Imagine searching for an online web development course on Google, going through the course curriculum and fee structure of each one of them only to feel spoiled for choices, and then taking the safe escape route of social media.
But, my friend social media doesn’t let you escape either. As soon as you open up your feed you see advertisements or posts related to those online coding boot camps.
Ever wondered how this happens?
Even though these are tiny snippets of code written by developers, they are very useful in providing a direction to the online marketing efforts of any organisation.
This article will take a deep dive into how beautifully technology and marketing efforts culminate with the help of these tiny lines of code.
But before we do that let us look at what sparked the need for pixels and how they became so prominent.
History of pixels
To know how pixels came into existence, it is essential to roll back to the times when e-mails were very prominent.
Way back in 1996, Hotmail made e-mail services available to everyone.
A few years later, emails became picture rich. Now, since e-mails were accessible through a browser it allowed people to view web content written in HTML.
The advent of HTML was instrumental in adding colours, images, and GIFs to emails. These images consisted of tracking pixels which are generally referred to as 1×1 tracking pixels. These pixels allowed the people who sent the mail to track the mail and figure out the number of people who opened the mail and thus customise their e-mail marketing efforts as per each and every person on their mailing list.
So, what are pixels?
Pixels are code snippets that allow companies or organisations to collect valuable information about website visitors and their actions so that they can customise the user experience in a way that pays them dividends in the future.
This code is typically hidden and found in everything from banner ads to emails.
Pixels are essential for tracking conversions, measuring campaign performance, and building audiences based on their behaviour.
Pixels are extremely good at gathering useful web analytics data. Companies can track events, email opens, digital ad impressions, sales conversions, website visits, and other types of web activity using a tracking pixel code. It provides all of the necessary analytic details.
The amount of tracking you can do with just this pixel is crazy, and can get creepy on many levels.
Tracking pixels provide information about the users, such as the device they are using and their location. They can tell whether your visitors came from a paid search on Google, Twitter, or Facebook. They are also used to determine the best time of day for ROI and the most engaged audience.
How do they work?
The tracking pixel gets inserted into the website's HTML code or an email that contains an external link to the pixel server. When someone visits the website, the browser processes the HTML code and then follows the link.
This action is detected and recorded in the servers. Various information about the visitor can be transmitted using this method.
In simpler words, when a user opens an email, visits a website, views an ad, or performs any other action, the server requests that the tracking pixel attached to the content be downloaded. Although the user is unaware of this process, the data collected can help brands and businesses in creating better content and digital ad experiences for users.
What kind of information do Pixels collect?
A tracking pixel can obtain and analyze the following data:
- Type of operating system used which can tell you more about the use of mobile devices
- Time the website was visited or email was read
- Type of email or website used (on desktop or mobile)
- Type of client used (a mail program or browser)
- IP address
- Activities on the site during a session
- The screen resolution of clients
- Button clicks
- Website heatmap
Well, some might argue that pixels sound the same as cookies, but that is not the case. There is a very minute difference between how cookies and pixels are stored, the way they function, and the information they collect.
Difference between a cookie and a pixel
Both pixel and cookie are interrelated. The pixel acts as the medium through which the cookie is delivered to the browser of the website visitor.
Although both pixels and cookies track users across the internet, pixel codes collect behavioural information.
Cookies are saved in individual users’ browsers (Google Chrome or Safari). Users have much more control over them. They can block or clear their cookies whenever they feel like it.
Cookies remain limited to a user’s device while pixel codes send information directly to the servers and can observe users across devices with the help of cookies.
Applications of Pixels
Now that we have developed a good understanding of the pixels, let us dive into understanding the various types of pixels that are used by organisations
There are 4 types of pixels currently that are used by organisations to boost their marketing efforts-
- Click tracking
All of these are powered by the same technology. The servers take a record of all user activity and assign the pixel to one of these categories. The types are discussed further below.
A conversion pixel provides information regarding the targeted audience activity once they have come across the advertisement at least once.
Most advertisements include a call-to-action that encourages them to complete the desired goal after the conclusion of the advertisement. This is where conversion pixels come into the picture and provide brands information about whether customers took any action after watching the ad.
They determine the source of conversions and assess the success of a specific campaign. They inform marketers whether customers purchased a product, completed a survey, or downloaded an app.
As a result, they demonstrate which ads, keywords, or campaigns are successful in driving customer activity and indicate to marketers whether to continue investing in existing campaigns.
An impression pixel counts how many times an ad appears on a customer's screen. As a result, each time a user visits a website with impression pixels, the server records an impression.
This pixel's purpose is to provide marketers with the exact number of impressions served. Marketers can use this data to determine whether or not an ad was successful.
A retargeting pixel closely monitors the behaviour of a website's visitors. Marketers use it to re-display content to customers. This pixel is activated when someone visits a website. When they leave, the tracking pixels serve ads based on the pages where they might visit next.
Assume a group of people who want to buy a new television and find an online store that sells them. They visit that online store only to check the prices and specifications and then decide to take their sweet time to narrow down on the kind of product they would bring home.
Now, they decide to open their social media account only to see TV-related advertisements. Retargeting pixels work in this manner. Their primary function is to observe consumer behaviour. They are then able to deliver paid advertisements that are likely to catch their attention.
A click tracking pixel counts the number of people who click on an URL, email links, ads, or text links. This data is especially useful for marketers running the same ad on multiple websites and in gaining insights on the ad which gets them the most clicks.
For example, when someone runs a banner ad with a tracking pixel, they get to know how many people saw their advertisement and how many clicked on it. Finally, they will also get to know whether their ad was successful and whether it should be repeated.
MyFix Cycle, a Canadian bicycle retailer used a small marketing budget as well as a properly installed Facebook pixel to completely reverse its fortunes.
They were barely seeing any returns on Google Ads prior to running this ad campaign. The results from their Facebook retargeting campaign saw them generate nearly $15 for every $1 spent.
In other words, they saw a 1,529% return on ad spend. Astonishing, right?
Special category of pixels
- Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager is a free tag management system that allows marketers to manage and deploy marketing tags (code snippets or tracking pixels) on their website (or mobile app) without modifying the code.
Google Tag Manager works the same way as any other pixel out there. It transfers data from one data source (your website) to another data source (Google Analytics).
2. Facebook (Meta) Pixel
Aside from its massive audience, the Facebook pixel is the holy grail for marketers because of a variety of reasons- ad types, useful integrations, laser-focused targeting, and the most important of them all, its retargeting ability.
Just like other pixels it also helps in driving key performance metrics generated by a specific platform.
Any business with a Facebook page can make use of its pixel to determine and improve the ROI from the world’s biggest social network.
Here is a list of some other advantages Facebook pixels can offer its users-
- Build Lookalike Audiences
- Track and improve conversions
- Improve re-targeting.
Pixels have proven to be a revolutionary idea in the history of marketing. It has helped marketers build efficient buyer personas, target them with pinpoint accuracy, and curate experiences that build authority.
Moreover, it has also made it possible to bring the elements of programming into the world of marketing and align efforts in a way that makes that enhances efficiency with minimal effort.