How to use Google Analytics with a beacon image


I no longer advise to use Google Analytics, and I have entirely removed it from my webpages, and I will no longer update these tutorials. As they would still be available from Google Cache or websites, I prefer to keep this page online.


This short page is focusing on Google Analytics

For more information, it might be useful to consult first one of these pages:

This page will explain to you how to use Google Analytics when you do not have support for Javascript, and how to use Google Analytics with an image (a picture) loaded from a web-page.

« Vanilla » Google Analytics code

The default code to add in every page is the following piece of JavaScript (at least, it was the case in January 2015):

(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
ga('create', 'UA-38514290-15', '');
ga('send', 'pageview');

A smaller piece of code

And also easier to maintain! You just have to create a small ga.js script containing the previous piece of code, and add it somewhere on your website.

For instance: ga.js.

Then you have to load it in every webpage with one-line of HTML code at the end of the file (in the <bottom> paragraph or at the end of <body>):

<script type="text/javascript" async src=""></script>

(Moreover, the async tag will improve the speed of the page, by loading asynchronously the ga.js script. Cool!)

A pretty nice idea

That blog post explains how to use one image, or even a single pixel to emulate a communication with Google Analytics.

This tutorial explain how to add Google Analytics spying capacity to any piece of HTML, as any webpage, but even for an email ! The main example he gives is for a Github project homepage, that have to be written in Markdown, without any <script> tag.

This image is downloaded from, and by downloading it, with the right Google Analytics key UA-XXXXXX-YY, the browser or the email reader triggers a visit on the associated Google Analytics profile. As a result, you can monitor in real time an email, it justs have to be written in plain HTML.

Embedding this picture is quite simple, and can be done with the following piece of HTML code:

<img style="visibility:hidden;display:none;" src="" />

Or, for a Sphinx-generated webpage, with the following piece of rST code:

.. image::


Sphinx tip:

Embedding an image with a non-local URL triggers a warning message when Sphinx builds the website, but that nothing you should be worried about!

Eventually, it is also possible to use a small badge rather than an almost invisible pixel, simply by removing the ?pixel at the end of the URL addresse.

For instance:

A small « analytics | GA » badge.

which is included with the following rST line of code:

.. image::


A customized URL for a customized path

Here you just saw an example of a customized URL, as the previous image was loaded from appspot with the « virtual » file beacon.en.html/with-a-badge. You can use any URL you want, the only limitation is your imagination ! (hum, wait, that sounded like a Lego advertisement… or maybe just for me)

How to write an HTML email ?

Outlook, Thunderbird or even GMail have an easy-to-use functionality to write and send HTML email, and therefore it is a piece of cake to add one line at the end of an email, to add a tracking dead-pixel.

It might also be a good idea to use a clever naming protocol, allowing you to track and get statistics for every single emails you send:

<img style="visibility:hidden;display:none;" src="" />

That example shows the naming rule I’m using for my electronic mailing: every day, each email is named DD-MM-YYYY/NUM, where DD-MM-YYYY is the date (like 27-11-2014 for the 27th of November, 2014) and where NUM is the number of the email you sent that very day.

For instance, the content of the forth email sent on the 03rd of December 2014 will have the code 03-12-2014/4, and therefore will contains that piece of HTML code at its end:

Kind regards,<br>
-- <br>
<img style="visibility:hidden;display:none;" src="" />


Of course, if you want to use this for your own analytics need, don’t forget to change the Google Analytics ID! Using UA-38514290-15 will be useless, you won’t be able to see the results…


Some one did that…

In October, November and December 2017, I saw a lot of traffic using my Google Analytics ID, from an entity called EDM, who apparently sent some emails with an analytics beacon a few times. I hope they realized it was useless, but in the meantime they sent over 30K useless requests…

A screen capture of Google Analytics homepage showing visits from an unknown "EDM" entity

A screen capture of Google Analytics homepage showing visits from an unknown « EDM » entity.

One dead-pixel ?

Just to show how it works, a one-pixel picture is included right there, before the next paragraph. You shouldn’t be able to see it, but with a debugging tool or be seeing the source of the page, you will have confirmation that it is here !

(the invisible pixel is above)


Two articles (from the same genius guy (Ilya Grigorik from Google) ):

  1. blog post contains a detailed explanation on how to use beacon image to track visits on a github page or an email,

  2. github page of his project.

A bonus?

It is even possible to make this easier and more discrete for the user side by using one Apache rule (or one NGinx rule) to be able to locally ask for the beacon image, and letting your server fetch it, thanks to an invisible proxy.

The goal is to be able to use an address like this one « beacon/one random page », which will ask the server (for my website, the machine behind to go fetch the beacon picture « random page ».

For Apache, that rule can simply be written as:

RewriteEngine On    # Turn on the rewriting engine
RewriteRule ^([^0-9].*)$$1 [L,P]    # Without key: "UA-38514290-1" is the default one

We can improve a little bit the process, by adding the redirection from beacon/ to beacon.html (which then point to or beacon.en.html based on your favorite language):

RewriteRule ^()$ /besson/beacon.html [L]    # Point to this explanation page.

And if you want to be able to use the same proxy on yourWebSite.ext/beacon/…., but with other Google Analytics sub-keys. (one key for one account, and as many sub-keys as you want for your account, each sub-key corresponds to different datas, for instance one sub-key for every of your web-sites), you can add the rule to redirect an URL of the form « beacon/14/any random paged but seen as being on another website/here » to the picture « random paged but seen as being on another website/here », which will be counted (in Google Analytics dashboard) as a page with URL « any random paged but seen as being on another website/here » on your site with the (example) key being « UA-38514290-14 » (in my case, the site

RewriteRule ^([0-9]*)/(.*)$$1/$2 [L,P]    # With a specified sub-key


With your key?

Of course, if you want to use this small trick, do not forget to change UA-38514290 to your key.