Tracking Pixels: What They Are & Why You Need Them

Have you ever been followed across the internet by a particular ad after looking up a product online? Welcome to the power of the tracking pixel! These tiny tools are often misunderstood, even by creative agencies, but they have the power to transform your marketing strategy. By using tracking pixels effectively, you can discover which marketing messages perform best AND optimize your spend. 

If you’re not familiar with tracking pixels, it may be helpful to understand what pixels are in general first. To simplify it, pixels are small dots of light that combine to form an image on a computer, smartphone, or tablet screen. The images created by pixels are called raster images, which are stored as recognizable file types like GIFs, JPEGs, and PNGs. Since pixels don’t have standard sizes, they’re measured using “pixels per inch” or PPI. The more dense the pixels in an image are, the sharper the image will appear on the screen. 

A tracking pixel is simply one individual image pixel on your screen. Most are barely perceptible, but they can be a major tool for tracking and analyzing website traffic, individual user behavior, and the overall pattern of your site’s visitors. Because they’re so tiny, tracking pixels can be hidden in the background of a web page or email so that they don’t affect a user’s experience. That’s important — tracking pixels are intended to be a backend process, and they shouldn’t distract a visitor from the content on your site or in an email. 

If you’ve ever researched a product on Amazon but didn’t buy it, then see that same product advertised on different sites hours or days later, you’re seeing a tracking pixel in action. They’re incredibly effective at capturing useful data, and will allow a business to track website visits, digital ad impressions, emails that have been opened, sales conversions, and many other types of online activity. As a business owner, collecting tracking pixel data offers you a number of benefits, including:

  • better ad targeting for increasing engagement
  • personalized web experiences, which are excellent for boosting brand recall
  • the ability to synchronize cookies across domains, leading to more efficient data collection 

There are several different types of pixels, but there are really only two that you need to know about as a business owner. Retargeting pixels focus solely on the behavior of your website’s visitors. They monitor the behavior of a visitor in order to tailor ads to their particular interests. The Amazon example we used above is an example of how retargeting pixels work. Conversion pixels are concerned with, well, conversion. They will show you products actually bought, additional items added to a cart, contact forms filled out and submitted, and redirection to other pages, among other things.  

Over the last few years, tracking pixels have become a key component to successful digital advertising. They’re an important part of most successful retargeting campaigns, and enable brands to carefully monitor clicks, cost per lead, and cost per pixel. In essence: tracking pixels offer a personalized advertising experience that’s driven by high-impact creative messaging. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways incorporating tracking pixels into your marketing strategy can energize and impact it!

Get the most bang for your buck

When you use tracking pixels with your digital marketing, you’ll know exactly what works with your audience because they’re taking action based on a particular ad. You can see which efforts are driving the most traffic and which are converting steadily. For example, you may look at an Instagram ad with a lot of interaction but no follow through and compare it with a Facebook ad that has slightly less engagement but better conversion. With this type of information, you can make data-driven decisions that benefit your brand across the board. In this case, you might want to focus more of your budget on increasing interaction with the Facebook ad to continue driving traffic and conversion.  

Make the message count

Tracking pixels can also help you identify which marketing copy and images are resonating with your audience. Maybe you have an ad with an image or GIF that’s performing well, or one with a CTA that’s fallen a bit flat. By understanding which ads perform best, you’ll be able to optimize your online ad spend by creating content your target audience responds to. 

Remove the guesswork

There are platforms available that provide detailed reporting about your tracking pixels. Choosing one of these means you can see your marketing performance in real time and make quick adjustments accordingly. For instance, you’ll be able to access information about how many impressions a digital ad has received, how many responses an email has had, and which social media platform is driving more conversions. 

Although tracking pixels can be extremely useful when formulating a digital marketing strategy, not all users will share your enthusiasm! The goal should always be enhancing a visitor’s experience, not diminishing it. As such, there are a few best practices you should consider when employing the use of tracking pixels.  

Be precise

You don’t need tracking pixels for every user or on every webpage. Work on refining your focus instead of casting a wide net with your tracking data. This will give you more accurate user data, and will provide a more enjoyable user experience. 

Smart pixel placement

Never introduce anything to site that will slow it down while loading! You don’t want your tracking pixels to fire before the page has finished loading. In fact, other content should be the priority. Since users can’t see a tracking pixel, it should ideally be the last item to load on a page. 

Support HTTPS

If you add an HTTP tracking pixel to an HTTPS website, most web browsers will report a security warning on the page when a user attempts to view it. Always ensure that the code matches the type of website. 

Let users opt-out

Even if your intentions are good, some people aren’t fans of having their online movements tracked. If a user’s web browser has a “do not track” setting enabled, respect their choice. 

The day-to-day utility of a tracking pixel is easy to overlook, but they’re a critical component of contemporary digital marketing! If you’re ready to take your online advertising or latest campaign to the next level, tracking pixels can give you the edge you need. As always, the Neon Canvas team is happy to help you in any way we can! 

Kyle Fagala, DDS, MDS

Co-Founder, Neon Canvas