If you’ve seen any iteration of the classic Peter Pan story, you’ll know that everyone’s favorite unaging hooligan is followed around by a little pixie fairy. Pixie, pixel — very similar sounding words. So what? Well, as it turns out Tinkerbell the pixie is similar in concept to a tracking pixel.
By its nature, a tracking pixel is a tiny graphic — so small that it usually cannot be seen by users — that records every action you make while browsing the web. Though it sounds nefarious, it’s really just a way for an advertiser to target certain demographics with advertising. The pixel is either fully transparent or the same color as the site background so as to not draw attention.
Tinkerbell could infuse people with sparkly magic, but what can tracking pixels do?
Have you ever noticed how cable television advertising is usually indicative of its audience (how Ensure commercials usually end up on the Hallmark channel)? Viral advertisement takes that concept and hones it even more, so it’s incredibly important to get your ad in front of the right people. That’s where tracking pixels come in.
For example — let’s say that you live in the bucolic corn fields of Ohio. If you were to view an advertisement for a boat, it likely would have little to no effect or relevance on you at all. That’s because you’re not a suitable target demographic. But it would be far more relevant to potential customers in a coastal region. A tracking pixel would indicate that this boat ad is getting no traffic in the Midwest, therefore allowing the advertiser to adjust their audience for the campaign. When that ad is shown to users located in the New England coastal area, however, advertisers would see a far higher click rate which equates to more sales.
All of the following data can be tracked and analyzed by a tracking pixel:
- Operating System Used
- Whether content was viewed on mobile or desktop
- If the site was viewed in a browser or an email client
- Screen resolution
- When an email was read or site was visited
- Actions taken on the website during a session
- IP address
If we’re getting really technical:
The pixel code is placed in the header of their website. This code contains an external link to the server containing the pixel. When the website containing the pixel is loaded, it opens the graphic and the action is recorded by the pixel server’s log. The pixel could be part of a page, a button, or an email — allowing for various actions to be tracked.
No, Tinkerbell never did delve into the ad-tech side of things, but this is simply a rough analogy of how your little pixel fairy works — it follows you around and provides the advertiser with the magical ability to generate more revenue.