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Digital marketers love throwing around the words “tracking pixel,” “marketing pixel,” “Facebook pixel,” or just “pixel.” For the unacquainted, the concept of a pixel may be confusing, especially when it’s discussed without context. But what is it, and why is it important? 

Pixel Code? What’s That?

Ever gone on a retailers’ website, added some things to your cart, closed the tab without checking out, and been bombarded with ads on social media reminding you that you’ve left some items in your cart? That’s a tracking pixel at work. (No, Facebook isn’t eavesdropping on your conversations.) 

A pixel is a tiny piece of code typically designed to blend into your site or email design to detect site visitors or email openers. After it’s implemented, it allows website operators or email senders to gather information about its website audience, including:

  • What pages they browse
  • What buttons they click
  • What operating system they use and their screen resolution
  • What time they completed the action (e.g., opening the email or visiting the website)
  • Their IP address

For tech aficionados, here’s the more nitty-gritty definition of a pixel code: it’s a piece of javascript code or an iframe that marketers can add to their website or email’s HTML code. If the target user clicks on the ad, visits the destination website, or opens the email, their browser opens the invisible graphic, which then registers their data and sends it to the server. The pixel then leaves a cookie in the users’ browsers, which can then be used by brands to serve retargeting ads. 

Why Do We Need Pixel Codes?

Pixel codes allow marketers to collect and access a treasure trove of website visitors’ behavioral data:

  • Seeing which products a potential customer showed interest in means that you can serve highly relevant retargeting paid ads and subsequently prompt more conversions. 
  • By tracking impressions and conversions, you’re also able to measure the performance of a marketing campaign. 
  • You can A/B test creative and online offers to make them more compelling. 
  • You can adapt digital experiences to the most commonly used browsers and sizes. 
  • You can gauge the open rates for your emails. 

In other words, by adding a pixel code, you can better maximize your marketing resources and hone in on the most relevant audiences.

For more on how pixels can help you launch a retargeting campaign:

Why Your Brand Needs a Superhero Retargeting Campaign Now More Than Ever

What’s The Difference Between Pixels And a Cookie?

If you think that a pixel code sounds awfully similar to a cookie, you’re not alone. Pixel is the medium in which the cookie is dropped to the website visitor’s browser.

Although both are used to track users across the internet, pixel codes are generally more effective because they collect more behavioral information. As cookies are saved in individual users’ browsers (your Google Chrome or Safari), users have much more control over them — blocking or clearing their cookies whenever they fancy. Additionally, cookies are limited to a particular device’s browser. 

Comparatively, pixel codes send information directly to the host’s servers and can observe users across devices with the help of cookies, especially 3P (third-party) cookies.

Basically, if you’ve ever wondered how your marketing efforts span from desktop websites to mobile ads, a pixel and the associated 3P cookie is the way to go. Pixels also make it possible for marketers to ascertain whether site visitors are real shoppers or bots, and as a result, create user-profiles and navigation paths based on behavioral trends. But as with any marketing technology, pixel codes generally just provide the basis — add-on tools are needed to analyze the data and provide insights on the next steps. 

For more on consumer privacy:

Consumer Privacy 101

Are There Different Types of Pixel Codes?

Yup! Different pixel codes are used for different purposes. You may have heard of these popular ones:

  • Browser HTML pixels. This is the most basic and common type of pixel offered by most website providers, such as WordPress. However, because this type of pixel relies on cookies in some situations, they may occasionally provide uncomprehensive information. 
  • Retargeting pixels. These pixels are used to monitor user behaviors and interactions on a website, allowing marketers to serve tailored ads instantly, no wait required. You’ll need to add the pixel to most of your webpages to capture accurate data for maximum effect. 
  • Conversion pixels. These pixels are placed on thank you or confirmation pages and are triggered when users complete goals. They allow marketers to connect conversions (and subsequently, revenue) to certain behaviors, audience profiles, and ads. By identifying the source of conversions, you can pinpoint which user journeys or demographics to focus your attention and dollars on. 

Pro Tip: Instead of taking a pixel code for every site visitor on every single webpage in your arsenal, you’ll want to be intentional. Focus on pixels that will help support and inform your campaign strategy or specific demographics that you know correspond to your target audience. 

For more on decluttering your data:

Declutter Your Data to “Spark Joy” in 2021

How Do I Get Started?

You can typically install a pixel code via your email or website host platform (and they’ll offer extensive implementation instructions.) With AdRoll, your pixel is automatically generated as soon as you sign up. If you manage different websites, we will generate a unique pixel code for each of them. 

Beyond pixel codes, AdRoll provides a robust set of tools for marketers to maximize growth. Whether it’s growing customer loyalty, compiling better data, or recovering abandoned carts, we’ve got you covered. Check out how we can solve your marketing challenges today.  

Author

Pavan is a Sr. Product Manager at NextRoll.