On a good day, the word “pixel” still sounds somewhat mysterious to me. It’s a look I recognize from others when they hear the words “Facebook pixel…I know I’m among my people when I see it.
(Pretty sure Marky Mark actually watched me looking at code in order to perfect this face.)
To be clear: I am not a coder. I am not developer. Code makes me break into hives. I am always very sure I will break something, and it’s not an unfounded fear.
However, I have to know very specific things in order to do my job well, and tracking pixels are one of them. The Facebook pixel is a cornerstone of running ads on there, but it is understandably confusing to folks. I’m going to break this down into normal-person speak as best as I can.
What is the Facebook Pixel?
It’s a little piece of code that goes on every page of your website. It’s called a “universal pixel” since it needs to exist on each page. Facebook used to just have one piece of code that went on the page you wanted to have counted as a conversion, so some people are still wrapping their heads around the difference between that old page, and the new one.
What does it do?
At its base level, it’s just tracking users, seeing what pages they visited.
That sounds boring. How do we use that?
Here’s why it’s so crucial: It’s used for a lot of the power you find in Facebook Ads. Let’s look at some examples:
Because the pixel knows which pages users visited, you can set up retargeting based on those behaviors. So if someone visited your page about underwater basketweaving, you can create a specific audience of those people and show ads only to them the next time they’re on Facebook.
Since Facebook knows who those users are, it looks at what they do, what they like, what they interact with, etc. And because Facebook has over 1 billion users daily, it can distill those behaviors and find other users on its platform that behave the same way. Letting Facebook “see” your web traffic is one way of helping it do that. (I’ll cover this more extensively in a separate post on creating audiences. Just know for now that the pixel plays a very big part.)
If you’re selling something on your website, or you have something you want people to download, those are your desired conversions. Because the pixel is on your entire site, you will know when someone hits that “thanks for buying/downloading/whatever” page.
So, it’s an important little bugger.
Ok, I’m convinced. How do I implement my Facebook pixel?
The Facebook pixel is generated as one pixel per ad account. You can find yours by going to the “Pixels” section:
You can copy the code there and then have it pasted into the <head> section of your website. Ta da!
This is a really confusing thing, but it’s so valuable. I get why it’s confusing too (the common theme being that Facebook isn’t the best at explaining its platform).
When you place the pixel, it will start firing and will count the pixel fires on a given page. You can see this in the URLs section when you’re in the Pixel area:
Important note: This isn’t counting users on that URL who came through Facebook. It’s just a total count of pixel fires.
You can specify certain “Events” that you want counted. You can check them out by clicking the option next to where the URLs option is.
An Event is one little additional line in your Facebook pixel code that tells Facebook “hey, this page is special, so I want you to log all visits here as a special event with a specified name,” basically.
By default, the pixel code has what’s called a PageView event. This just means the page loaded. This always shows as an event when you first place your pixel, because by default it’s part of that universal pixel:
And here’s where you can see it in your code:
So I can add more things that show up as an Event?
Yes! Here’s an example – the Event is in the green area (of course they call it a “Standard Event,” because hey, why the hell be consistent and make it less confusing, right?)
Where it says ‘AddtoCart’ there….when that’s added, you’ll start seeing “AddtoCart” show up under that PageView reference in that Events list.
The Facebook pixel has 9 Events that they consider “standard,” which you can see here. In truth, you can name things whatever you want in those single quotes, but the ones they list there tend to cover most advertisers’ needs.
Why Do I Need Events?
When you advertise through Facebook, obviously you want it to track key actions or conversions on your site.
There are two ways to do this: by setting up an Event as described above, or by creating a “custom conversion.” A custom conversion is basically you saying “when someone visits such and such URL” or some other combination of actions. You set those up in the Custom Conversions area:
Events vs. Custom Conversions
This is where I see a boatload of confusion for people: do they use events, custom conversions, or both? Why one vs. the other.
Also, why not just skip implementing something as an Event, and just create it as a Custom Conversion? Why bother with making something an Event, if the system will track how many purchases are generated if I just create a Custom Conversion?
It boils down to the following things, in general:
- How much pain is involved in pixel placement? If you’re dealing with a separate IT department that takes awhile to implement code, or isn’t familiar with the pixel, you’ll increase the headache to have them correctly implement Events.
- I have found Events can be more accurate in numbers than custom conversions. Additionally, if URLs change, that’s a headache. You lose data, the client might not notify you that it’s changed, so your URL winds up with no traffic, which can mess with lookalikes on it, etc.
- That’s not to say Events are always better, the code can get stripped…but with most folks using a tag management solution these days, this seems to happen a lot less.
- If you want to use Facebook Analytics, it utilizes Events for most of the analysis you will want to do.
When possible, I prefer to use Events, mostly due to #2. I just find the numbers to be a little more rock-solid.
There you have it
Hopefully this has helped erase some confusion I run into a lot over the pixel itself, what Events are and how you add them, and how they’re different than custom conversions. Now you’re ready to go forth and be a pixel queen (or king).
Still have questions? Leave ’em below!