Digital Tracking Technologies

Digital Tracking Technologies – A Whirlwind Tour

Benefits That Go Both Ways

One of the biggest perks of content in the digital world is the ability for computers to remember your past interactions with it. Like a regular patron at a neighborhood bar where the bartender remembers your “off the menu” drink, some of your favorite sites store information about your preferences. What language do you read your favorite news sites in? What was your username and password? Even the volume you keep the site’s media player at can be remembered. And the benefits go both ways. Site owners can see how users are interacting with their site. Which pages they spend the most time on. What sites referred them to the page. All of this information is not possible without tracking technologies. Cookies, Web Beacons/GIFs, embedded scripts, e-tags and cache browsers are ways to track and store information about our web behavior and preferences.

Advertisers who know how to utilize this tracking information can benefit greatly. Not only can we view unique reach and clicks, but when working in tandem with conversion tracking, advertisers can see if an impression later leads to a prospect taking the desired action on their site or even the web path the prospect took before finally converting. This detailed tracking allows marketing teams to deeply analyze and refine campaign performance in real time. In plain English, our digital marketing strategies become smarter over time – delivering better results more efficiently.

For a primer on tracking technologies, please see the glossary below.

The Controversy

Where these tracking technologies begin to become controversial is when segmented groups of similar behaviors or interests are utilized for means beyond legitimate business interest and user experience improvement. In 2016, the British data consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used app harvested data of 87 million Facebook profiles to create psychological and political audiences segments. The firm was accused of misusing private data to sway public opinion during the 2016 US Presidential Election and Brexit Referendum.

Major technological companies are leading the way to a privacy-first future. In 2020, Apple released a new version of their popular mobile operating system iOS. This version required users to opt into tracking manually prompting users to allow all forms of tracking instead of them being enabled by default. The most popular web browser Google Chrome plans to release a new version of the web client with a plethora of privacy features known as the “privacy sandbox”. Additionally Google Chrome will be phasing out support for third party cookies entirely by late 2023.

In the history of advertising, the digital front is still relatively new and constantly evolving to suit the demands and preferences of users. The future is likely to be a world where user data is collected consciously, with explicit permission, and advertisers will need to perform more in depth market research to effectively reach their audience. Like showing up to the bar and the bartender asks, “what’ll you have?”

Drew Cullinan – Media Buyer/ Digital Specialist

Glossary of commonly used tracking technologies:

  • Cookies – A cookie is a data file placed on a device. Its purpose is to carry bits of useful information about your interactions on a website. They typically act as a unique identifier, but do not contain actual information (name, age, etc) that could be used to identify you outside of your browser. If deleted, a website would treat you as if you have arrived for the first time.
  • Tracking Pixels – This is a singular pixel (literally a graphic that is 1×1) that is inserted into the body of a web page or email. When a user visits a site or opens an email, the 1×1 graphic fires within the user’s browser collecting information such as: Operating system, device type, time of fire, etc.
  • URL Tracking – Commonly referred to as the simplest way to track users. By manually adding different attributes on the later part of a specific link allow for analytic software to to track the volume of page loads which contain these specific attributes. A common type of URL tracking is known as UTM tracking: (