Which Pixel Should I Use?
As any affiliate marketer will tell you, a key to successfully measure and optimize campaigns is understanding how to use pixels. However, there are various types of pixels and you may be wondering ‘Which pixel should I use?’
This article will help you determine the best answers to this question. But first, let’s start from the very beginning…
What is a Pixel?
A pixel captures important information about how consumers interact with advertising and marketing efforts. These could be user actions such as to:
- View a video or open an email through an impression pixel;
- Click on a banner ad or land on the brand’s website through a click pixel or link; or
- Complete a product purchase, lead form submission or newsletter signup through a conversion or event pixel.
For the purpose of this article, we will cover conversion pixels, also referred to as event or goal pixels. Specifically, the focus will be on which type of conversion pixel you should implement given your technical capabilities and campaign requirements.
At a high level, there are two types of conversion pixels used to measure marketing performance:
- Server Pixels, also referred to as Postback URLs, which are used for server-to-server cookie-less tracking.
Browser HTML Pixels
The most common and easiest conversion pixel to implement for media measurement is a Browser HTML pixel. With this type of pixel all you do is place a small snippet of code on your website.
Another option is to use a Tag Management solution (Google Tag Manager, Tealium, etc.) that can manage rules for you based on when the pixel should “fire”, which sends information to the measurement platform when a consumer completes the desired action.
Though Browser HTML pixels are quick and simple to implement, keep the following drawbacks in mind.
First, Browser HTML pixels are not the most accurate or reliable because they are dependent on a cookie on the consumer’s browser. This means the consumer must initially “allow” cookies or does not clear/delete the cookies. Accuracy in cookie-based measurement is a growing concern for advertisers and marketers due to the changing regulations and best practices around consumer privacy, such as Apples Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) 2.0 on Safari.
Secondly, there is a larger possibility for fraud when a Browser HTML pixel is used, because they are easy to identify in the website’s source code and “force-fire” or “spoof.” So instead of letting the actual page load the pixel, the URL of the pixel can be fired manually by placing it in the browser’s query string or firing it from a different page than the thank you page. A way to identify if this is occurring is to validate the measurement platform’s pixel log to see if the referring URL of the pixel is in fact the URL of the thank you page that should be firing the pixel.
Overall, Browser HTML pixels provide a good solution if you lack the technical resources to implement server-based measurement or server pixels. Additionally, if your measurement platform cannot support server-based tracking, you should use the Postback Fallback method to achieve the highest level of accuracy for your campaign measurement.
Another type of conversion pixel that delivers more benefits than a Browser pixel is the Server pixel, most notably the Postback URL. The main advantages of the Postback URL are highly accurate campaign measurement and more effective fraud prevention.
The Postback URL allows for nearly 100 percent accuracy, due to cookie-less tracking. Since cookies can be cleared manually by users or not stored on the browser by default, cookie-less or server-to-server tracking is more accurate because it relies on an identification of the consumer’s action, such as a unique session ID generated when the consumer clicks on an ad.
Also, there are no browser limitations, including pages not fully loading, that will interfere with conversion tracking, since conversion pixels are not hard coded onto the thank-you page.
The Postback URL also supports fraud prevention tools, because of its ability to whitelist server IPs and only store conversions from the whitelist. Postback URL’s also rely on a hidden attribution value, such as a user’s session ID, for storing conversions which make it nearly impossible to force fire pixels.
While there are significant benefits offered with Postback URLS, there is one disadvantage.
The drawback of using Postback URLs to track server-side conversions is the affiliate pixel piggy-backing limitations. Piggy-backing is a term used to describe subsequent pixels needing to “fire” or in other words, let other measurement platforms know the action has occurred. In most cases, you or your partners will be using additional measurement platforms, all of which need to be notified of the conversion for their own reporting purposes. Server pixels cannot piggy-back Browser pixels. Thus, if you utilize a Postback URL, your affiliates must also use a Postback URL as calls made from a server cannot subsequently fire an HTML conversion pixel placed on a browser page.
It is recommended that advertisers, networks and publishers use the Postback URL when working with media partners, ad networks or new affiliates to protect themselves and their partners against fraud.
Getting it Right: The Postback Fallback
Since some tracking platforms cannot support server-to-server tracking, CAKE delivers capabilities so you don’t have to choose between Server and Browser pixels.
With our Postback Fallback method, you can utilize both types of pixels to gain all of the fraud-prevention benefits of a Server pixel while still being able to support the “piggy-backing” of your affiliates Browser pixels.
Demystifying the Question “Which Pixel Should I Use?”
Understanding how and when to use the proper pixel is crucial to measure the success of any online marketing campaign. As a best practice, establish measurable goals and KPIs prior to the launch of digital campaigns. This helps you to select and leverage the best pixel to determine how consumers interact with your marketing and advertising campaigns, plus provides granular insights to make real-time optimizations and increase profitability.
For more information on CAKE’s server-to-server tracking capabilities and Postback URL implementation, take a look at our Knowledge Base article.