As a photographer turned marketer, the word “pixel” holds different meaning for me than most marketers. For the longest time, when I heard “pixels” I thought about camera sensor sizes, ISO capabilities, and how large I could print a picture before it started to degrade the quality of the photograph. When learned how to properly run Facebook ads, the word opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities.
What is a Pixel?
As I said before, a pixels are small colored dots that combine to make an image on a digital screen. Each pixel has a short code embedded that tells the computer or device which color to display. Multiple pixels are grouped together, each with the code that relates to a specific color. These groups of pixels create the image on a screen.
What do pixels have to do with digital marketing?
Now this is where it gets fun. Someone way back when HTML email formatting was beginning to become mainstream discovered that pixels can hold code that tracks and collects specific data. These pixels hold a short code, embedded either in the coding or in a tiny image on the website and allows users to gather information about visitors to a specific website. The image is 1×1 pixel big – hence the name ‘pixel.’
What is a Pixel?
A pixel is an analytics tool that is added to your website’s code in order to track gather information from your visitors. The are also used to measure the effectiveness of a marketing campaign, track actions and conversions. And it looks a little something like this:
Pixels gather your traffic’s browsing behavior. That includes which kinds of ads people typically click on. The collected data helps marketers target paid ads to custom audiences. They send specific ads to people who would be more likely to be interested in the product based on their browsing behavior. That is why you start to see government conspiracies when you see ads for a product that you just viewed coming up on your Facebook feed, or on a different, perhaps even unrelated website.
But it’s not Big Brother. It’s marketing. Advertisers used to perform expensive and time consuming market research Marketers to know which magazines to put their ads in. Today I go to Evy’s Tree to get a super cute hoodie, and almost immediately see ads for a coordinating skirt.
We use pixels to track a marketing campaign’s performance, to track website conversions, and to build an audience base. Ampry users are no exception.
Different kinds of pixels
Conversion pixels track the number of conversions, or conversion rate, of a website or particular ad campaigns. Conversion pixels only start tracking information once someone has completed a specific action (also called an event) relating to buying a service or product. Developers could embed conversion pixels on any page that a user encounters in the purchasing process. Popular pages that usually include conversion pixels are the order confirmation page or the automated email that customers receive once they have made a purchase. The purpose of a conversion pixel is to track how many visitors have converted to being customers.
This is what we use here at Ampry. By installing an Ampry pixel in your site, you can then use this information to exclude people from your campaigns. Don’t waste your ad dollars on people who have already purchased from you. Ampry is one of the most effective ways to reduce your ad spend and increase conversions.
Retargeting pixels look at the behavior of your website visitors. They are embedded on specific pages and enable you to segment your visitors by what they show interest in. Retargeting pixels allows marketers to use the website visitors’ behavioral data and show them tailored marketing content and encourage higher conversions.
How do pixels work?
Warning! Technical jargon, feel free to skim if it doesn’t interest you!
When you visit a website, your browser makes a request to the server hosting the particular page. Your browser also requests the images relating to that page from the server. This process enables a tracking pixel to send metadata to the server.
How do you install a your Ampry pixel?
When you install the pixel in the <head></head> tag, it becomes embedded in the theme. Thus, if you change the theme, or launch a new site, you will need to add a pixel to the new theme. If not, you will no longer be able to gather data from your audience.
You can also install a pixel by making use of an integration manager or plugin. You can find these in the plugin menu or download it from the pixel provider like Facebook (known as Fb pixel) and add it to your site’s plugins. These sites have detailed step-by-step guides to assist users with installing and verifying their pixels. They also have pixel helpers that provide step-by-step instructions if you run into any trouble with verifying your pixel.
Ampry users can find their conversion pixel by logging into their account and clicking “install pixel” link located in the header. See this article for detailed instructions on installing the Ampry pixel on your website.
A word or URLs
A tracking URL, also known as an Urchin Tracking Module parameters (UTM), is also a tracking tool. While pixels are content on a website, and cookies are deployed to a user’s browser, UTM’s are bits of data added to your website’s URL. The data that you enter specify certain parameters that correlate with where a specific user is directed from.
For example, your URL probably looks like this:
An URL with 4 UTM parameters could look like this:
Each of the additional pieces of data collaborates to indicate precisely where the user was directed from.
In the above URL, each component indicates where the traffic is coming from. With Pixels and UTMs, you can track whether it’s your pop up, or banner ads are more successful at lead capture. Here is an article that explains UTM parameters in depth.
An analytics tool like Google Analytics will process this data so that you can track it and use it to optimize your marketing efforts.
What is the difference between a pixel and a cookie?
It might seem that cookies and pixels are the same because they have similar functions – understanding user behavior. Cookies and pixels are not the same, though.
One of the most significant differences between pixels and cookies has to do with where the information is stored. With cookies, the data is saved in your browser (like Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer) and can only track someone from a specific device. That is – the device on which the cookie was installed. Simply put, it is a code snippet saved in your browser to differentiate you (or rather – your browser) from all the other internet users who visit the same website.
A website sends a cookie to your computer which stores it in the form of a small text file. Cookies hold and store some information about you, like login information or delivery addresses. Cookies are private; they are encrypted, and usually, only the company that placed it on your computer can interpret it.
As we mentioned, cookies link to a browser. Thus the information stored on your computer will not be retrieved if you use a different browser. For example, a specific site will have your login information saved when visiting the site while using Chrome, but the information will not be retrieved if you visit the site through Firefox.
First and Third Party Cookies
You get first-party and third-party cookies. A first-party cookie is a cookie that is deployed directly from the site or domain that you are visiting. Even if the site uses a package like Google Analytics, it is still a first-party cookie since the domain that you are visiting deploys it.
A third-party cookie is a cookie that is deployed by an entity other than the domain that is visited. Sometimes a website runs ads via an ad server or ad exchange. You know, those ads that keep following you from website to website and even on social media? Yes, those. In this case, it is the ad server or exchange that deploys the cookie rather than the domain that you are visiting.
Developers place a pixel on a website, and this pixel code then saves a cookie to a user’s browser when they complete a specific action or event. An event could be anything that a business wants to collect data on. For example, when users view a product or click on the ‘Buy Now’ button, showing an event could be the right play. Pixels save the information to servers and can track users across different devices. Think about how many different devices you have used to sign in to your social media accounts. A pixel likely deployed a cookie to each one of these devices. Thus it can gather information on your browsing behavior on all of them.
To put it simply, you install a pixel on your website and drop or deploy a cookie on an individual’s device.
What are the drawbacks of using pixels?
The biggest downside to using pixels is that you gather information about users without them knowing about it. Some argue that pixels are a violation of user privacy and could allow spammers to gain access to personal data more easily. However, pixel usage is a long-established practice, and is completely legal, and businesses (including Facebook and Google), who are under heightened governmental scrutiny due to their size and share of their markets, have support pages dedicated to guiding advertisers through the process of installing, tracking, and understanding the data.
Taking it a step further, Google Tag Manager is (GTM) allows you to place all of your pixels in one spot, which frees you up to put only the GTM pixel on your site.
Third parties could use pixels to reach your audience. This should not be a surprise, especially if you run ads via an ad exchange or display paid for ads on your website. In fact, that is the whole point of a company purchasing ad space on your site.
The third-party whose ads are displayed on your website deploys cookies to your visitors’ browsers. They could then use the information from those cookies to retarget their marketing efforts to these people. Retargeting in itself is not a bad thing – this is a significant advantage of pixels after all. Besides, the third party is likely paying you to display their ads. Things tend to enter grey areas when the targeted users become loyal and repeat customers to the third-party brand. At this point, the website that initially displayed the ad no longer gets any benefit from it.
Why are pixels a vital marketing tool?
By using pixels with Ampry, you can track a variety of data that is valuable to your marketing plan. Pixels help measure your return on investment (ROI). You can clearly see how much money you are spending on specific ads and whether it is paying off. We also enable you to establish which marketing campaigns are performing the best and where you need to make adjustments.
Furthermore, our pixel can show you indirect conversions. In this case, someone might see an ad on one platform but only make a purchase when following the link from a different platform. By using pixels, you’re able to establish when and where the customer initially engaged with your content and which advertisement led to the conversion.
By using retargeting pixels, you expose your brand or product to people who might already be interested in it. These people have previously visited your site or have interacted with your content in the past. Because of this past behavior, you can retarget your marketing efforts towards these individuals to gain more conversions from them. With a retargeting campaign, you can show your ads to potential customers after they have left your website and hopefully convert them to paying clients. Pixels can also track abandoned events like how many people added items to a cart without checking out and how many filled out a lead form without submitting it.
It is possible to track any action that can be taken on your website. A word of caution: don’t add too many pixels. Firstly there is the argument about user privacy and whether it is ethical to collect user data without their express consent. Secondly, too many pixels will simply give you too much data. So much so that it might be overwhelming. Use pixels strategically only to gather the data you require – and then use that information to tweak your marketing campaigns, products, or services according to that.
Using Google Tag Manager is a great way to keep it tight. GTM assists in managing your pixels and tracking tools. It is a central platform where you can aggregate the information that you are collecting. From here, you can send the data to an analytics tool like Google Analytics or Facebook Analytics to generate reports.
Pixels can be a powerful marketing tool that enables marketers to track their users’ browsing behavior. It also gives insight into which marketing efforts brings the highest return of investment, and allow companies to retarget their marketing efforts to consumers who already show an interest in a specific product or service. Furthermore, tracking pixels can generate a lookalike audience – that is, an audience of people who are likely to be interested in your products or services based on your existing customers.