A while back I implemented an email contact list cleaning campaign. Something I was taught to do regularly, as having people in your contact list who never open any of your emails affects your email deliverability score.

You’ve probably been taught to do the same.

However, I was surprised to have someone reply – upset because she’d been asked to confirm if she still wanted to stay on my email contact list.  She said she had been reading my emails.

So, are those email open rates reported by our email marketing tools really accurate?

Well, it turns out they’re not accurate.

Here’s how it works. Email marketing tools embed a tiny transparent image known as a tracking pixel in every email you send. And they register an ‘open’ whenever this tracking pixel is loaded.

Here’s the problem.

Many email clients, like Outlook and Gmail, disable images by default which means that even if people read the text in your email, the tracking pixel isn’t loading so they’re not registered as an ‘open’.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature automatically downloads a copy of all the images in the emails in your inbox (including the tracking pixels) to an Apple Privacy Cache which masks the user as part of the privacy feature. However, because that happens without the emails even being opened, your email marketing tool thinks that the email has been opened because the tracking pixel has been loaded.

Spam filters often automatically load images or log link clicks to make sure they’re not dodgy (dodgy being things like Malware) – so they’re registered as opens even though they’re not being read by a human.

Also, if your email is really long, and people open it but don’t read to the end – it won’t register as an open, because the tracking pixel won’t be loaded until the whole email is read/scrolled through because the tracking pixel is usually right at the bottom of the email.

And these are just a few of the things that can influence your open rate…

So, if open rates aren’t accurate, should you bother tracking them?

Well, yes, you should.

Email open rates can still tell you if an email was a hit or not. For example, if your last email campaign has a 15% lower open rate than the average performance of the past month’s campaigns, then this is a clear sign that there’s something off about this particular campaign and you can investigate.

So, while they may not be accurate, email open rates can still be useful – but they should definitely not be the only metric you track. 

Do you track your email open rates?