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Understanding tracking pixels

What are they?

Tracking pixels, sometimes called web beacons or pixel tags, are small (often as small as 1×1 pixel) pieces of code that are embedded in websites or emails, and are used to track user behaviour. They may appear as clear, white or another colour to merge with the content of the email or website, and remain unseen by a user. Tracking pixels are often used in digital marketing campaigns to collect data about how users interact with websites or emails, and to track the effectiveness of ads and campaigns. 

How do they work?

When a user visits a website or opens an email that contains a tracking pixel, they do not need to engage directly with the pixel in any way for it to track certain activities. Instead, the pixel sends a request to a server to retrieve a small, transparent image. This will be automatically downloaded upon the opening of an email or the loading of a web page. This lets a server, owned by the marketer, know that the email has been read or the website has been accessed. Servers may also record how many times an email is opened, which web pages the user has visited, the IP address linked to the user’s location and their device usage.

Several platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, have their own tools that can create and manage tracking pixels, but there are also specialised software or services that businesses can deploy to do this for themselves. These tools and platforms can help businesses to easily create, manage, and optimise their tracking pixels, and they can also provide insights and analytics to help businesses understand the effectiveness of their campaigns.

There are several different types of tracking pixels that businesses can use in their digital marketing campaigns. One type is a website tracking pixel, which is placed on a website and tracks user behaviour on that website. Website tracking pixels can be used to collect data about which pages users visit, how long they spend on each page, and what actions they take, such as clicking on links or filling out forms.

There are also email tracking pixels. As with other types, these track user behaviour when the email is opened or clicked on. Email tracking pixels can be used to collect data about whether an email was opened, how many times it was opened, and whether any links in the email were clicked on. This data is vital in identifying which email campaigns are successful, allowing businesses to optimise their more profitable content.

Tracking pixels

Benefits of tracking pixels

There are several benefits to using tracking pixels in digital marketing campaigns. 

  1. They allow businesses to collect data about how users interact with their websites or emails, which can provide insights into what types of content or offers are most engaging to users. This can help businesses to optimise their marketing efforts and to increase the chances that their ads will be seen by potential customers.
  2. Tracking pixels can be used to track the effectiveness of specific ads and campaigns, for example, to track the performance of ads on social media platforms, such as Facebook or Instagram. By tracking how users interact with ads or emails that contain tracking pixels, businesses can determine which ads or campaigns are performing well and which are not. This can help businesses to optimise their marketing efforts and to increase the chances that their ads will be seen by potential customers.

Drawbacks of tracking pixels

There are some potential drawbacks to consider when using tracking pixels. 

  1. Tracking pixels can be used to collect data about users’ behaviour without their knowledge or consent. There is much debate about whether the use of tracking pixels is an invasion of privacy or simply a way to offer highly personalised, immersive experiences and recommendations to users. Often, users may not even be aware that their behaviour is being tracked. Additionally, tracking pixels can be used to track users across different websites and devices, which can also raise privacy concerns. To address these concerns, businesses that use tracking pixels should be transparent about their data collection practices and should provide users with clear information about how their data will be used. This can help to ensure that users are aware of and consent to the tracking of their behaviour and can also help to build trust with users.
  1. They can impact the performance of a website or email. If a website or email contains too many tracking pixels, it can slow down the loading time of the website or email, which can be frustrating for users. Additionally, tracking pixels can be blocked by some users, which can impact the accuracy of the data that is collected. To mitigate these potential drawbacks, businesses should be mindful of the number of tracking pixels they use and should ensure that their websites and emails are optimised for performance.

When considering tracking pixels for your own business, there are clear benefits, but you may find yourself in something of an ethical quandary regarding the privacy concerns. Look out for another article from us on this very subject, but in the meantime, if you want to discuss whether tracking pixels could work for your business, contact us here at TDS.

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