How does the open / read tracking in MailMerge365 work?

Note: Open tracking only works for HTML emails (not for plain text emails) as the tracking is performed using a small hidden image in your email that the user doesn't see but tells our server that the email was opened. Plain text emails do not support hidden images. 

The industry standard (used by MailMerge365 and other email marketing software) for tracking if someone has opened or read an email is to include an invisible image (the so called "tracking pixel"). If the user opens the email in their client (computer, phone or browser) the image is loaded from the MailMerge365 server and then recorded as a "read". Unfortunately this method of tracking is not exact and often the numbers reported as a lot less than actual people reading the email due to email providers implementing privacy protection measures to disallow tracking.

All email campaign and marketing software share these issues. It is not unique to MailMerge365, but instead of pretending that the read tracking is 100% accurate let's have a look at what problems/error can be encountered.

The gist of it is: Read tracking should only ever be used as a trend metric. That means ignore the actual number of opens, but look at the percentage over time. If that increases then it is highly likely more people are opening your emails (or vice versa).

Here are the details as to which problems can crop up:

False opens/reads, i.e. the recipient didn't read it but MailMerge365 would show it as opened/read.

If you as the campaign sender for example open the email from your "Sent items" (or "Sent email") folder then you are triggering the "tracking pixel" and since we can't differentiate between the recipient loading their "tracking pixel" and you loading it, we register it as a read. (Each email has a unique "tracking pixel" so we can differentiate between different recipients and will only ever track a single read for one recipient.)

Some email providers try to optimize the experience for their users and will load images in emails long before they are shown to the user. In this case the "read" is tracked beforehand and the user may choose not to read the email but it is still tracked as "read" in MailMerge365.

MailMerge365 has implemented the industry wide best practices to try and recognize these false "reads", but we monitor the logs constantly to try and identify new patterns.

Missed opens/reads, i.e. the recipient did read it but MailMerge365 would not show it as opened

In order to protect a recipients privacy many email providers have implemented measures to counteract the tracking of read/opened emails. Outlook for example does not load images (and therefore the "tracking pixel") automatically from untrusted senders, therefore a recipient can read your email without the "read" being triggered. MailMerge365 will register the email as read once a link is clicked in the email (requires click tracking to be enabled for the campaign).

Another common issue you might notice is that if you are linking to a third-party service (e.g. a survey service, a calendar service, ...) with built-in statistics that the numbers they report might not match the ones in MailMerge365. A simple example: if you send a campaign with 5 recipients, MailMerge365 is telling you 3 opens but the third-party says it has been visited by 5 unique visitors. In addition to the problem mentioned in the first paragraph the way the third-party counts unique visitors is also not an exact science. If one of your recipients first opens the email on their phone (which triggers the "read" in MailMerge365) and then clicks on the third-party service link but decides to continue later. This user will then open that email on their desktop which doesn't trigger another "read" in MailMerge366 because we already know it has been read, but it does increase the unique visitor count on the third-party service to two, because they don't know that the phone and computer belong to the same user. (MailMerge365 on the other hand uses an identifier in the link, so we at least know the same email belongs to the same recipient.)

The effects this can cause

This can cause some strange effects in your statistics that we try to mitigate if possible, but ultimately we are dealing with privacy or security systems designed to evade open and click tracking, so in most cases it's a cat and mouse game.

My open rates are constantly 100%

This is an effect we are observing more and more and is due to privacy/security measures a lot of email providers implement. As described above open tracking is performed with a hidden image that is loaded from our server when the user reads the email. The act of "calling" our server causes the open to be registered. But if privacy or security software loads the image immediately when the email is received (instead of when the user opens the email) then our server is "called" and the open is registered. Unfortunately there is no way to differentiate between those two "calls", as otherwise the privacy/security software would not be doing a good job.

My click rate is higher than my open rate (or my click rate is 100% but my open rate is less)

This has two possible reasons:

1. The user does not load images in their client (a default for Outlook) and therefore our "open tracking image" does not "call" our server and we don't register an open, but the user does click the link which "calls" our server and we do register that. (In that case it's an email that registers as "clicked" but not as "opened").

2. Security software on the recipient's end scans the link you sent, therefore "calling" our server and causing a "click" to be registered, but the client is configured to not open images and therefore you get 100% clicks but less opens.

A bounced email shows as clicked or opened

See here:

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