What is a Tracking Pixel and How does it works? – Complete Guide

In the world of digital marketing, you’ve probably heard the terms “tracking pixel” or simply “pixel” thrown around without much explanation. So, let’s break it down from the beginning. While you might not recognise a tracking pixel, it has likely popped up on your screen before. These little elements help companies gather useful marketing info and measure the success of their ad campaigns. But what exactly are they, and how do they work? Let’s keep it simple and find out.

What is a tracking pixel?

Marketing pixels, also known as tracking pixels, are tiny snippets of code that play a significant role in gathering information about website visitors—like their browsing habits and the ads they click on. These pixels are often 1×1 graphics, practically invisible at a minuscule size. They are loaded when a user opens a webpage or email. They’re designed to be discreet, either transparent or blending with the background colour to remain inconspicuous. Users typically won’t notice them, as the focus is on the actions triggered by the pixel download.

In the source code, tracking pixels can appear like this:

<img style=”position: absolute;” src=”Tracking”>
<img style=”display: none;” src=”Tracking”>
<img src=”Tracking” width=”0″ height=”0″>

The URL associated with the tracking pixel indicates its location on the server. When a user visits a website, the image with the tag is fetched from this server. The pixel’s visual properties, like visibility and small size, are defined using the style attribute.

facebook tracking pixel

Now that you have a basic understanding of what a pixel is, let’s dive into the different types. Don’t worry too much; there are only two that you really need to focus on.

Two types of pixels

Retargeting Pixels

Retargeting pixels, also known as remarketing pixels, are a specific type of tracking pixel used in online advertising. Their primary purpose is to track visitors to a website and then display targeted ads to those visitors as they browse other websites or social media platforms. For example, suppose a visitor views a product page on your e-commerce site but leaves without making a purchase. In that case, a retargeting pixel can trigger ads featuring the viewed products when they visit other sites, encouraging them to return and complete the purchase.

How to place a retargeting Pixel

Placing a retargeting pixel involves a few steps, and the exact process can vary depending on the advertising platform you’re using. Here’s a general guide that covers the basic steps:

  1. Choose the advertising platform for retargeting, such as Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or others.
  2. Create an account on the chosen platform if you don’t have one.
  3. Access the section for pixel or tag setup in the platform’s settings.
  4. Generate the retargeting pixel following the platform’s instructions.
  5. Copy the generated code snippet provided by the platform.
  6. Paste the code into the HTML of your website, ideally on all pages for comprehensive tracking.
  7. Test the pixel to ensure it’s correctly tracking user interactions.
  8. Set up retargeting campaigns within the advertising platform, defining your target audience and creating ad creatives.
  9. Monitor campaign performance regularly, analysing metrics like click-through rates and conversion rates.
  10. Use performance data to optimise and refine your retargeting campaigns over time.

An HTML Retargeting tracking pixel:

<!– Retargeting Pixel Code –>
// Replace ‘YOUR_RETARGETING_PIXEL_ID’ with your actual retargeting pixel ID
var retargetingPixelId = ‘YOUR_RETARGETING_PIXEL_ID’;

// Track page view for retargeting
!function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s) {
s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window, document,’script’,

fbq(‘init’, retargetingPixelId);
fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);
<img height=”1″ width=”1″ style=”display:none”

Conversion Pixels

Conversion pixels play a crucial role in measuring specific advertising campaigns’ success by tracking users’ actions after clicking on an ad. Unlike retargeting pixels, which focus on user behaviour, conversion pixels come into play after a desired action has been completed, such as making a purchase or filling out a form. For e-commerce businesses, a conversion pixel might be placed on the order confirmation page, allowing marketers to accurately attribute sales to a particular ad campaign. This data helps marketers understand which campaigns are driving conversions and provides insights for optimising future campaigns.

An HTML Conversion tracking pixel:

<!– Conversion Pixel Code –>
// Replace ‘YOUR_CONVERSION_PIXEL_ID’ with your actual conversion pixel ID
var conversionPixelId = ‘YOUR_CONVERSION_PIXEL_ID’;

// Track conversion event
!function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s) {
s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window, document,’script’,

fbq(‘init’, conversionPixelId);
fbq(‘track’, ‘Purchase’, {value: ‘0.00’, currency: ‘USD’}); // Adjust value and currency based on your actual purchase data
<img height=”1″ width=”1″ style=”display:none”

How does a Tracking Pixel work

Tracking pixels, also known as web beacons, are small codes embedded in websites or emails. They are used to monitor and collect data on user behaviour, allowing businesses to track the effectiveness of their online campaigns. Here’s how tracking pixels work:

1.  Placement on Websites or Emails

  • On Websites: In the case of websites, tracking pixels are often embedded in the HTML code of web pages. They are usually invisible to the user.
  • In Emails: In emails, tracking pixels are often embedded in the email’s HTML. They are typically small, transparent images.

2. Loading Process

  • When a user opens a webpage or email containing a tracking pixel, the pixel code instructs the user’s browser to load the pixel from a remote server.
  • The pixel is often a 1×1 transparent image, virtually invisible to the user.

3. Data Collection

  • As the pixel is loaded, it sends a request to the server, notifying it that the user has accessed the content.
  • This interaction allows the server to collect information about the user’s activity, such as the time of visit, device type, and IP address.

4. Monitoring User Behaviour

  • Tracking pixels are frequently used in online advertising to monitor user interactions. For example, when a user clicks on an ad, the tracking pixel records this action.
  • This data is valuable for advertisers as it helps them understand how users engage with their content.

5. Retargeting and Remarketing

  • Based on the data collected, businesses can implement retargeting strategies. For instance, if a user visits an online store but doesn’t make a purchase, a tracking pixel can trigger ads for the same products to appear on other websites the user visits.

6. Performance Analysis

  • Marketers use the data collected by tracking pixels to analyze the performance of their online campaigns. They can measure metrics like click-through, conversion, and user engagement.

7. Conversion Tracking

  • For conversion tracking, pixels are often placed on specific pages, such as order confirmation. When a user completes a desired action (e.g., purchasing), the tracking pixel records the conversion.

8. Privacy Considerations

  • It’s important to note that tracking pixels raises privacy concerns. Users may be tracked across websites, leading to debates about online privacy and the use of ad blockers.

In summary, tracking pixels works by discreetly collecting data on user behaviour, enabling businesses to refine their marketing strategies based on real-time insights.

Why are Pixels Valuable?

Pixels play a crucial role in behavioural tracking by capturing website user interactions. With tools like tracking pixels, marketers can analyze how users navigate their sites, which pages they visit, and their actions. Pixels are valuable in digital marketing for ensuring the quality and effectiveness of visual content across various channels, including display ads, social media, websites, and videos. Attention to pixel quality contributes to the success of digital marketing campaigns by enhancing engagement, conveying brand messages effectively, and positively influencing audience perception.

How to Set Up a Tracking Pixel?

Inserting a tracking pixel typically involves adding a small piece of code to a webpage or an email. Here’s a general guide on how to do pixel tracking:

1. Create a new Universal Analytics property

  • Log in to your Google Analytics account.
  • Navigate to the Admin section.
  • In the Property column, click on “Create Property.”
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to set up a new Universal Analytics property.

2. Copy the tracking ID

  • Once the property is created, find and copy the tracking ID. This ID is a unique code associated with your Google Analytics property.

3. Go to your event dashboard.

  • Navigate to the event dashboard of your website or application.

4. Under Marketing, click Tracking Pixels

  • Access the section of your platform or service where you manage tracking pixels. This might be labelled “Marketing” or a similar category.

5. Under Google Universal Analytics, click Add new pixel

  • Look for an option to add a new pixel specifically for Google Universal Analytics.

6. Choose between This event or All events

  • Decide whether you want the pixel to track a specific event or all events on your website or application.

7. Paste your tracking ID

  • Paste the tracking ID that you copied earlier into the appropriate field.

8. Save the changes

  • Save the changes to activate the tracking pixel with the provided tracking ID.

9. Test the Tracking Pixel

  • After inserting the tracking pixel, it’s essential to test whether it’s working correctly. Visit the webpage or send a test email, and then check your analytics or advertising platform to verify that the pixel is registering events or interactions.

10. Consider Privacy and Compliance

  • Ensure that your use of tracking pixels complies with privacy regulations such as GDPR or CCPA. Communicate to your website visitors or email recipients that you are using tracking pixels and provide options for them to opt-out if necessary.

Tips and Best Practices

  • Backup your code: Before making any changes, creating a backup of your webpage or email code is a good practice.
  • Use HTTPS: If your website is served over HTTPS, ensure the pixel source is secure. This is important for security and ensures that browsers don’t block the pixel due to mixed content issues.
  • Monitor Performance: Regularly check your analytics platform to monitor the performance of your tracking pixels. Ensure that they are capturing the intended data accurately.
  • Update as Needed: If you make changes to your website or email structure, review and update the tracking pixel code accordingly.

Always refer to the specific instructions provided by your analytics or advertising platform for the most accurate and up-to-date information on inserting tracking pixels.

Pros and cons of tracking pixels

Tracking pixels, like any technology, comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons:

Pros of Tracking Pixels:

Data Collection:

  • Pro: Tracking pixels allows for precise data collection. Marketers can gather detailed information about user behaviour, interactions, and conversions, providing valuable insights for targeted marketing strategies.

Performance Optimisation:

  • Pro: The data collected through tracking pixels enables marketers to optimise their campaigns. They can make data-driven decisions to improve overall performance by understanding what works and what doesn’t.

Personalised Marketing:

  • Pro: Tracking pixels facilitates personalised marketing efforts. Marketers can create targeted and relevant content based on user behaviours, preferences, and interactions, leading to a more customised user experience.

A/B Testing:

  • Pro: Tracking pixels is crucial for A/B testing. Marketers can experiment with different elements and strategies, measure user responses, and refine their approach for better results.


  • Pro: Tracking pixels enables remarketing efforts. Marketers can display targeted ads to encourage return visits and conversions by tracking users who have interacted with a website.

Cross-Device Tracking:

  • Pro: Tracking pixels allow for cross-device tracking, providing a comprehensive view of user interactions across various platforms and devices.

Attribution Modelling:

  • Pro: Marketers can use tracking pixels to attribute conversions and interactions to specific marketing channels or campaigns. This helps in understanding the customer journey and allocating resources effectively.

Cons of Tracking Pixels:

Privacy Concerns:

  • Con: One of the most significant concerns with tracking pixels is privacy. Users may feel that their online activities are monitored without consent, raising ethical and legal issues.

Ad Blockers:

  • Con: Ad blockers can prevent tracking pixels from loading, leading to incomplete or inaccurate data. As ad blockers increase, the effectiveness of tracking pixels may be compromised.

User Trust:

  • Con: Excessive tracking can erode user trust. Suppose users feel that their privacy is being invaded. In that case, it may negatively impact their perception of a brand and lead to a loss of trust.

Data Accuracy:

  • Con: Some users may disable cookies or use private browsing modes, affecting the accuracy of data collected through tracking pixels.

Regulatory Compliance:

  • Con: Adherence to privacy regulations, such as GDPR or CCPA, is essential. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in legal consequences and damage a brand’s reputation.

Complex Implementation:

  • Con: Implementing and managing tracking pixels can be complex, especially for large websites or extensive marketing campaigns. It requires careful planning and maintenance.

Potential for Manipulation:

  • Con: In some cases, the data collected through tracking pixels may be manipulated or exploited. This can lead to inaccurate analytics and misguided marketing strategies.

While tracking pixels offers powerful tools for digital marketers to understand and optimise their campaigns, the ethical use of such technology is crucial. Balancing the benefits with respect for user privacy and compliance with regulations is key to maintaining a positive and trustworthy online presence.

Are tracking pixels illegal?

The legality of tracking pixels, also known as web beacons or pixel tags, depends on how they are used and the applicable laws in a given jurisdiction. Tracking pixels themselves are not inherently illegal, but their use can raise privacy concerns and may be subject to regulations.

In many cases, the legality of tracking pixels is governed by data protection and privacy laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States. These laws often require organisations to obtain informed consent from users before collecting and processing their personal information, and they may also impose restrictions on the types of data that can be collected and how it can be used.

If tracking pixels are used to collect personally identifiable information (PII) without proper consent or in violation of privacy laws, it could be considered illegal. On the other hand, if organisations are transparent about their use of tracking pixels, provide clear information to users, and obtain their consent where required, the use of tracking pixels may be legal.

It’s important for organisations to be aware of and comply with the privacy laws in the jurisdictions where they operate and where their users are located. Additionally, keeping up to date with changes in privacy regulations is crucial, as laws in this area may evolve over time. If you have specific concerns about the use of tracking pixels, it’s advisable to consult with legal professionals who specialise in privacy and data protection law.

Criticism of the Tracking Pixel

Despite their widespread use in the digital landscape, tracking pixels face vehement criticism from privacy advocates due to their intrusive data collection practices. Here’s an exploration of the key criticisms levelled against tracking pixels:

Opaque Data Collection

Tracking pixels, operating incognito, silently amassing an extensive user dataset without explicit user awareness or consent. The covert nature of this data acquisition raises concerns about user privacy infringement.

Invisible Intrusion

The inconspicuous nature of tracking pixels, invisible to the naked eye, compounds the privacy dilemma. Oblivious to the presence and functionality of these minuscule graphics, users unwittingly become subjects of data transmission without their informed consent.

Motion Profile Invasion

Detractors argue that tracking pixels goes beyond data collection, creating a detailed motion profile of users. This compilation of user behaviour without explicit permission is perceived as a breach of privacy, as it constructs a digital narrative of activities without the user’s clear knowledge.

IP Address Exposure

The transmission of IP addresses further intensifies privacy concerns associated with tracking pixels. This information, when coupled with other online data, can potentially unveil a user’s identity, linking them to profiles on social networks or forums and heightening the risk of unintended exposure.

Aiding Spammers

Tracking pixels inadvertently provides a tool for spammers to validate email addresses. By embedding these pixels in spam emails, spammers can ascertain the legitimacy of an email address when the recipient unknowingly triggers the pixel by opening the email. This confirmation mechanism exacerbates the proliferation of spam messages.

While tracking pixels offers marketers invaluable insights, the ethical implications of their surreptitious data collection have sparked a robust debate. Critics contend that the current landscape raises serious privacy issues, emphasising the need for a transparent and consensual approach to data gathering in the digital sphere.

How to protect yourself from tracking

To safeguard yourself from online tracking tools like browser cookies and tracking pixels, it’s essential to maintain control over your digital footprint. While these tools serve various purposes, having the ability to decide whether you want them or not is crucial. Data privacy is vital because your information holds value for you, companies, and potential wrongdoers.

A practical way to strengthen your online defences is by carefully managing website privacy settings. Avoid clicking “Accept all” when faced with privacy pop-ups. This practice can limit tracking, as many websites allow you to disable or restrict their tracking functions through these settings.

Using privacy tools, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or tracker-blocking software, is also valuable. NordVPN, for example, features Threat Protection, blocking trackers, reducing annoying ads, and shielding you from malware. With one NordVPN account, you can extend this protection to up to six devices, enhancing your overall security. Embracing these simple steps empowers you to navigate the online world with increased privacy and control.

Local expertise, local experience.

Let’s get ready to launch your business to exciting new heights with our know-how and strategies.

Our team would love to hear from you. Get in touch now!

Strategic Media Partners Mackay Queensland Australia - Digital Marketing Graphic Website Design and Development
36 Wellington St, Mackay QLD 4740

Let’s talk. Let’s connect.

chat button

✋ Chat Assistant, how can we help you?