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What is a Tracking Pixel and Why Might You Need Them?

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

As you build your digital marketing footprint across social media channels and search engines, you are likely to encounter the term “pixel” or “tracking pixel.” This can oftentimes get confused with the graphic measurement of pixels, however, a tracking pixel is entirely different. A tracking pixel is a snippet of code that is placed on the backend of your website that allows your site, and certain site tools, to track user behavior, website conversions and other metrics, similar to a cookie.

How do Tracking Pixels Work?

Have you ever visited a website for a particular product and then, a few hours later, come across an ad for that product on a social media platform? Well, that’s part of the pixel process! Once you’ve added the HTML pixel code to your website, your site is connected to an external pixel server. When someone visits your site, the code is processed by their browser which follows the link and opens the hidden graphic. This action is then identified and recorded in the server’s log files, which is then accessible by you or your team’s advertising specialist. For example, say you’ve set up a purchase conversion with your pixel, now when a user makes a purchase that data is tracked within your pixel analytics as a confirmed purchase.

Social Advertising Pixels

One of the most common pixels is the Facebook (or Meta) pixel. This is a unique pixel that

is generated within your Facebook (or Meta) Business Manager and uploaded to the backend of your website. Once on your site, this code can track page views, leads, purchase conversions and more. If your business is considering advertising across a social platform, like Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin or Pinterest, it is recommended to generate and upload your business’s unique pixel for each social platform before ever launching any campaigns. That way, your social channels and website are able to generate user data that will help optimize the performance of your future advertising campaigns, increasing the return on ad spend and ensuring the right potential customers are served your ads.

The Downside of Pixels

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the downsides of tracking pixels within this blog. Over the past few years, data privacy has become a blurred grayzone, with internet users unsure of who has their data, where their data goes and how their data impacts them. With today’s consumers becoming more privacy-conscious and expecting more transparency from the businesses they interact with online, keeping pace with the latest privacy laws is key to maintaining a trusted brand. As a B Corp and values-driven company, we see it as our duty to support our clients in maintaining a socially responsible footprint. Because tracking pixels are not visible to users, it is incredibly important that you add a clear and direct disclosure to your site when utilizing tracking pixels. This disclosure should outline which pixels you are utilizing, what the data is being used for and how users can opt-out.

Apple Data Privacy and Tracking Pixels

In early 2021, Apple released an update that limited advertising data and visibility across iOS apps like Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc. This update allowed iOS users to choose to “opt out” of data tracking for personalized ads. When a user opts out, their data is no longer traced or accessible to tracking pixels, therefore if a user who has opted out makes a purchase on your site via a Facebook ad, their conversion data will not appear within your Facebook performance metrics.

To sum it up, tracking pixels are a small bit of code that are placed on the backend of your site and allow you to track user behavior and data. When utilizing this tool properly, your business can significantly increase your online conversion rate and more easily engage with your core target audience. In order to responsibly utilize this tool, we recommend implementing a clear and direct disclosure to your site, so site visitors understand where their data is being tracked and how to opt out.

Please note that Avenue has no affiliation with any products, services, or websites referenced in this blog post. Avenue is a digital marketing agency in Portland using business as a force for good. Our proprietary suite of paid advertising, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media services help brands and businesses of all sizes grow sustainably and successfully. For more information, we invite you to visit our services page.

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