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What is a Tracking Pixel?

Tracking pixels allows to get all the necessary analytic details and thus is extremely beneficial for advertisers. The tracking or marketing pixels allow cross-platform marketing, tracking the website visitors from one website or a social network to another one and presenting the targeted advertisement on different platforms, devices, or websites.

What Is a Tracking Pixel?

A tracking pixel is a 1x1 pixel graphic, which is usually transparent, hidden, or embedded in the background of a website or email. In other words, it is a tiny pixel-sized image, present in the websites, Cookie Banner ads, or emails, and invisible to the user. A tracking pixel is also called a marketing pixel, or a web tracking pixel.

The tracking pixel code contains an external link to the pixel server. When a user visits a website or opens an email having the HTTP tracking pixel, the HTML code is processed by the user’s browser, which follows the link to the server and opens the pixel graphic. Every time the pixel server gets an inquiry from the browser, it registers the action in its log files. In such a way the server can track website or email user actions and know, which sites the user opened and which other actions were performed.

The following data can be collected and analyzed with a tracking pixel:

  • IP address
  • Geo-location
  • Operating system used
  • Client’s screen resolution
  • Type of device used (mobile or desktop)
  • Type of browser or mail program used
  • Plugins used.

When the tracking pixel identifies a particular user, the tracking pixel code allows companies to track the following events:

  • User behavior on a website, social network, email, or cross-platform activity
  • Time the email was read or the website was visited
  • Website visits of a user
  • Website traffic
  • Email opened as digital ad campaigns
  • Sales conversions
  • The best time of the day and the most engaging audience for the best return of investment (ROI)
  • Find out if the user is coming from a paid search on Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

The data, gathered with the tracking pixels, and event tracking allows to create user navigation path, also called a click path. The length of the user navigation path could be used to evaluate the efficiency of the website's services. In an online store, this could show what data is relevant to the user, such as more information about the product range or a longer description.

The length of a user navigation path can also be an indicator of the website's relevance to users and search engines. The longer the user navigation path, the more information is provided to a website user. However, too long a user's navigation path would be disadvantageous to users and search engines alike. A page depth of a maximum of four levels is recommended, which means that the user has to click no more than four times to reach the final page.

The tracking pixels are used by Google Analytics and similar services, which gather data from websites, to tell companies the number of their website’s users and the conversion rate of their digital ad.

Tracking pixels can also be used for the analysis of sent newsletters since they show the opening rates of certain emails or newsletters. By trying different tests, successful marketing campaigns can thus be determined.

Scan your website for free with CookieScript to see all cookies and tracking pixels in use:

How Do Tracking Pixels Work?

Businesses add the tracking pixel HTML code to the website or email. The tracking pixel code contains an external link to the pixel server. To some extent, combination with JavaScript is necessary to collect information about the device, operating system, or browser type. When a user visits the website, opens the email, views your digital ad, or takes any other action, the HTML code is processed by their browser and sends a request to the server to load the tracking pixel image graphics. This action is identified and recorded in the server’s log files. This method allows to acquire and process different information about the user.

The tracking pixels are a powerful tool to acquire and analyze the data. The data acquired can help website owners deliver relevant ads, target the most engaging audience, or provide a better website user experience.

The tracking pixels cannot be disabled from the client-side as easily as cookies can be. In most cases, the website or email users are not even aware of the tracking pixels they are using.

Types of Tracking Pixels

Retargeting pixel

A retargeting, also known as a remarketing pixel, is a tracking pixel that runs when a marketing event occurs (a web page is loaded, an email is opened or an ad is visited), and makes notes of who performed the marketing event and when. Many marketing companies, including Google and Facebook, offer retargeting pixels that you can add to your website or email to use for the retargeting of customers. After the companies make note of the customers who click your links or open emails, then you can retarget your marketing ads to the same customers again. Retargeting pixels, presenting marketing ads just for customers, who have already shown an interest in the ad, produce a better user experience by suggesting relevant content that can impact higher sales and encourage repeat customers.

Conversion pixel

A conversion pixel is a tracking pixel that is responsible for tracking sales resulting from a marketing ad campaign. The conversion pixel is activated and collects customers' personal data once a purchase has actually been made. Conversion pixels are placed within the code of the order confirmation page or email. Conversion pixels are placed in the marketing ads and thus could be used to measure the conversion rate and thus the success or failure of the marketing campaigns.

Facebook tracking pixel

A Facebook tracking pixel is a tracking pixel that is activated when a customer takes an action after seeing the Facebook ad. For example, when a customer buys something after seeing the Facebook ad, the Facebook pixel is triggered and collects customers' personal data. The Facebook pixel code is placed on your website and ensures that cookies of the website track only customers who interact with Facebook ads and the website.

This tool is used for organizing the Facebook ads and helps to:

  • Measure cross-device conversion rates
  • Optimize delivery to people likely to take action
  • Create a target audience from interested customers
  • Remarket the ad to a target audience

LinkedIn tracking pixel

A LinkedIn Insight Tag commonly called a LinkedIn tracking pixel is a JavaScript code that tracks the conversions and events of your LinkedIn Career Page. The LinkedIn tracking pixel is hidden in the Career Page and a cookie is dropped on the website user's browser when the user visits the Career Page. The website owners could install the LinkedIn Insight Tag on their websites to track key metrics such as the efficiency of the employment and recruitment efforts, but also targeted social connections, web pages visited, signed up newsletters, or a purchase made.

The LinkedIn tracking pixel helps to understand website marketing and sales personnel where visitors are coming from and what they’re looking for. The LinkedIn tracking pixel makes it possible to segment traffic and to see how many click-throughs and referrals come from LinkedIn and how many of them came from other web sources.

Other types of tracking pixels

Tracking pixels, used for performing specific tasks, could have specific tracking pixel names:

  • Universal Pixel - a tracking pixel, which tracks website users on multiple pages via a single pixel.
  • Landing Page Pixel - a tracking pixel, which tracks the users' landing page on the website.
  • Time Delay Pixel - a tracking pixel, which tracks the time delay of a website user's action.
  • Postback Pixel.

How to Set Up a Tracking Pixel?

There are different ways to set up a tracking pixel, depending on the system. The tracking pixel could be implemented in the source code of the e-mail or website via the content management system or manually.

How to set up a tracking pixel with Google Analytics?

To create a Google Analytics tracking pixel, perform the following steps:

  • Create a new Universal Analytics property.
  • Copy the tracking ID.
  • Go to your Event Dashboard.
  • Under Marketing, click Tracking pixels.
  • Under Google Universal Analytics, click Add new pixel.
  • Choose between This event or All events.
  • Paste your tracking ID.
  • Save the changes.

You have created your Google Analytics tracking pixel, which could fire the following actions:

  • event_listing — fires when a user visits your event.
  • event_register — fires when a user loads the order form.
  • event_confirmation — fires when a user purchases a good or service.

If you’ve enabled e-commerce, your Google Analytics tracking pixel will also record transaction information such as the total amount paid and currency.

To set up your tracking pixel, you have to add your tracking pixel code in the web page HTML code. Perform the following steps:

  • Go to Reports, and then to Tracking pixels.
  • Click the Action button, found at the tracking pixel, and select the Tracking code.
  • Copy the code.
  • Insert the code into your web page HTML code.

Done, you have set up your Google Analytics tracking pixel.

How to set up Facebook or Meta tracking pixel?

To create a new Facebook or Meta tracking pixel, perform the following steps:

  • In your Business Manager account, go to Business Settings.
  • Select your business.
  • Click Data Sources.
  • Select Pixels.
  • Click the + Add button.
  • Create a name for your pixel. You could also enter your website URL.
  • Click Continue.
  • Click Set up the Pixel Now.

You have created your Facebook or Meta tracking pixel on your website.

If you have access to your website's code, you can add the Facebook or Meta tracking pixel yourself to your website. After you created your Facebook or Meta tracking pixel, copy the pixel code and insert it on all pages of your website. Then add standard events (for example event_listing, event_register, or event_confirmation) to the pixel code on your website's key pages, such as the order confirmation page.

Done, you have installed your Facebook/ Meta tracking pixel on your website.

How to manually set up an email tracking pixel?

To set up an email tracking pixel manually, perform the following steps:

  • With the help of any image editor, create a new image measuring one pixel high by one pixel wide.
  • Save the image to your server as a transparent GIF file.
  • Compose your email or newsletter message.
  • Insert the tracking pixel image you created at the end of the email or newsletter.

Done, you have set up the email tracking pixel on your email or newsletter. When an email reader opens the email, it sends a request to the server to load the tracking pixel image. The server registers this action in its log files. Check your stats to measure the performance of your email campaign.

How to block tracking pixels?

Blocking tracking pixels is more difficult than disabling cookies. However, there are several ways to block the data gathering by tracking pixels:

  • Set browser and email settings to be as restrictive as possible, for example, allow external graphics only after permission.
  • Block HTML emails in the browser.
  • Set up firewall settings to block external graphics or HTML emails.
  • Use browser extensions to make tracking pixels visible.
  • Surf anonymously with the Tor browser.
  • Use proxy servers to block the download of tracking pixels.
  • Deactivate the support of scripts in the browsers, which could prevent the collection of data such as browser type or operating system.

However, blocking tracking pixels entirely is not recommended since this can interrupt other functions on the websites.

Use CookieScript Consent Management Platform to scan your website for cookies and tracking pixels. CookieScript could manage your website privacy laws compliance and show the categories of cookies and tracking pixels.

Differences Between a Pixel and a Cookie

Tracking pixels and cookies are similar in the sense that they both track users' activity and collect personal data, which could serve for marketing purposes. Tracking pixels and cookies are often used simultaneously. However, the differences between them are in how the users' data is delivered and where it’s kept.

A cookie is a piece of code placed on your browser by a remote web server. Cookies are used to store user information for easier login, to increase internet browsing experience, to personalize website content, or to use services such as online shopping. Since cookies are stored on the user's browser, they can not follow users across devices, and they can be enabled or disabled by the user.

A tracking pixel is a piece of code that does not rely on the user’s browser but is stored on the web server. Tracking pixels can follow users across different users' devices, browsers and websites. The main difference is that tracking pixels can not be blocked or disabled by the user, and the visit of a web page is counted each time the user visits it. Thus, tracking pixels are more effective than cookies, stored in browsers. If JavaScript is used, even more information can be collected by tracking pixels. This includes the screen resolution, plugins used, support of certain technologies by the browser, and other data.

Tracking pixels are used to measure the conversion rate of marketing campaigns. They are useful for the analysis of sent emails and newsletters since they show the opening rates of the emails or newsletters.

Tracking pixels allows differentiating between users and computer bots. They also allow the creation of user profiles and navigation paths.

Tracking pixels are also employed by the spammers. They can be placed in spam emails, which helps to find out the valid email addresses. If the recipient opens the email, the tracking pixel is loaded and informs the spammer of the authenticity of the email address. As a result, the spamming traffic increases.

Europe and some states of the USA like California have strict privacy laws, such as GDPR and CCPA, accordingly. Websites must show a Cookie Banner, obviously state that they’re using cookies, and get an implied Cookie Consent, which means that you agree to those terms and conditions. Even the usage of tracking pixels is also regulated by the privacy laws, they collect comprehensive user data, mostly without the knowledge of the user, and it is more difficult for a user to get rid of the tracking pixels and the collection of personal data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a tracking pixel?

A tracking pixel is a 1x1 pixel graphic, which is usually transparent or embedded in the background of a website or email. It is stored on the server and is used to track website or email users' actions and collect their personal data. Try CookieScript Consent Management Platform to scan your website for cookies and tracking pixels.

How do tracking pixels work?

A tracking pixel HTML code, which contains an external link to the server, is inserted into the website or email. When a user visits the website or opens the email, the code is processed by their browser and sends a request to the server to load the tracking pixel image graphics. This action is identified and recorded in the server’s log files, which allows acquiring information about the user.

Does LinkedIn have a tracking pixel?

LinkedIn has a LinkedIn Insight Tag, which is commonly called a LinkedIn tracking pixel. The LinkedIn tracking pixel is a JavaScript code, embedded in the LinkedIn Career Page, that tracks the conversions and events of your Career Page. It is used to track the efficiency of the employment and recruitment efforts, but also targeted social connections, web pages visited, or purchases made. Use CookieScript to find out the categories of cookies and tracking pixels.

What is a Facebook or Meta tracking pixel?

A Facebook or Meta tracking pixel is a tracking pixel,  placed on your website, that is activated when a customer takes an action after seeing the Facebook ad. It tracks customers who interact with Facebook ads, and is used for organizing the Facebook ads, optimizing delivery to people likely to take action, creating a target audience from interested customers, and remarketing the ads to a target audience.

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