May 14

email open tracking not working?

Content Marketing


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Email tracking may not seem essential to small businesses, casual salespeople, or those running outreach campaigns, as they may feel that waiting for replies and sending follow-ups regardless is enough. However, once they have used it for some time, they might find it indispensable. This feature can help identify whether an email has been opened and ignored or accidentally missed, which can significantly impact the kind of follow-up sent. Knowing when an email was opened can also inform the timing of a follow-up to increase its chances of being seen. Additionally, open times and rates can provide valuable insights into individuals or audiences.

When email tracking stops working, it can be disorienting, like losing a sense. You may feel blind to information you once relied on, and figuring out what went wrong can be challenging. Although there are various reasons why email tracking can fail, only a few can be fixed. Therefore, try what you can, and adapt to the situation accordingly or... consider leveling up your outreach with kinetizine and leverage our KDF framework to deliver more value and interactivity than email will ever be capable of. 

How Email Tracking Works

Are you familiar with the Facebook tracking pixel? Despite its name, it's actually a small code snippet that runs in the background when a user visits a web page, collecting data on their actions and behavior. Similar tracking tools exist on other social networks like Twitter and Instagram, and they're all rooted in the concept of email tracking, which utilizes a pixel in the form of a 1px by 1px image embedded in an email to monitor when the server loads that image. Although it may seem like a straightforward process, there are many potential issues that can arise. The fact that open tracking relies on an image within an email illustrates just how many factors can affect its success.

When email tracking stops working, it can be disorienting, like losing a sense. You may feel blind to information you once relied on, and figuring out what went wrong can be challenging. Although there are various reasons why email tracking can fail, only a few can be fixed. Therefore, try what you can, and adapt to the situation accordingly or... consider leveling up your outreach with kinetizine and leverage our KDF framework to deliver more value and interactivity than email will ever be capable of. 

Email Previews are causing issues

One potential issue that you might encounter with email tracking is related to email previews. Some email systems will automatically generate a preview of an email, allowing the user to view the content before opening it. This feature is helpful for users who want to respond to their emails offline or preview a message before deciding whether to open it.

However, this can interfere with your open tracking because the email client needs to open the email in the background to generate the preview. As a result, the tracking pixel is loaded, and your email client may mistakenly report that the contact has opened the message. This almost always leads to inaccurate open tracking data.

Typically, this scenario wouldn't cause an issue, but it can lead to a misleading result in your database. Some email platforms are set up to send subsequent messages quickly or to send messages acknowledging that the recipient has already viewed the first message. If your recipient receives an email that says "Did you forget my message?" instead of "Did you receive my message?" it may cause irritation and lead them to ignore your communication. False positives can be frustrating and can have a negative impact on your outreach efforts, potentially worse than situations where your tracking is entirely non-functional.

Email clients prevent tracking

There are a wide variety of email clients available, each with their own set of plugins, extensions, and apps. Some of the most popular clients, such as Gmail and Outlook, offer apps designed to safeguard their users' privacy.

One of the main functions of privacy apps is to prevent email tracking. These apps can identify and block tracking pixels before they have a chance to load. Some privacy apps go even further, blocking all images from loading, regardless of whether they are part of the email body or not. This has made graphic newsletters that use text-as-images ineffective, as many email clients now block images for privacy or bandwidth reasons.

In addition, it's worth noting that for most outreach purposes, highly produced emails with graphics are not necessary. Images, if used at all, should be kept to a minimum and preferably placed in your email signature. Thus, image blocking should not significantly impact your outreach efforts.

There are various apps that block email tracking, including:
- Gmail, which blocks tracking if the message is sent to the junk folder or if the "ask before displaying external images" setting is enabled
- PixelBlock, a Chrome Extension designed to block tracking attempts and inform the user of who is trying to track them
- Ugly Email, which detects tracking code in emails and prevents it from loading
- Ghostery, an app that provides privacy options for email and web browsing and is available for various web browsers, including the Cliqz browser.

Blocking email tracking has become a popular feature among email clients due to the growing importance of privacy. As a result, many email clients now include this feature by default.

Group Tracking Issues

At times, you may need to send emails to a group of people with the intention of responding differently based on who opens it first. For example, if you have a list of three editors to pitch your idea to, you may send the same pitch to all three, but plan to follow up with the editor who opens it first or seems more interested in reading it.

When sending an email to a group of people, your email tracking will only track the group as a whole unless you have it configured differently. If you send a "group" email without sending individual emails to each person in the group, your tracking won't work accurately. The tracking will only tell you that someone in the group opened the email, without specifying who opened it or if others opened it. Therefore, if you want the most accurate data, it is best to send emails individually rather than to groups.

Forwarding & reply issues

This issue can occur when you receive a notification every time an email is opened, regardless of whether it has been opened before or by the same person. For example, if you send a pitch to an editor who then forwards it to a more senior editor or community inbox, each forwarded copy will register as the same email with the same tracking, resulting in multiple open notifications. It is difficult to know if it's one person repeatedly opening the email or several different people.

Another issue arises when a recipient replies to your email while including the original email's quote, which likely contains the tracking pixel. In this case, you may receive an open notification when reading your own reply. To avoid triggering a cascade of different notifications in your CRM, it's best to remove the quote before sending the reply.

Redirects and firewalls

To bypass the tracking pixel blocking, some individuals and communication platforms have opted to use tracking links within emails instead. Unlike the tracking code, links are not blocked and can provide insight into whether the email was opened or not when the link is clicked. However, it should be noted that clicking a link does not necessarily equate to the email being read, and this method will likely result in lower open rates. Nonetheless, those who do click the link are more likely to be genuinely interested in the content, making them a more valuable lead.

The challenge here is that certain enterprise-level security services, email firewalls, and privacy suites may block URLs that have redirects attached to them. Since redirects are commonly used for tracking, they are the backbone of this process. UTM parameters, on the other hand, are suitable for tracking traffic and user behavior, but not for other forms of tracking, hence the use of redirects.

OpenDNS and several corporate-level firewall appliances make it difficult for anyone trying to track link clicks in emails. If a link includes a redirect, the firewall will prohibit access to the URL. While this helps to prevent phishing attacks, malicious code downloads, and other scams, it also hinders tracking when emailing enterprise clients.

This problem is more severe than it appears. When links are blocked, the recipient may conclude that something other than their firewall is to blame. Since many people disregard error messages, all they see is "this domain is blocked" and perhaps a warning about security or phishing, which does not inspire trust. If you're cold-emailing a contact, and they click a link only to be confronted with a security threat, they will most likely dismiss you entirely since it's not worth the risk.

Configuration issues

To ensure proper tracking, it may be necessary to configure your CRM or check a specific box when sending emails. Such toggled features are designed for convenience, and can be used to disable tracking for specific domains or customers who may be blocking trackers. However, if not used properly, user error can occur and tracking may be disabled when it was meant to be enabled. 

In addition to human error, technical glitches can also prevent email tracking from working correctly. For example, there could be a bug in the system that causes the tracking pixel to not process correctly or data to be lost. Sometimes, a configuration option may be broken after a software update, which requires waiting for a fix.

A specific example of this is in Hubspot's CRM, where emails need to be sent as HTML to ensure the tracking pixel is embedded. If a plain text email is sent, the tracking pixel won't be included, and tracking won't work properly. In some cases, the tracking servers themselves may fail, as was the case with Hubspot's system, causing a disruption in tracking that needs to be reported to the support team. Unfortunately, these types of issues are out of the user's control and require a fix from the system's developers. As of summer 2023, this bug is still occurring.

So, what's the solution?

There is a simple way to ensure that your content can be measured effectively. It starts with using a framework for your content that helps you lay out your content in a structured way that enables you to know what topic was being viewed at any given point in time. We offer the Knowledge Development Framework for this purpose to each client as a core part of our subscription services. After laying out your content to be easy to consume on both mobile and desktop devices, it's time to explore link building options. Creating a tracking link appropriate for your audience delivers huge benefits to both the sender and the recipient. For example, if you had discussed a certain topic with a person that goes into more detail on page 6 of the document you are sharing with them... point the link to open to page 6 directly thus making the recipient's experience more relevant and quicker to get additional details that you promised to send. Also, consider designing your links in concert with your content to be part of a journey where you have control over where your recipient goes but they can choose their journey based upon choices that you offer. We call this Choose Your Own Adventure or CYOA. It is a very powerful way to engage your audience and gather insight into their preferences. Your first step toward gaining this type of insight is to make a list of questions you like to ask when speaking with a prospect for the first time and combining those with follow-on questions that offer you key insights into how your recipient thinks about certain topics. Please give that a shot... These questions are going to be key to a productive session together with our team as you begin to explore the unique value kinetizine offers your sales process.

About the author 

Ted Box

Venture Catalyst, Entrepreneur, Startup Growth Hacker, Speaker, Author, Innovator, Composer & CEO of BoxOnline - a Swiss incubator for tech startups.

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