If you’re using email tracking software, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not a flawless technology. Sometimes you’ll know for a fact that someone just read an email, but you never received an alert. Other times, you’ll get 10 alert notifications in a row, but you’re pretty sure the reader didn’t open your email 10 times in 15 seconds.
Unfortunately, email tracking isn’t actually part of the email protocol. Instead, it’s more of a clever “hack,” which makes is somewhat unreliable. Because of this, you might be struggling to use email tracking to improve your sales and marketing. Luckily, once you know how the technology itself actually works, you’ll start to recognize common alert patterns, understand what they mean, and be able to take appropriate action.
To help get you started, here are a few common email tracking alert patterns to watch for as well as suggestions for what to do when you see them.
Low Priority Email Alert Patterns
Not all email tracking alert patterns require you to do anything. In fact, many alerts are triggered by unfortunate side effects of the technology’s limitations and can be ignored.
The immediate alert: Sometimes you’ll receive an email open alert within a few seconds of sending an email. No, the person didn’t open your message immediately. More than likely, she hasn’t even gotten it yet. Instead, this kind of alert is almost always the result of the receiving server processing your email. Also, if you have a service that lets you BCC your emails to it (like many CRMs), the email cataloging systems can often trigger an immediate email open alert.
Multiple opens in a row: Unless you sent your email to a huge list of recipients, multiple email opens within a few seconds usually just means your email is getting bounced around across some servers. You can ignore the alerts and continue with whatever you were working on.
An alert when you open an email: Since email tracking can only identify when an email was opened but not the person who opened it, you’ll often receive alerts when you view your own email. It can be a bit annoying at first, but you’ll get used to this pattern quickly.
A strange location: First time users of email tracking often get confused by this. They see an alert that includes a location, and the location is somewhere completely different than where they know their recipient is. Unfortunately, email location tracking is unreliable. You can occasionally use it to confirm what you think is true about a person’s location, but never rely on it to tell you anything you don’t already know.
Medium Priority Email Alert Patterns
Email tracking often notifies you of useful information that doesn’t require any immediate action. These kinds of alerts should be mentally filed away as potentially useful at some point in the future.
An email open within 24 hours of sending: Someone opening your email within a few hours of your sending it is the most common use case for email tracking. While you shouldn’t take any immediate action (after all, your recipient only just saw the email), you should take a mental note. If you haven’t heard back within a couple days, the person probably forgot to respond, and you should send a polite follow-up email.
A link click: Unlike email open alerts, email link click alerts (for tracking systems that offer them) are nearly 100% accurate. If you receive one, you can be fairly certain your link was clicked. However, there are still a couple caveats. First, if you sent the email to more than one person, you probably won’t know who clicked your link (unless you can tell by using additional location-based data). Second, knowing someone clicked on your link doesn’t provide much immediately actionable information.
A link re-click: Multiple clicks on a link you’ve sent in an email can be both useful and confusing. If you’ve sent your email to one person, and the link gets used multiple times over the course of a few days (or weeks), this might mean the person is regularly engaging with the materials you’ve sent. It could also mean the person forwarded your email or link to other people. She could be sharing your materials with her team, or maybe she even shared a link on social media. While you won’t know exactly what happened, you can be pretty sure it was something worth checking on. If you haven’t heard back after a few days, send a follow-up email asking if she had a chance to look at the information you sent.
High Priority Patterns
Some email tracking patterns indicate a high likelihood that something useful is about to happen. When you see them, get ready.
A re-open after several weeks: When you get an email open alert for an email you sent weeks ago, there’s a high probability that your recipient is looking at your previous correspondence. In many cases, you’ll receive an email from that person within a few minutes. If it’s a high priority lead, this could be a perfect time to send an email before the lead has a chance to email you. This way, when she receives your email, she’ll think, “What a lucky coincidence… I was just about to contact you.”
A mobile open followed by a desktop open: Mobile devices are great for quick communication, but if you want to send a longer email, or if you need to attach certain files, a phone can’t beat a desktop. Because of this, people will often see an email on their phones and wait to respond until they can get to a computer. Since email tracking can usually show you what device an email was viewed from, you can often spot this pattern. When you do, you can expect the response you’ve been waiting for is about to arrive.