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Tracking Pixels : Why They Matter To Your Next Digital Ad Campaign

Shopify Tracking Pixels

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Have you ever seen a banner ad that 'follows' you when surfing the internet? If so, you’ve seen first-hand the power (or poor execution, depending on the frequency and quality of the ad) of a tracking pixel.

Such powerhouses of pint-size are frequently underestimated by digital design companies, too. We will transform the next campaign, refine the website, and boost sales when used the appropriate way.

Let's look at a few commonly asked questions about pixel tracking.

What is Tracking Pixel?

A tracking pixel is a snippet of HTML code that is loaded when a user visits a web site or opens an email. It is useful for tracking conversions and user behavior. Advertisers may acquire data for online marketing, site research, or e-mail marketing using a tracking pixel.

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Tracking pixels within the source code might look like this:

The tracking pixel URL is the memory location on the server. When the user visits a website, the image with the tag is loaded from this server. Optical properties such as visibility, or very small size are defined using the style attribute.

Inserting a Tracking Pixel

The design of a monitoring pixel varies depending upon the system. This can sometimes be achieved through the content management system used, and sometimes the pixel needs to be implemented directly in the e-mail or website source code.

Usually, the web analysis tools that require the implementation of the pixel, such as Facebook or Google Analytics, offer extensive implementation instructions.

Criticism of Tracking Pixels

Tracking pixels are often criticized by data protection advocates because they collect comprehensive data about the user, mostly without knowledge of the user.

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As the tracking pixel cannot be seen with the naked eye, and the common user does not recognize the meaning of the small graphic even when it is visible, the tracking pixel involves a transfer of information without consent. Based on this, critics argue that with tracking pixels, user privacy is violated through the recording of a motion profile.

The transmission of the IP address also makes it possible to match information to other information on the Internet, e.g., to a profile in a social network or forum.

Tracking pixels also simplify the work of spammers. Spammers can integrate tracking pixels in their spam emails in order to find out if an email address is valid. If the recipient opens the email and thereby loads the automated tracking pixel, the spammer receives a confirmation of the authenticity of the email address. As a result, the sending of spam messages increases.

Data protection and Tracking Pixels

According to GDPR, users must be informed that a website collects data. Users also have to be able to object to the tracking.

Benefits of Tracking Pixels

The use of tracking pixels is beneficial for website operators, SEOs, and email senders. This is because they can use the information generated to improve their online offers, make them more user-friendly, and adapt the offers to the most commonly used browser types and versions.

Even more advantageous is the fact that tracking pixels are more effective than cache in browsers: The access to a page is still counted. If JavaScript is used, more information can be collected. This includes the screen resolution, plugins used, support of certain technologies by the browser, etc.

It, therefore, becomes possible to differentiate between users and bots, as well as create user profiles. The IP address, visits by a certain user, and the properties of this user can be used to create navigation paths. For web analysis, however, the tracking pixel generally just forms the basis. Advanced technologies are required which are only realizable by specialized service providers.

Tracking pixels can also be beneficial in the analysis of sent email newsletters because they show the opening rates of certain emails or newsletters through the user statistics data. Together with A/B tests, successful campaigns can thus be determined. From the recipient's point of view, this has the advantage that newsletters in the future can be designed to be more relevant and interesting.

Countermeasures For Users

There are a number of ways in which users can prevent their data from being collected by tracking pixels:

  • Set browser and email settings to be as restrictive as possible such that external graphics are only supported after permission, and HTML emails are not supported. Appropriate firewall settings can also be used to do this.
  • Some browser extensions can be used to make tracking pixels visible.
  • Anonymous surfing with the Tor Browser or use of proxy servers to prevent the download of tracking pixels.
  • In order to prevent the collection of additional user data such as browser type or operating system, the support of scripts in the browser can be deactivated. However, this can restrict other functions on the internet under certain circumstances.

Importance of Tracking Pixels For Web Analytics, Advertising, and SEO

Tracking pixels generally have similar functionalities as cookies. The tracks of the user are recorded by a file that is saved in the user’s hard drive.

However, more and more users are nowadays taking up measures to block cookies using browser functions. Cookies therefore often provide incomplete data, and their use is at times blocked completely.

The tracking pixel can be used as an alternative to the cookie as its use cannot be blocked by a normal browser. Even so, several browser extensions, plugins, and programs that enable blocking of tracking pixels and hence prevent a log file analysis exist.

Tracking methods such as Canvas Fingerprinting, Event Tracking, or different hybrid methods are also being used increasingly and as with all tracking models, comprehensive changes to the websites are necessary – e.g., in data protection. In addition, user consent to allow the tracking with pixels must be obtained.

A pixel tracking code can help you track conversions on your own landing pages, a partner site, or even affiliate networks.

Pixel tracking is not complicated stuff. In fact, it's "ancient" technology similar to counting banner impressions. An image is hosted on a server, and the HTML code for the image is put into a page or post.

Every time the page loads, the image loads (or 'fires' as they say in the industry). Every impression of the pixel image will be recorded as a conversion for a sale or a lead, depending on how you use it.

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In the screenshot above, you can see an example of the 1×1 pixel code used by LinkTrackr. This is essentially an image that measures 1 pixel wide by 1 pixel tall. It's virtually undetectable by the naked eye on a typical landing page.

Pixel Tracking for Affiliates

Why bother tracking affiliate links? After all, many affiliate programs have their own dashboards and reports that show the number of clicks and conversions.

If you're still new in affiliate marketing and you've only been promoting a handful of products or services, you may feel like everything’s under control. These dashboards are enough… for now.

But as you take affiliate marketing seriously and begin to promote more products, it will be dizzying for you to open multiple dashboards. You'd want to have one place where you can see and compare which posts and affiliate links are doing well.

Below are some top reasons why seasoned affiliate marketers track their affiliate links.

Easily compare affiliate link performance

Having a link tracking system in place makes it easy to see which posts, affiliate links, and marketing channels are generating the highest value for you.

Make better decisions

When you know which links and posts are producing more results, you can decide to promote these more. You can also create related posts, or upgrade your past post to get even better traffic and conversions.

Link tracking also shows you which platforms are generating most of your traffic. Knowing this, you can focus your efforts on promoting your materials in the most effective marketing channels.

Increase CTR

Some affiliate marketing platforms let you create short links, but others do not have this feature. This leaves you no choice but to use long links containing a jumble of letters and numbers that readers don’t recognize.

This affects your click-through rate (CTR). Viewers are more likely to click and share shorter links they can read and understand, rather than long ones that look suspicious.

To solve this, affiliate marketers and link managers use URL shortening. Many link managing tools also allow you to brand your links (i.e., to use a custom domain name), helping you build brand awareness and trust.

Protect your earnings

Some people try to steal other affiliate's earnings by replacing affiliate IDs, taking away legitimate affiliates' commissions.

When you use branded tracking links or URL shorteners, you are able to cloak your affiliate ID and prevent commission theft.

How to Track Your Affiliate Links?

There are several tools that let affiliate marketers easily create and track branded or custom links. Mentioned below are a few top Affiliate Marketing Tracking Pixels providers:

Consider a Tag Manager

If you are using an affiliate tracking pixel then you need to know whether your company is utilizing a tag management solution. If you are using a tag manager, the next important question to ask is, is the affiliate tracking pixel managed within the tag manager?

Many companies had an affiliate program long before they implemented a tag management solution and during that implementation, they never included the affiliate pixel so it is not managed by the tag manager. This is important to know so you can figure out under what conditions your affiliate pixel will fire and credit an affiliate.

Most advertisers credit an affiliate if they are the last referrer before a conversion event occurs. If an affiliate is the second to the last referrer, they would not get credit for the conversion. In order for an advertiser to credit or not credit an affiliate, there needs to be logically applied to when/if the affiliate pixel fires (loads) on the thank you page. The easiest and most transparent way to do this is with a tag management solution.

The benefit of using a tag manager is that the logic applied to the pixel firing rules is transparent and can be reviewed and tested to ensure it works as expected. If you are not using a tag manager and your developers have coded the pixel firing logic, it is very hard to review, test and troubleshoot their code (and they may be too busy to help you).

Some advertisers still have their tracking pixel hardcoded on their thank you page. This means the affiliate pixel will get fired for every conversion. This type of integration will over credit the affiliate channel. If an affiliate is involved in a conversion – regardless if they were last or thirtieth to the last referrer they will be paid a commission.

Some advertisers that integrate this way will review the conversions and determine who really should get credit (ex. affiliate or AdWords) and reverse out miscredited commissions later. Others intentionally want to credit affiliates that were involved in the customer journey, even if they weren’t last click.

That’s it!

You can check out my next article & find out all the Pixel tracking tools you need to link to all your marketing campaigns to get the most out of it.

How does Tracking Pixel work?

An online website operator or sender adds the tracking pixel using a tag in the HTML file or email received by the website. This code provides an external link to the server pixel. When a user visits the destination page, the application processes the Html normally the browser of the user.

In addition, various information about the user is also transmitted using this method. To some extent, combination with JavaScript is necessary in order to collect information about the operating system or browser type.

The following data can be acquired and analyzed with a tracking pixel.

  • Operating system used (gives information on the use of mobile devices)
  • Type of website or email used, for example on mobile or desktop
  • Type of client used, for example, a browser or mail program.
  • Client’s screen resolution
  • Time the email was read or website was visited
  • Activities on the website during a session (when using multiple tracking pixels)
  • IP address (gives information on the Internet Service Provider and location)

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