Email tracking has been in use by marketers for decades, and it is continuing to gain steam on the sales side of the house. Marketers have had to become increasingly technical to fulfill their roles. Salespeople have different DNA, and have been slower to gain interest in the technical aspects of email.
This article is for those not-so-technical sales and marketing folks who are interested in learning more about how email tracking works.
What Is Email Tracking?
Email tracking is a way for marketers and salespeople to determine when the recipient of an email opens your email. This tool isn’t generally available in standard email systems and instead is something that is found in sales CRMs and email marketing systems.
Though it’s impossible for email tracking systems to be 100% accurate when it comes to verifying every single open event, they can nonetheless provide valuable information to marketers and salespeople.
Many tools that provide email tracking also provide link click tracking, attachment download tracking, and video play tracking. This will tell you when a recipient clicks one of the mentioned elements in your email.
These are much more reliable metrics than email open tracking, though some email systems will send false “click” data for these due to visiting the link to check for malicious web pages / attachments.
What Can Be Tracked In Emails?
There are several aspects of emailing which sales and marketing professionals can gain value from by tracking, directly and indirectly. Here’s a quick list of what can directly be tracked:
- If the email was opened.
- If anything in the email was clicked (this is especially helpful when attachments are converted to links, because then you can track if attachments are viewed).
- If the email bounced.
- If recipient unsubscribed from the email.
- If the recipient marked the email as spam.
- If the recipient replies to your email.
There are also things that can be indirectly tracked about emails, as it relates to sales and marketing:
- Which email templates are generating the most opens, clicks, and replies.
- Which sales people are generating the most opens, clicks, and replies.
- Which links (or attachments) are generating the most clicks.
Enable your team with email tracking, and things can get interesting really fast!
How Does Tracking Work?
Everyone who offers email tracking does it the exact same way.
Open tracking: to track email opens your email system adds an invisible 1 pixel wide by 1 pixel tall image to the bottom of your email. That image is sourced to a specific link, which associates the sender (you), the recipient, and the email. When the image downloads, boom, your email was opened!
Click tracking: to track link clicks your email system converts each link in your email to one that goes to their system first and then redirects to the actual link. In the split second that the system is pinged, your email system can track that a specific recipient clicked on a certain link in a email.
Bounce tracking: this happens behind the scenes but effectively allows your email system to know if an email address failed. In some cases, emails can also bounce due to spammy content. Either way, your email system should remove the email from your list, so on your next send you are sending to a clean list which will protect your email reputation.
Unsubscribe tracking: unsubscribes are tracked as link clicks. The only difference is that the tracking link will know this was the unsubscribe link. Pro tip – always use an unsubscribe link in your mass or lead generation emails. It is much better for your email reputation to have someone unsubscribe than to have them mark you as spam.
Mark as spam tracking: similar to bounces, this happens on the backend. Also similar to bounces, your email system should automatically remove these folks from your lists so you don’t email them again. Importantly, marking as spam is different than delivering to the spam folder. The latter is not shared with you, you just have to put the best odds in your favor to deliver to the inbox. Variables include your email reputation, the “value” of your content (e.g. do not use spammy words like Free if possible), email domain setup with SPF, DMARC, and DKIM. Check out Dmarcian to see if your domain is setup correctly.
Reply tracking: this is the one tracking type which can be implemented differently across email systems. Some look for the open tracking pixel, others compare email subjects. Various approaches each have their pros and cons.
Want To Learn More About Email Tracking?
If you’re interested in going deeper, we have some articles which offer more details on open and click tracking:
To your continued success!