Retargeting & Tracking Pixels: Explained!

Have you ever been browsing around an online shop, looking for something like shoes, only

to then see ads for those shoes on another website like Facebook?

That's pretty creepy!

How does Facebook know that you were looking at these shoes?

Well, behind the scenes, the webshop owner is using tracking pixels.

No, not the physical pixels that make up your display.

But rather virtual pixels that are added to a webpage to spy on you and to retarget advertisements.

Let me explain.

The problem is that webshops only have a conversion rate of around 2%, meaning only 2% of visitors

actually buy something.

The remaining 98% look around but then leaves without making a purchase.

To solve this problem, and to increase their conversion rates, shop owners track you around

their website.

Which product pages you visit, how long you stay on them, and whether or not you revisit

any of them.

All of this information, often called events, are sent to an advertisement network like

the ones from Google, Facebook, or Amazon.

Once it's there, it can be used to create highly targeted ads.

Like, show an ad to only the people who have looked at a particular pair of shoes at least


And tada, you start seeing the shoes you doubted to buy on Facebook or in your Google search


This technique is called "retargeting" or "remarketing."

So it's not Google or Facebook that are secretly spying on you.

I mean sure, they probably do, but in the case of retargeted advertisements, it's the

websites you visit that share data with them.

This extra data allows them to buy more targeted ads, which perform better.

Okay, but how is this data transferred between the sites you visit and platforms like Google

or Facebook?

Aha, that's were tracking pixels come in.

Let's retake the webshop example.

The owner of the shop wants to be able to put ads in front of Facebook users that have

visited his store but haven't bought anything.

To do that, he places Facebook's tracking pixel on every page of his site.

A tracking pixel is just like any other image on a website.

It has a URL that tells your browser from where it should download the image.

But instead of just adding the tracking pixel, the shop owner can also add custom data to

the URL of the image.

This can be any data that the shop-owner wants to re-use at a later stage for advertisements.

Looking at a pair of shoes?

Then the extra data might be that you're interested in these shoes.

Or, if the webshop owner wants to be more specific, he can add the exact pair of shoes

you're looking at.

Or maybe he wants to send the items you have in your basket.

Every time someone visits a page of the shop, the tracking pixel is loaded in with all of

this extra data.

Facebook can now extract and store it, ready to be used for a highly targeted ad campaign.

Clever right?

Now here I've used Facebook as an example, but the same is true for other advertisement

networks like the ones from Google and Amazon.

And it's not just limited to webshops either.

Any website can use it.

But besides this, tracking pixels are also be used by email newsletters to measure how

many of their subscribers are opening up their emails.

Or to test which type of email content people appreciate more.

You, too, can use it to keep track of how many times someone has opened your email.

I'm not talking about the traditional read receipts because these can easily be dismissed.

I'm talking about services that inject tracking pixels on your behalf.

Each email you sent gets a unique tracking pixel.

Every time someone opens up your email, the tracking pixel is downloaded, and TADA, you

get notified when your email was read.

Fun fact: this is also why you might have seen something like this: your email client

not loading in any images until you click a button.

This is to protect you from unsafe content, but also protects from trackers!


Now back to retargeting itself.

Studies suggest that a retargeted ad will be clicked twice as often, with some people

even saying four times as often.

And that's why retargeting is all the rage.

It really allows companies to increase their conversion rates.

But there are also downsides.

For starters: the perception of users.

According to a 2013 study, 60% of online buyers notice it when they see an ad that relates

to a product they looked at on another website, and 11% of them felt negatively towards these.

A 2018 study found that 35% of people found it creepy to see retargeted ads.

So it seems like the sentiment around these ads is worsening.

And I suspect it will keep dropping because these days people are much more concerned

about their online privacy.

Just think about the various ad blockers and privacy extensions that are available.

And you could even say that this technique isn't really ethical.

Websites are sharing data amongst each other without the consent of their users.

All for the sake of increasing conversion rate and their profits.

Anyway, if you got this far, you might wonder: "how can I block these things?"

Well, browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Brave already have built-in protections.

If, however, you don't think it's enough, or you're using a different browser, you can

install extensions like Privacy Badger, Ghostery, or just any ad blocker with a privacy list.

These will block most of the common tracking pixels but, do understand that nothing is

completely airtight.

So that was it for this video.

I hope you liked it and, if so, consider subscribing to my channel.

Also, let me know in the comments below how you feel about retargeted advertisements.

Thanks for watch and 'till next time!