracking pixel to the header code, since that loads first and appears on every page of your site.

You can use tracking pixels to drill deeper into specific targeted campaigns, and in A/B testing of different campaigns as well. 

By adding these tiny “eyes and ears” to your webpages, banner ads, or emails, you’ll have greater insight into how the intended audience interacts with these campaigns.

With the information supplied by tracking pixels, you’ll be able to more accurately and quickly identify the success of your efforts, and if necessary, redirect or retool your campaign to ensure the best return on investment.

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