Tracking pixels are pieces of code that are added to your website to track user behavior. These pixels are used by analytics and marketing platforms to track engagement, such as page views or conversions. Tracking pixels are available from the most popular platforms, including Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The best way to manage your tracking pixels is by using Google Tag Manager (GTM). Once GTM is installed, you can easily install tracking pixels on your website from one place. GTM also lets you decide when or where these tracking pixels fire, such as after someone completes a purchase, a specific page is viewed, or across the entire site.
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Types of Tracking Pixels
Google Analytics 4 uses a tracking pixel that goes on every page of the website, populating the GA4 reports. Page Views, File Downloads, Outbound Link Clicks, and Scroll Tracking events are automatically tracked by default. More advanced GA4 event tracking can be implemented to track conversions or specific user engagements.
Ad platforms most often use retargeting pixels to create retargeting (or remarketing) audiences. These audiences are collections of users who took (or did not take) a specific action on the site, allowing the ad platform to target that audience with specific ads.
‘All website visitors’ is a common retargeting audience, as people who are familiar with a brand and have visited the site before are more likely to convert than a cold, prospecting audience. Audiences can also be created around a specific page or interaction, such as people who viewed a product or added an item to the cart.
Retargeting pixels can also be used to exclude parts of an audience. For example, targeting users who added an item to their cart AND who did not complete a purchase. This lets me reach people who were on the fence about purchasing without wasting the budget on people who have already converted.
Conversion pixels notify the platform when a specific interaction has occurred. These pixels can be fired when an item is purchased, a form is submitted, a file has been downloaded, or any other positive user engagement worth reporting on. Having conversion data within a marketing platform allows you to track marketing campaign performance better, helping to improve campaign optimization.
Additional information can be sent alongside the conversion pixel for enhanced conversion tracking. This could include Order Revenue, Transaction ID, Product Name, or Form Name. These additional data points improve the quality of the data you’re reporting on.
Most Common Marketing Pixels
Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
The gtag.js code is used for the GA4 Config Tag. This tracking pixel includes the Measurement ID from the specific GA4 Data Stream, in the format G-ABCDE12345. The GA4 tracking pixel should be added in the <head> of the HTML code on every page of the website.
Google Ads Pixel
The Google Ad Pixel also uses the gtag.js code, but it includes an account-specific Conversion ID. Despite having “conversion” in the name, this part of the tracking pixel code is used in the remarketing pixel and should be placed on every website page.
For conversions, the Event Snippet containing a Conversion Label is added to the pixel. This part of the pixel is conversion-specific, meaning each conversion on the website will have a unique label. The Conversion ID is consistent for all conversion and remarketing pixels within the Google Ads account.
Meta/Facebook Ads Pixel
The Base of the Facebook Pixel is used for retargeting, and should be added to every page of your website. This fires a PageView Event to the Facebook Pixel inside your ad account, allowing you to track pageviews and build remarketing audiences.
Facebook uses other events in place of conversion pixels. There are Standard Events, including Lead, Donate, Contact, Purchase, etc, that align with many common conversion types. Custom Events are also available if your conversions don’t align, but standard events are recommended when possible.
Facebook has an additional form of tracking called the Facebook Conversion API (CAPI), which would take an entire article to explain. Instead of firing events directly from a user’s browser to the platform, events are sent to a server first.
LinkedIn Ads Pixel
The LinkedIn Insight Tag is a remarketing pixel that should be placed on every page of your site. It includes the LinkedIn Partner ID, unique to your ad account, and ensures that any data collected by the pixel is sent to that account.
An event-specific tracking pixel is used for Conversion Tracking, which is fired at the time of the conversion. This relies on the Insight Tag to reach your ad account, so make sure that is placed on the page. An older version of LinkedIn conversion tracking used an image pixel, but the event-specific tracking pixel is recommended.
TikTok Ads Pixel
The TikTok retargeting pixel is similar to other marketing pixels, where it’s placed in the html code of every page and fires within the user’s browser. The pixel uses a sdkid parameter which is unique to the ad account.
For conversions, TikTok uses an event structure similar to Facebook. There are standard events, including Contact, Download, AddToCart, Purchase, etc, as well as custom events. In general, the standard events are recommended in your tracking pixel.
Bing/Microsoft Ads Pixel
The Microsft Ads Univeral Event Tracking (UET) tag should be placed in the html code <head> on every website page. This remarketing pixel has a unique Tag ID that is set up within the conversion section of the ad account.
Conversions in Bing Ads use a function called “uet_report_conversion” to send the conversion event name to Microsoft. Goal Categories can also be set on the backend, helping simplify the reporting and keep things organized. This tracking pixel should be fired when the specific event or conversion is triggered.
Are My Tracking Pixels Working?
The whole point of adding a tracking pixel is to track data. If data isn’t being passed through correctly, there is no reason to set up the tracking code in the first place. Below are the best ways to make sure your pixel tracking is working.
Google Tag Manager Preview
Assuming you add the code through a Google Tag Manager tag, you should see the tracking pixel code fire in GTM Preview Mode. This at least ensures the tracking pixel works on your website and is firing when it’s supposed to.
Use Browser Extensions
If you install pixels often, several Chrome extensions can make your life easier. The Facebook Pixel Helper and Google Tag Assistant both let you see what’s currently being fired. Most marketing platforms have similar extensions available.
My preferred extension to check if a tracking pixel works is the “dataLayer Inspector” by Adswerve. It tracks events fired by Google Analytics 4, Adobe Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and several others. It has much more functionality, so it’s always activated in my browser.
Check The Platform
Real-time reporting is available in most marketing and analytics platforms, and would ensure the pixel server is receiving the data. GA4 has both RealTime Reports and a Debug Mode. Facebook has an event testing tool to see what events are being picked up live. In the worst case, fire off the events and check the platform later that day.
What’s Next For Tracking Pixels?
Tracking pixels have been around for decades and will likely be around a lot longer, although there have been a lot of talks recently of a cookie-less future. Most tracking pixels rely on cookies so things will be somewhat impacted. Shifting from browser-based to server-side tracking should resolve some of the cookie issues, but we’ll see how things change in the future.
Tracking Pixel FAQ
What is a tracking pixel in marketing?
Tracking pixels are code snippets added to websites for conversion tracking or remarketing purposes.
Are tracking pixels illegal?
Tracking pixels are generally legal, but it depends on many factors, including geography, consent, disclosure, collected data, and more.
How do you find a tracking pixel?
Tracking pixels are usually added to the HTML Code of a website, meaning most pixels can be found by using the developer tools in your browser.