Web Beacons – Benefits and Disadvantages

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Web Beacons are implemented in web analytics usually as 1 pixel by 1 pixel transparent images. By tracking how many times this web beacon is loaded, webmaster can find out how many times the page has been loaded, and other key metrics -like the IP address, cookie information, time the page was accessed, and more. Web beacons are also used extensively in emails to track open rates.

Here are some benefits and disadvantages of using web beacons for web analytics.

Benefits:

Web beacons are easy to implement – mostly using just a simple “IMG” HTML tag. Most of the information processing is done on the server side.

Because most search robots do not execute and load image requests, you can optimize your logs just to track and extract what you need to know about the visitor, without complex filtering. This also reduces the size of your log files.

The same beacon can be used to collect information across different domains and websites. Since most of the processing is done on the “server” side, you can just collate all the information on one server. Typical web statistics are only stored locally in the server where the domain is hosted.

Disadvantages:

Many new email programs and even web mail clients have a feature to have images turned off my default, and since the beacon is essentially an image, you won’t be able to track these visitors.

Beacons can collect less information about the user than customized JavaScript tags.

The typical installation of a beacon requires third party cookies – which is increasingly been afflicted by the strict default privacy settings in new web browsers. Visitors with anti spyware programs will also have these third party cookies deleted making visitors difficult or impossible to track.

Lastly, web beacons have a bad rap as far as the Internet goes because it has been closely identified with browsing privacy issues.

In conclusion, if you like to quickly implement visitor behavior tracking across different sites and emails open rates, web beacons might be a useful. However, if you needs richer information about your visitors, it will be better to implement JavaScript tags used by many of the modern web analytics programs.

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