False Email Open and Click Through Rates

When email marketers look to validate the performance of their emails, they do so with email opens, clicks of URLs, and conversions. However, obtaining reasonable or accurate open or click data from an ESP is becoming increasingly difficult.

Yesterday, I launched an outbound email via Hubspot for our company to promote our brand to prospects who are likely attendees of Shoptalk where we’ll be present. It’s a typical ABM strategy, targeting corporations of interest via ads, bulk email, and a follow-up personalized email from our BDR. The email CTA was a link to our BDR’s calendar where the prospect could select a timeslot to meet.

I pushed the campaign out yesterday, and within an hour, I had almost a 10% click-through rate (CTR). At first, I was ecstatic. But then I was a bit hesitant. And now I’m disappointed.

First… some history…

Why Email Open Rates Are Overstated

Email open rates are dependent upon an email pixel. An email pixel, also known as a tracking pixel or web beacon, is a tiny, invisible image (usually 1×1 pixels) embedded in HTML emails. When the email is opened, the destination reporting server requests the image. The request sends information back to the server, such as when the email was opened, the recipient’s IP address, device type, and email client, enabling senders to track engagement and gather data to improve their marketing efforts.

Apple introduced changes to how it handles email tracking through the introduction of the Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature. This feature was rolled out with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8, specifically impacting the default mail clients on Apple devices. This feature prevents senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. It does this by pre-loading email content, including tracking pixels, thereby masking the user’s activity. As a result, the recipient opens the email even if they haven’t opened it, significantly affecting open rate accuracy.

Why Email Click Rates Are Overstated

Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite) includes security features that scan and pre-click links in emails to check for phishing and other malicious content. This is part of Google’s broader effort to protect users from security threats. As part of this scanning process, it may automatically click links within emails to verify their safety before the email reaches the end user’s inbox.

Similar to other email services with security scanning, this can result in emails being marked as clicked when they are delivered, affecting your engagement metrics. This is due to the automated nature of the link-checking process. Here’s what this looks like within Hubspot:

hubspot email clicked

You’ll quickly notice that the Delivered, Opened, and Clicked all happened simultaneously.

What Email Service Providers Need To Do About This

There are definitely technological solutions to this that ESPs could adopt that could mitigate the impact of these changes:

  • Substitute Images For Tracking Pixels: I’m not sure too many companies don’t incorporate images as part of their HTML email strategy anymore. Why have an email tracking pixel at all? Utilizing any image request from the email server can provide the data on an open.
  • Ignore Instantaneous Open and Clicks: If an open and click happen simultaneously with the delivery, they should be treated as automated and rejected.
  • Utilize Time Gaps for Clicks: To check for phishing, ISPs must immediately verify the link in the email before a subscriber clicks. That means the ESP could ensure that a link click happening instantaneously with delivery is not measured as a click.

What Email Marketers Need To Do About This

Utilize UTM campaign querystrings to measure your click-through rates, not ESP reporting. Virtually every ESP incorporates automated UTM encoding of your email links. Ensure this is enabled and you monitor your email effectiveness by how many email recipients click and enter your landing page, not just click.

Until this gets corrected, I would not advise building segments, automation, or journeys based on email open and click-through rates until you can validate the subscriber’s activity. I’m not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon, though. Companies may need to look to external solutions where they embed their own image in their email with some dynamic image address that passes information to analytics and abandon ESP reporting altogether.

I’d like to conclude by stating that the email industry assumes that opens and clicks are leading activity indicators of purchase or conversion. That’s only true if you can validate that assumption with your data. If you can validate and correlate that an increase in CTR increases conversion rates (CR), then it’s an email key performance indicator (KPI) worth monitoring. It may not be.

©2024 DK New Media, LLC, All rights reserved.

Originally Published on Martech Zone: Your Open and Clicks of Your Email Campaign Aren’t Reliable or Accurate… Here’s Why (And What You Can Do About It)