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Email marketing performance metrics: how does email tracking work?

Jorge Ferreiro

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Hey there, fellow marketers! 👋 You're all about conquering the world of email marketing, and today, we're diving headfirst into the world of email tracking and how to increase your email engagement.

I'll cover all you need to know about how to track the performance of your email campaigns, how link clicks and email opens work, and key considerations on privacy, including the unspoken truth of "email opens".

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How Does Email Marketing Tools Track Email Opens?

There're a few techniques to know if someone opens your email campaigns:

  1. Read Receipts: Some email clients provide read receipts, but these can be hit or miss. Not everyone enables them, so it's not a good option.

  2. Pixel Tracking: You add a tiny invisible pixel into your emails that stores information about the user you're emailing. When the user opens the email, the pixel is loaded so you know it was opened.

Despite its popularity, pixel tracking is unreliable and it shouldn't be your primary email performance metric. Later in the post, I'll explain the issues with email opens that many email marketing tools don't want you to know...

Don't rely on "Email Opens" as your primary email marketing performance metric. Pixel tracking is unreliable, and incomplete.

How Does Click Tracking Work?

Click tracking is the gold standard email performance metric. It tells you with high accuracy if a user is engaging with your email campaigns or not.

Here is how links are tracked:

  1. Every link in your email is replaced with a tracking link.

  2. When the user clicks on a link, your email marketing software acts as a man in the middle: gets the user's click request, saves a tracking event in the analytics, and redirects the user to the URL you added.

  3. If the user clicks on several links, the process is repeated. A reputable email marketing tool (like ZooTools) will give you both unique opens and total clicks.

As a caveat, there will be false positives on click tracking. Big companies typically use firewalls and email marketing antivirus to scan images and links. They open emails and click on links on behalf of the user. Keep this in mind if you're doing sales outbound because your metrics could be inflated. 😄

Click tracking is the most reliable metric to measure the engagement of your emails since the user is directly performing the action on your email.

Why Email Open Rates Are Unreliable? *truth revealed*

While is good to keep an eye on open rates, they're unreliable and their popularity in email marketing performance has drastically decreased (among the top 1% of marketers).

Prvicacy-focused companies like Apple (after iOS13) have introduced measures to protect user privacy. They download tracking pixels on behalf of the user sending a false positive to your email marketing software. I'd not be surprised if Apple would launch the same feature but for links In the future. 😢

While is good to keep an eye on open rates, they're unreliable and it's popularity in email marketing performance has drastically decreaseddue to privacy features [...] most of the metrics you will see are inflated, and don't reflect the precise email engagement.

This issue is bigger depending on where your customers are. For example, in countries where the iPhone is popular, you may encounter more false open rates vs. countries where Android (with fewer email privacy-focused features) is number one.

In summary: The open Rates metric is unreliable since there is no guaranteed method to know if a user opened an email. This metric will most likely be inflated and won't reflect the real email engagement of your list.

When to Disable Email or Link Tracking

Now, let's talk strategy. Tracking emails may affect your email deliverability. Most of the time the downside is so little, that the benefits of knowing the performance of your campaigns are worth it.

There are times when you should consider disabling tracking. For example:

  1. Privacy-Conscious Subscribers: Some subscribers are really concerned about their privacy. If you sense this, consider offering an option to disable tracking.

  2. Critical messages: If you're sending one-time-off emails or campaigns that your user must receive (e.g.: purchase confirmation, resetting a password, login code, etc).

In Conclusion

Email tracking is a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal, but like any tool, it requires finesse. Use it wisely and respect your recipients' boundaries. Remember, the key to successful email marketing isn't just about tracking; it's about crafting engaging content, nurturing relationships, and delivering value.

So, fellow marketers, go forth and conquer the email marketing landscape with your newfound knowledge. May your open rates be high, your clicks be many, and your unsubscribes be few! 🚀

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