How Does Email Tracking Work?

When you receive an email tracking report from your provider it will give you  the following statistics: how many emails were deployed, how many were delivered, how many emails bounced, how many emails were opened, how many people clicked on your link(s), and how many Unsubscribes you had.

Open Rates

There are many factors that can determine the accuracy of open rates, so this statistic should always be looked at as a reference rather than a complete statistic. When your email provider sends out your email, they include a piece of code in each message that calls back to the server to request the display of a tiny, transparent (i.e. invisible to the viewer) tracking image when the email is displayed.

When the provider’s server receives the request to display the image, it records it and uses it as an indication that the recipient has “opened” the email. By giving each email its own unique tracking image, the service can tell which email was opened and by whom.

Where inaccuracies can occur–
Many people have their browsers set so that images are not displayed. Unless they manually do so, no image will ever be displayed. In this case an open will never record.

The opposite holds true for email preview panes. The email can be displayed in a preview pane, but the recipient may never actually read it. But because it was displayed, it counts as an open.

So you can see where open rates for a message may not be associated with actual activity.

So how do you best use open rate statistics?
Open rates when used to test messaging, subject lines, or offers can be great tools.
As long as you have set methods for the calculation of open rate in conjunction with click rates, then changes can reflect good or bad news in something you’re doing with your email marketing.

But using open rates as a “be all and end all” statistic for one single email message sent one time is a very poor indicator of the success of a campaign.

Many people always ask what is the average open rate? But this is not a quantifiable or fixed number that can be applied to all email messaging as a benchmark. First, different marketers and vendors calculate open rates in different ways. Second, a good open rate for one type of email and list may be a poor one for another. Since benchmark figures are based on different lists and emails, comparisons only make sense if you’re looking at like with like—from your own emails send to similar lists.

Click Rates

Within an email message you may have one or more clickable items.

Understanding how click rates work gets complicated because the re-direct tracking link used in the email sent by your provider is not the actual URL webpage address for the ultimate destination.

When the re-direct link is clicked it goes to the email provider’s server where it is calculated as a “click” and then re-directed to your designated URL.

If you hover over the link in the email you’ll see that the re-direct link is actually quite long and complicated. This is because the re-direct link is a dynamic code generated to not only track the click on the link, but also recognize who clicked it.

Just like open rates, how click rates are tabulated vary from provider to provider.
Some provider’s tracking software will detail unique clicks, meaning that they will only count one stat per unique email address. Others may count each and every click as a stat. So you can see that trying to match statistics from one provider to another is an exercise in frustration

Be sure to also read Why Doesn’t My Google Analytics Tracking Match Email Tracking?

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