Is pixel tracking dead?
Contributor Pete Cheyne believes it's time for marketers to move past pixel-based tracking and take control of their data.
I know what you’re thinking — sensationalist clickbait title — but it really isn’t. It’s time we all make a plan to move away from pixel-based tracking.
If you are just reading far enough to see if pixel tracking will stop working today, I’ll put you out of your misery. It won’t. The threats to pixel tracking have arisen gradually.
But if you’re focused on data-driven decision-making, it’s time to stop depending on a hack to track billions of dollars in sales.
Pixel tracking is a hack?
This gets a little technical, but bear with me. The src parameter in the HTML tag is meant to link to a real image. But a frustrated techie who was fed up with explaining to marketers how to perform an HTTP GET request realized that they could emulate the GET call without the need for any scripting language.
By pointing the src parameter in an HTML image tag to a dynamic script located in an ad tech platform, they could process the needed marketing data and actually return a valid image — usually a 1×1 transparent GIF — in response.
And as an added bonus, because the src was linking to the ad tech solution’s domain, this meant that the script had access to the cookies it had previously set on the browser. And voila, the pixel train had left the station.
And yet, slowly but surely, the pixel train is being derailed. I’m sure we are all aware of Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). It’s the latest challenge facing pixel tracking. There still seems to be some denial about the importance of this. I think that comes down to the perception that Safari has a relatively small share of the browser market. But browser share varies by audience and region, and any challenge that makes it harder to track performance marketing sales is something we all need to take seriously.
And there is more to come! How about the impending Chrome native ad blocker? This technology may block the entire call back to the ad tech platform. This is no different from the ad-blocking browser extensions we are all familiar with, but it will be installed by default. That’ll put it in the hands of over 1 billion active users. It’s coming, and we have to be prepared.
How do you take control?
So, how do we circumnavigate these developments? As marketers, you need to book some time in with your tech teams. The key is to take control of your data out of the hands of the browser so that you can collect complete and accurate information regardless of changes made in the browser environments. The eventual data pass-back for events and sales has to be performed outside of the browser.
Tech projects like this can seem burdensome to marketers. They don’t have to be. Marketing and tech are now much better connected and aligned than before. And APIs have radically reduced the complexity of direct integrations with solutions providers.
Take control by moving past the hack. Not only is it more secure to move beyond browser-dependent tracking, it is also more accurate.
Moving away from pixel tracking requires a little effort now to ensure a solid future — a future that guarantees tracking integrity, so all parties involved continue to grow their businesses without interruption. It’s time to get off the pixel train before it leaves the tracks.