What is Email Tracking?

What is Email Tracking?

If you’ve ever sent an important email and then felt helpless as you impatiently waited for a response, you’re going to love email tracking. Email tracking can’t force people to respond, but it does the next best thing: it tells you when people read your emails, so you’ll at least know your messages have been received.

What is email tracking?

Email tracking doesn’t technically involve tracking emails (which is impossible). It’s actually about tracking tiny, hidden images that get added to your emails by special programs you can install in your email client. Those same programs track when the hidden images are loaded in order to notify you when an email you sent is opened.

The basic structure of an email tracking alert looks like this:

email tracking example

Can email tracking tell me about anything else aside from opens?

Although email opens are the main thing email tracking is used for, different email tracking programs are able to provide additional information. The most common tracking features are:

  • Click tracking Know when someone clicks links inside your emails
  • Location tracking Know what city an email was opened in
  • Device tracking Know what kind of device someone read your email on
  • Browser tracking Know what browser a recipient is using to view your email
  • Attachment tracking Know when someone opens an email’s attachment

Why should I be tracking my sent emails?

While email tracking can satisfy your natural curiosity for knowing who’s reading your emails, that’s not really the point. Instead, the commercial value of email tracking comes from its ability to provide additional data about email engagement, which can help marketing and sales teams improve customer acquisition and retention rates.

For example, without email tracking, if you send 1,000 emails and get zero responses you’ll know your messages were unsuccessful, but you won’t know why. In contrast, with email tracking, you might discover that, of your thousand emails, 500 were opened. That means your subject line was good (a 50% open rate in email marketing is fantastic), but your email content was bad.

Can someone tell if I’m tracking emails?

Yes, it is possible to tell if someone is sending tracked emails. The easiest way to tell is by hovering over links in an email with your mouse cursor. If the actual links don’t match the URL in the message (e.g. the email text link says “cnn.com” but the actual URL you’re being directed to has a bunch of additional random numbers and variables you can’t easily understand), you’re likely looking at a tracked email.

Despite the ability to tell if someone is sending a tracked email, most consumers don’t notice. If they do, they’re unlikely to mind since email tracking is – particularly in B2B sales relationships – a relatively common practice. In addition, if they’re knowledgeable enough to look for tracking codes, they’re also likely to either appreciate their use or know how to avoid them.

How do I start tracking my emails?

You’ll need to download and install a plugin for your email client. Most email tracking tools support the two major email platforms: Gmail and Outlook.

A number of companies offer email tracking plugins, and they all provide the same basic tracking info, so the important differences to consider are: a) if they support your email client; b) what other, non-email tracking features they include and whether or not you want those as well; c) how much they cost.

Speaking of cost, RocketBolt gives you email tracking for Gmail and Outlook, and it’s absolutely free. Want to try it?

Tim Bachmann

As RocketBolt's Social Media Manager, Tim likes writing about social marketing and social selling. In his free time, he writes about zombies, which is sort of what social media turns people into.