What is a Tracking Pixel?

August 21, 2020

When all of the tiny pixels join together, they form an image, text, or video that displays on a computer or device. But, if you are a marketer, you have also likely heard of tracking pixels.

Tracking pixels are code snippets added to a website in order to gather information. They are crucial for marketers when it comes to retarget ads and improving conversion rates. Today, tracking pixels are used all over the internet without most of us even realizing it.

So, what does a tracking pixel do?

A snippet of code is added to your website to create a 1×1 pixel graphic. The tiny size makes it unlikely to be noticed by visitors, and tracking pixels are usually designed to blend in with your existing site or be transparent. When a user visits your site, the tracking pixel loads to collect information about them as they browse your website.

An example Facebook pixel code

A tracking pixel can gather a lot of information about users and how they interact with your site. Some data points that can be collected include:

  • Which pages they view
  • Which ads they click on
  • The operating system they use
  • The type of device they use
  • The screen resolution they use
  • What time they visited
  • Activities during a session
  • Their IP addresses

That sounds like a cookie.

You’re right! Tracking pixels and cookies are actually very similar, and they are often used in conjunction with one another. Both of these tools can be used to track the behavior of users and the activities they conduct across web sites. They can also be used for similar marketing purposes, including serving ads based on user data.

The difference between cookies and tracking pixels is how the information is delivered and where it is kept. Cookies are saved in an individual’s browser, such as Google Chrome or Firefox. They cannot follow users across their devices, and users can block cookies or clear their cookies if they so choose.

Cookies are often used to store user information for an easier login experience as well. If you’ve ever visited a site such as Facebook or YouTube and noticed your email was already filled in on the login screen, a cookie was used to store your data. Clearing your cookies would erase all of the login or user data you have saved across these types of sites.

Cookie setting options for Google Chrome. Users can disable cookies, clear cookies, and block third-party cookies.

Tracking pixels sent information directly to servers, so they do not rely on the user’s individual browser. Pixels are able to follow users across all of their devices, linking marketing efforts across your website and mobile ads. Also, users cannot disable pixels like they can disable cookies.

Types of pixels

Tracking pixels, often called marketing pixels, are available in a couple of different types and serve a variety of purposes. Browser HTML pixels and server pixels are two options for measuring your marketing performance, and both offer their own pros and cons.

Most sites and website platforms, such as WordPress, utilize browser HTML pixels. This is the easiest and most common type of pixel to use because it just involves using a small snippet of code. Browser HTML pixels actually depend on cookies in some circumstances to gather data, so they may not always be as accurate. They can also be limited when users block cookies.

Server pixels are much more difficult to implement, but they offer a greater level of accuracy. They do not rely on cookies, using server-to-server tracking instead. However, not all tracking platforms are able to support this type of pixel, so most people stick with browser HTML pixels.

Retargeting pixels

When it comes to using pixels, marketers have found considerable value in retargeting pixels. If you have ever browsed a website only to see a social media ad for the same brand a few minutes later, you have encountered a retargeting pixel.

Retargeting pixels track a user’s behavior on your website. They pay attention to which items a user views and monitors their behavior as they interact with the site. The pixel then enables marketers to tailor ads based on that activity. The goal is to keep putting products or information that has already caught their attention in front of a user.

When you visit a website and then see a Facebook ad soon after for the same brand, you can thank retargeting pixels!

This method for retargeting offers instant results. There is a very little downtime between a user’s activity on a website and when the pixel can trigger retargeting ads on other platforms. This kind of tracking pixel is also specific to individual pages on your website, which allows for much more specific targeting efforts. Instead of retargeting an ad for your brand in general, you can tailor an ad for a specific product or webpage.

You will have to add the tracking pixel to a considerable number of webpages if you have a more robust site. The pixel must be present on a specific page in order to capture data and notify the relevant retargeting platform. Also, these pixels do not produce consistently high-volume campaigns because they depend on users visiting your site, browsing specific pages, and then leaving the site.

Conversion pixels

While retargeting pixels track visitor behavior before they make a purchase, conversion pixels track actual purchases and completed goals. This type of marketing pixel enables marketers to connect revenue and sales to specific ads. There are a variety of conversions these pixels can track, in addition to purchases made on a site.

Conversions depend on the goal of your ads. Many ads may be aimed at boosting sales or encouraging a user to buy, but a significant portion of ads are created for lead generation purposes. Conversions come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including the following goals below.

  • Making a purchase
  • Completing a form
  • Clicking on a CTA
  • Sharing a post or video
  • Watching a video
  • Users doing exactly what you wanted them to do

An example of a thank you page from Hubspot: This type of page frequently contains a tracking pixel to track the conversion of filling out a form.

This type of pixel is placed on thank you pages and order confirmation pages in most cases. The pixel is triggered because a user completed an action. All of the behaviors they completed up to that point on your website and interacting with your ads is linked to the specific conversion.

Conversion pixels can be integrated with a variety of advertising platforms and channels, including Facebook Ads and AdWords. They provide information for marketers to target campaigns and identify the types of audiences that are more likely to convert.

But why do you need tracking pixels?

Retargeting and conversion pixels are extremely valuable for marketers today. They provide considerable insight into audiences, user behavior, and ad campaigns. Marketing pixels are also a useful resource for tracking a variety of marketing activities and tying results back to the relevant marketing campaign or effort.

Here are just some of the ways you can benefit from using tracking pixels:

  • Improve reporting accuracy
  • Improve offers online
  • Make your site more user-friendly
  • Adapt your site to the browser, resolution, and device most commonly used by your visitors
  • Differentiate between users and bots that visit your site
  • Analyze emails sent to see open rates, click rates, etc.
  • Understand your audience better
  • Track user shopping patterns
  • Track ad impressions
  • Tie sales conversions to ad campaigns
  • Extend impressions by showing paid ads related to a user’s history
  • Optimize ads across a variety of platforms
  • Track ads published on other sites

Overall, retargeting pixels are crucial for getting the right content in front of the right audience. The level of customization offered thanks to the data collected by a pixel is unmatched. Campaigns can become more sophisticated over time as you tailor your ads to match the behavior of your users.

Also, conversion pixels are necessary for connecting call-to-action conversions and sales to a specific ad. Marketers can easily determine which ads are working and which ones are not producing results. By modifying your ads, you can optimize your ad budget and continue to improve conversions.

How to create and install tracking pixels

There are several paths available for creating tracking pixels. The advertising platforms you use will have a system for generating pixels. You can send the generated pixel to your web developer and have them install the code, or you can add the code yourself. The website platform you use may also provide an integration manager to easily add tracking pixels. The option you choose will depend on your web development team and experience level.

Facebook Pixel

We will look at creating a Facebook Pixel as an example. Within your Business Manager account, you can find Pixels under the Data Sources section. Simply add a pixel, give it a name, and enter your URL. Facebook will generate a pixel that is unique for your brand. You can then install the pixel on your website and start tracking results from Facebook.

Facebook pixels are popular options for tracking ads and consumer data.

The instructions for installing your pixel are straightforward and broken out by your unique needs. Whether someone else updates your site, you update your site, or you use a tag manager, there are specific steps clearly laid out for installing the pixel.

Facebook provides all relevant information on installing a pixel.

Best practices for tracking pixels

Protect user privacy

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the use of tracking pixels is a lack of privacy. Unlike cookies, users cannot opt-out of having their information collected by tracking pixels easily. Pixels collect a lot of user information, often without a user’s knowledge. For this reason, consumers may be concerned about privacy violations as well as how their data is used.

Original image link: https://pixabay.com/photos/regulation-gdpr-data-protection-3246979/

You can allow users to opt-out of tracking in order to respect their privacy. Users can also opt-out of receiving targeted ads on Facebook through their personal Facebook account. Your web developer should also be able to provide a solution for users to opt-out of pixel tracking directly from your website.

Track smarter

For marketers, it is often tempting to track everything all the time. However, this method leaves you with a considerable amount of data to sift through, including information you do not need. Instead of adding a pixel to every single page and every single user, be intentional.

Using pixels too frequently can slow down your site and provide a poor user experience. You may end up driving consumers away if your site takes longer to load. Determine which pages will provide you with the highest quality data and shift your focus to those areas first.

Also, you should keep your unique campaigns and target audience in mind. Limit your tracking pixels to users that fit within your audience or the audience you are targeting in a campaign. This will provide you with data tailored for your marketing efforts.


Tracking pixels are everywhere and for good reasons. Marketers use these little bits of code to retarget ads and track conversions across their site and ad campaigns. The wealth of information provided by marketing pixels is unmatched, and it can be instrumental in improving ad campaigns and better understanding your audience.

While there are important considerations for privacy, marketers can typically generate and install pixels fairly easily. It is likely that the platforms you are currently using, such as Facebook or AdWords can generate pixels for you, and website platforms like WordPress offer easy integration.

With so many benefits, most marketers cannot afford to ignore tracking pixels. In our technology-fueled world, consumers are visiting websites and interacting with web pages on a consistent basis. Tracking this data is invaluable to marketers and offers considerable personalization options in an impersonal world.

Tracking and analyzing data can easily become overwhelming, though. If you are looking to grow your brand and improve your tracking efforts, adQuadrant is here to help. The experts at adQuadrant have a proven track record of success when it comes to targeting audiences and maximizing ad strategies. They can help you leverage your marketing data to provide to optimize ad buys and content marketing efforts.

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