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Why are opens a bad way to track your email newsletter response?

“Opens” are a statistic you should see on any bulk mailing report (when using a professional service) that shows how many times your email was opened. You should see “total opens” and “unique opens”. Total opens are the number of times your email was opened in total (duh), whereas unique opens are the number of unique people who opened your email. i.e. If 5 people opened your email 3 times each, that would be 15 total opens, and 5 unique opens.

Seems like a legit way to check your response, yes? Well no, not really.

In order to track opens, your mailing system automatically inserts a tiny 1 pixel by 1 pixel image into the body of your email. This image is stored on the mailing system’s server and has a unique code that tells the system which email address it’s linked to. When your readers open your emails, all the images in the email download. When the image linked to Bob’s email address is downloaded from the server, the server registers that Bob opened his email.

This works well if Bob actually does download your images, but email clients (like Outlook etc.) now make downloading images optional. They do this because it saves Bob some bandwidth, some download time, and makes it more difficult for email marketers to track Bob’s actions. Sometimes Bob chooses not to download images, or he isn’t connected to the internet when he opens the images, which means they can’t download. Bob could also open the email on his phone and his phone might not download images by default.

In any of these scenarios, the open won’t be tracked, and you think Bob never read your email, when in fact he did. This makes the open stats a little unreliable and often your open rate is slightly higher than your report says.

One Last Thought…

Have you ever looked at the open rates and thought a particular email address opened your email MANY times? Maybe Bob’s address says he opened the email 89 times and you wonder why on earth he would do that? That’s probably because by Bob forwarded your email on to other people and they opened it several times. Remember when he sends the email on, he’s also sending the tiny image with it that’s linked to his email address. Every time that image downloads from the server, it registers as another open. Even if a new person is opening the email, they’re still opening BOB’S email, with Bob’s tracking image

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