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How Email Tracking Works

Let’s start with the question: what exactly is email tracking, and how are emails tracked?
Commonly associated with email marketing campaigns, email tracking can provide the email sender with details about if and how a recipient has interacted with the content. There is no ‘standard’ for email tracking, metrics such as opens and clicks are generally cobbled together from other web tracking technologies such as cookies and web beacons. Due to these constraints, there is no 100% accurate indicator that a message was opened or read by the recipient.

How Email Tracking Works

There are three ways to track an email:

  1. Read receipts (through email software such as Microsoft Outlook and Gmail)
  2. Image pixels (tracked images inserted into email content)
  3. Trackable Links (tracked links inserted into email content)

Read Receipts
A feature found in Microsoft Outlook and a few other email clients, read receipts are an opt-in way to see if an email has been opened. In order for a notification to be received, the recipient must allow read receipts in their settings, or authorize the sending of a receipt.

This can be a more invasive notification system, and only works if sent from and to the same email client (if you send to a gmail address, it will ignore this request). If you don’t know what email client the recipient is using, the notification could end up in a black hole.

Because of this, it is uncommon to use, and not very reliable as a tracking option. On the plus side, if you do receive an email receipt notification, it is because the recipient expressly authorized it.

Pixels or Image Notifications
One of the more common ways to track email opens is known as Web Beacon Trafficking. Small images (also known as tracking pixels) are loaded from a tracking server with a coded filename. When the email is opened, the image is called from the server and counted as a view or an ‘open’. This is how email open rates are calculated in most email tracking services.

Although this is the most reliable way of tracking opens, it is not 100% accurate. Many email clients (Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail on your iPhone, and Gmail) don’t always load images on the email open. There are times when images are not automatically downloaded, instead the recipient is given the option to download images once the email is already opened. In cases like this, the recipient can still read the email contents without registering it as an open.

Underreported opens can occur if you have a higher number of emails being delivered to a spam folder, or are an unrecognized sender. You can limit this by increasing your sender reputation by adhering to email best practices avoiding spam tactics and by getting subscribers and recipients to move your emails to their inbox or adding your email address to their address book, therefore making you a trusted sender.

The number of untracked email opens can vary, but is generally recognized to be between 18-35%, depending on audience.

Trackable Links
The final way to track emails is by using tracking links in your email that link to content stored in a cloud-based content repository. This approach will reliably give email click rates, another key metric commonly associated with email tracking.

By using email tracking software that encodes your links, you will be able to see when and what users clicked on. Not all trackable links are created equal. Tracking software can provide a wide range of data- from returning a number of clicks to actual engagement associated with the links.

Email Tracking Metrics

These email tracking techniques will provide you with opens and clicks, which then are used to calculate common email tracking metrics:

  • Open Rate
  • Click Through Rate (CTR or Click Rate)
  • Click to Open
  • Click to Send Rate

Email tracking can give you insight and some basic metrics around how your email campaigns are performing. If your email open rates are low, you should take a look at your email deliverability, or if emails are getting delivered to the recipients inbox.

There are other useful email metrics such as: Unsubscribes, Soft Bounce, Hard Bounce, Inbox Placement, Delivery Rate, Forward Rate, and Complaint or Abuse Rate. While some metrics are determined by a type of email tracking technique called Return-receipts or a Delivery Status Notification (DSN), these are primarily associated with email best practices, and should be taken in consideration along with your tracking metrics for outreach to customers and any email campaigns.

The Future of Email Tracking

The standard email metrics of deliveries, opens and clicks will always remain relevant, but today’s sales and marketing leaders need to know more about how their prospects and customers are interacting with their emails.

Email Tracking - ClearSlide

ClearSlide enables sales professionals to not only see who and when their email was opened, but how they interacted with the content. Detailed information including: slide-by-slide viewing time, location information, forwards, and even viewer alerts – so you know when and what your prospects are paying attention to.

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