What is a Tracking Pixel? – Digital Nugget #11

November 2, 2015 // Jeff Cracolici

Tracking pixels are tiny, virtually invisible images that are embedded in emails and web pages which track and measure the behavior of Internet users. Such pixels are sometimes referred to as Beacons, Bugs or Tags.

For marketers, these pixels are powerful tools that measure a multitude of different activities including how often an email is opened, how many visitors are on a web page, how are the visitors behaving when they are on a web page, and sales conversions.

Where are they used and how do they work?


Tracking pixels have been used in emails for decades to inform marketers who opened an email, and when. Today, almost every marketing email you receive has a tracking pixel in it.

Email tracking pixels work in a way that is relatively simplistic. Each individual on an email list is assigned a pixel before an email campaign is launched, and that pixel is placed into the body of each respective email. Once a user opens an email, that pixel is downloaded along with the rest of the email. The owner of the tracking pixel receives a report of which individuals has or has not downloaded their tracking pixel, which indicates whether the email was opened.

Web Pages

Tracking pixels can be used on websites as well. These pixels are typically used to measure how many individuals visit a specific page or, if they are placed on a retailer’s checkout page, the amount of conversions.

Similarly to emails, a single pixel is placed into the body of a webpage. When a user loads that page, their computer downloads the pixel along with the other content. From there, the owner of the tracking pixel receives a report of how many times their tracking pixel has been downloaded, which indicates the amount of web traffic and/or conversions.

Unlike email tracking pixels, web page pixels are less individualized, which means that these owners have very limited information as to who is visiting their websites.

The Future of Tracking Pixels

In terms of web pages, tracking pixels continue to become more sophisticated and insightful. As companies have move away from the pixel-based tracking pixels to code-based tracking pixels, the amount of information that they have returned thus far is incredible.

For example, Google Analytics, one of the most popular website analytic platforms, implements a tracking pixel that can return information about how users are interacting with different elements on each page, as well as their demographics and interests.

As this technology improves, marketers will continue to make more intelligent decisions.

About the Digital Nugget Series

Digital Marketing is a growing, constantly evolving area. For marketers trying to keep up with the latest trends, it can be exhausting! LiftEngine’s bi-weekly Digital Nugget, published every other Monday, is a series of articles that will educate and shed light on the Digital Marketing world and when a fit exists, relate it is back to direct marketing. The series will start with the very basics of digital – popular acronyms, channels, terms and strategies – and progress to the latest and greatest trends.

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