What is Ad Tracking?

What is Ad Tracking?

It is the process of collecting data and user insights on the performance of online advertising campaigns. We use three different methods to do so. The first method is tracking URLs, the second method is tracking pixels and the third method involves cookies.

Tracking URLs use UTM codes. These are basically snippets of texts added to the end of a URL to help track where the website traffic comes from if users click on a link with this URL. These are tracking tokens also called a UTM parameter.

For example: Suppose a user clicks on an executer program display ad shown on Instagram and visited the webpage, this visit can be identified as having come from a display campaign through a social medium with a specific source being Instagram. So, tracking can be done at the campaign level, medium level, and specific source within that medium. If you were to run the same ad on multiple websites, and wanted to know which one generated the most clicks you could define two different websites as the sources in the UTM parameters of your links.

Tracking pixels are one by one pixel, tiny images embedded in digital ads used for tracking user behavior and events such as digital ad impressions, click-throughs, and site conversions. Tracking pixels can be used to extract a lot of information about users. The type of device, their location, where they are viewing the ad, their IP address, et cetera, all without their knowledge or consent, we might add.

They are useful to determine the number of users exposed to the ad and where they saw the display ads and so on. While tracking pixels can be used within websites and emails for similar purposes, in the context of digital ads, tracking pixels gives insights into how users are interacting with the ads. Since it can help track the customer journey of a user, the information it provides can be used to optimize user interactions throughout their journey.

So how does this work?

The user sees a display ad at a particular website, the display containing the tiny tracking pixel. Then the request goes to the server serving the ad to download the tracking pixel, bits of codes are downloaded onto the user server. The pixel is fired, and the code is executed at the users' end, and the information needed is passed on from the user server to the pixel server, which gathers the data.

What kinds of data can be collected using tracking pixels?

Browser information, IP address, operating system, type of device, screen size, and more. As you can see, the data can be quite extensive if needed.

How do we use this information?

We can use the IP address info to string together information on where the same IP address has seen the ad. This creates a path to purchase data that attribution vendors use. All the geolocation information, the website where the ad was seen, information on the type of device, all of these can be used to understand more about the users. With this information, you can customize ads and content to suit user preferences and needs to enable a targeted marketing strategy. Various ad networks can apply this data for effective behavioral retargeting, and build unique look-alike audiences and visitor profiles.

Lastly, let's look at cookie's. Cookies are small files sent through JavaScript, to the user server with data, including a unique ID. A cookie allows us to establish a unique session between the web server and the browser of the user. These cookies are read when the user establishes contact with the firm's server the next time, allowing identification of the user.

Cookies allow, with user content, to capture their behavior on firm's website, across multiple sessions of activity. Cookies enabled building user profiles based on web activity and habits, which can then be leveraged to serve ads that align with the user's observed interests. Cookies can also capture information about a user's browser configuration, location, and preferred language.

They're very useful for ad targeting and retargeting based on user activity on the clients websites.