Docsify  ●  November 7, 2017

Why Just Email Open Rate Really Sucks

Why Just Email Open Rate Really Sucks

Email tracking is a powerful tool that, when used properly, can help you increase your sales performance. Paired with the right tools, it can open additional sales opportunities and optimize your sales workflow.

Unfortunately, such vital metrics as email open rate are far from being accurate. There are multiple technical restrictions that can get in the way of the tracking software. What are the main issues in email tracking process? How to navigate them and improve the credibility of your sales metrics? We’ll get to that later, but first, let’s see how email tracking works.

How Does Email Tracking Work?

Unlike default “read” receipts offered by most email providers, third-party email tracking tools help you understand what happens to your email after you hit the “send” by placing special “beacons” inside of each message: The email tracker system places an invisible tracking pixel inside each message. Despite being practically invisible for people, this pixel is recognized as an image by the email client.

When rendering the message (upon opening it), the system will call the server where the “image” is stored. This action serves as a trigger for email open and will be saved to the system.

Additionally, the system can collect various information about the recipient, such as device and browser (app) being used, user’s location (by IP address), etc. Yet, this approach is far from perfect.

What’s Wrong With It?

If you’ve been using email tracking tools for while, you might have noticed some inconsistencies or obvious mistakes in the email open metrics. Sometimes there might be dozens of email opens within only a minute after you hit “send”. Sometimes you get a reply even though the system says there was no open.

Both situations can happen due to the differences in algorithms used by different email providers and email software Namely, there is a number of most common email tracking restrictions you should be aware of.

1. Some browsers or email clients might block images by default (i.e. Outlook, AOL, Yahoo! Mail). This, in turn, affects email tracking (as we have mentioned above, the tracking pixel is treated by the email clients as an image too).  If the recipient’s email client has the image blocking feature, you simply won’t be able to see if your email was opened (unless the user enables showing the images from you).

2. Gmail has recently introduced significant changes to its logic: Right now, it opens all images using its proxy server. Before forwarding the email to the recipient, the server loads the email content which the tracking software views as an email open. As a result, it can trigger false positive results. In addition to that, Gmail proxy server provides false information on the recipient location and device: most often it’s Firefox 11.0 browser and the USA, while the real recipient might use Chrome or Safari and live in Europe. That is why it is practically impossible to get accurate email tracking metrics if the recipient uses Gmail.

3. The algorithms used by different mobile email clients can also impact email tracking. Some of the most prominent examples of such situations are:

  • When you open an email in Gmail mobile app (on both iOS and Android), the system will call several additional emails that are next to the requested one in your inbox. This results in false opens even if the email wasn’t viewed by the recipient.
  • Spark email client (MacOS desktop and iOS) will save the email contents as soon as the message is delivered to the device (for offline access). This can be considered by the email tracker tool as an open while the recipient hasn’t seen the email yet. At the same time, you won’t be able to track any actions if the user opens your email once it’s saved on the device.

There are also some email clients that constantly call your tracking pixel. As a result, it looks like the email was opened over 100 times in just two hours, while the email was viewed by the client only once.

4. Some email clients track your email as opened one even if the recipient just mark it as read, but not opened in fact.

5. There are even specific tools that can block tracking pixels (e.g. Ghostery and SmartPixel). 

There is no way to describe all of the problems we have faced with email tracking in a single article. Every email provider and email client have their own approach to dealing with the tracking pixel. Yet, one thing remains true: Relying on this single way to track email open rate can cause serious consequences.

How Can It Harm Your Business?

Despite its inaccuracy, email open rate is one of the leading metrics used by salespeople. Namely, sales representatives often use it to see if a client has read the email and tailor the further dialog accordingly. In case of an error, you can get into an awkward situation if you follow up soon after sending the email and start talking about the offer which the client hasn’t seen yet.

Alternatively, sales managers can use the data about the recipient’s location and time zone to find the perfect time for a follow-up call. If this information is false, you can also get in trouble calling the person in the middle of the night thinking that he/she is in San Francisco while the person is currently in Berlin.

When relying excessively on this information, you can make poor decisions about A/B testing results or content performance, wasting precious time and exceeding budgets.

Blindly following the email tracking metrics is similar to telling fortunes in a teacup. It is a pointless and wasteful process. That is why it might be extremely unwise to build your sales workflow on these metrics.

How To Fix It?

Here are several recommendations you can follow to make your email metrics more reliable and accurate.

  1. If you are making any decisions based on the open rate, you should additionally track the number of opens. For example, we take any measures only in case the email has at least 2 opens (or more) logged by the system. In this case, the chances that your email was opened by the recipient, not a Gmail bot, is pretty high.
  2. In case your email has several recipients, you should pay attention to the activity metrics of each recipient. Being able to see who has already opened your email and how many times, you can tailor your negotiations strategy accordingly and target the most engaged prospects first. That is why we recommend email tracking systems that offer per-recipient stats on each email.
  3. To make well-grounded decisions, take into account additional (and often more reliable) metrics, such as:
  • recipient interactions (downloads, opens) with the attached files, including a proposal document, sales presentation, pitch deck, etc.
  • in-depth document analytics – per-page stats on how the recipient interacted with your attachments.
  • website visits (using the links in email).
  • information about the pages a prospect visited using the links in an email and time he/she spend on each of them.
  • other link clicks.

The listed information, if you manage to make sense of it, will be a valuable addition to your email tracking data. Moreover, it can help you better understand the current level of prospect engagement and get your priorities right when setting up your communication process.

For example,  we at Docsify send more than 20 emails with proposals every day. And we don’t pay attention only to the open rate metrics anymore. We use the holistic approach to decide whether prospects are worth following up. We take into account everything about recipients’ behavior: email opens, document views, link clicks and attachment downloads.

A special attention we pay to per-page document view statistic. Because it shows us how deep the document was viewed by each recipient: 1-second scrolling or fulltime view of each page.

It helps us to know for sure was it an accidental click or really engaged and interested view. As a result, we understand the true customer needs.

To help you streamline your sales processes, you also can use Docsify with its Email Tracking 2.0, intelligent and reliable email tracking solution for sales professionals. Take the guesswork out of your sales: Focus on what’s important right now and improve your results immediately.

Get in touch for a personal walkthrough with our sales team or install Docsify for free.

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