Digital marketers are excited about big data, or, at least, they should be. By amassing an enormous amount of data on user behavior, online marketers can target customers more precisely and serve ads more efficiently than ever before.
But amidst all the excitement around data-driven marketing, it's easy to forget the unsung heroes that make it all possible: the little blocks of code known as pixels.
Why Pixels are so Important
Pixels, usually transparent 1x1 GIF or PNG images, make it possible for site owners and third-party vendors to keep tabs on what's actually happening on a website at the most granular level.
Pixels are automatically downloaded when the user performs a specific action, such as arriving on a page or clicking a button. The server registers the download, and thus, we know that a given action has taken place.
Because pixels, in conjunction with cookies, allow us to gather data on a particular user, they make it possible to target ads to the people who are most likely to be impacted by them.
Here are three key things to keep an eye on when using pixels.
Even though pixels do all of their tracking while keeping users anonymous, privacy advocates, especially in Europe, have been concerned about the spread of pixels and third-party tracking. Look no further than Google’s Tracking Lawsuit in the UK as an example.
Customers should always be notified when data is collected and always have the ability to opt-out.
When the information is presented accurately and clearly, consumers recognize that the anonymous tracking that takes place behind the scenes of almost every web visit makes the Internet a better and much more functional place.
2. Data Leakage
A typical advertiser may have many different pixels running on a given site. The digital marketer needs to understand precisely what data is being collected and acted upon.
While the industry is becoming more transparent, we know that data can leak and it is sometimes difficult for marketers to wrest control of their data. To be safe, marketers should only work with vendors that clearly outline what data they collect and whether that data is being resold to third party companies.
Ideally marketers should work with vendors that belong to industry organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) or Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) among others.
3. Pixel Management
Increasingly, major sites are littered with pixels, many of them placed by old vendors and no longer in use.
If pixels aren't handled properly, they can affect a site's performance and put valuable data in jeopardy. For this reason, tag management platforms that make it possible to store all of a site's pixels in one easily modified system have become increasingly popular.
Even Google has now entered the tag management game with the announcement of the Google Tag Manager.
Keeping tabs on these three areas can make all the difference when using pixels.
If not handled properly, pixels can be a major headache – just ask anyone who has ever struggled with unmanaged pixels that slow down a site. But when you address privacy concerns, keep your data secure, and manage carefully, working with pixels can be a breeze, as it should be.
Pixels may be tiny blocks of code, but they’re hugely important to a well-functioning web.
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!