Explainer: Why Pixel Tracking is Increasingly Popular

What It is: Pixel tracking often involves placing a clear graphics file, called a GIF, on a webpage. The pixel doesn’t have to be clear, any element that is on the webpage can be used to track. The invisibility only helps a gif blend seamlessly into the page. The pixel holds information about the device accessing the page and delivers it to the website owner in real time. Pixel tracking has been around since the beginning of the Web, but now some marketers are going back to basic pixel-tracking to get the information that matters most: who is clicking through on ads and ending up on a sales page.

How It Works: Most often, a tracking pixel is located on the confirmation page of an e-commerce website. It allows the retailer to derive general information from the consumer’s computer’s cookies and integrate that data into the platform as part of the Web transaction. The pixels communicate with cookies on a device and pull information from those cookies such as the name of the campaign that resulted in a click-through or the date of a sale. The more basic forms of pixel tracking don’t capture sensitive personal data, and they don’t track the consumer each time an action is taken, so multiple pixels from different platforms can exist on a single page, without the sale being logged multiple times. It is used in analytics and in popular targeted-advertising tactics, such as retargeting.
Why It Matters: With privacy concerns by consumers making news and impending legislation uncertain, pixel tracking may be one of the few methods that could exist as “targeting lite,” allowing tracking to occur without the creepy element involving personal information that has caused controversy. That said, the information that the pixel gets depends on the cookie that it works with. A tracking pixel can store an IP address, and from this, a slew of personal information can be derived. It’s also virtually impossible to evade pixel tracking. Cookies can be delete, but the pixel communicates with new cookies each time the page is accessed.
Who is Using It: Every advertising platform or website can employ tracking pixels, as the creation of the pixel is a simple matter of attaching a small image to an HTML file that can execute when the page is accessed.
Assessment: Tracking pixels can be a method of tracking that facilitates an easier and more e-commerce experience for consumers, but as always, the range of practices using cookies make them just as vulnerable as other methods to exploitation.