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Mandate Media: Digital Strategy for People Changing the World
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Tracking email readership

In the P&T mailbag this week, we got this question:

When we send email updates, what would be a good open rate and click through rate? I'm curious how our last couple did vs. good/bad standards. It's to a regular list of subscribers, so anything short of 90 percent pisses me off! (!:>)

I don't think I've ever seen an open rate much over 55% or so, and I generally advise my clients that 40% or better is pretty good.

That doesn't mean only 40% of people are actually reading your email. Rather, it means that 40% of people are reading your email AND allowing you to track that fact.

How do you know if someone opened an email? By embedding in the email an invisible 1x1 pixel graphic. Each recipient gets a unique version of that graphic - when they open it, ping!, they're counted. (Most email broadcasting services will do this for you auto-magically.)

Some email programs don't display any images at all - or require the user to click something to see them. Others only hide real small images - ones that might be tracking images. Others will display the tracking image - but first wipe out anything that looks like a tracking code.

Why would they do that? Because evil spammers use these same tricks to validate email addresses. (That's why we're often told not to even open stuff that's likely spam.)

So... what do you do? First, don't overestimate the value of this data -- it's not any good for readership numbers, but rather a good way for you to evaluate over the long-term. If the numbers are going up, or going down, that might tell you something.

Second, consider doing a little work to determine your actual readership -- over a 6-12 month period, you should expect every one of your readers to click at least one link. By tracking click-thrus, you can determine how many of your folks are actually reading your messages. (And consider sending those that never click a "last chance; we're unsubscribing you" email.)

Third, relax and remember that while email is somewhat trackable - snail mail isn't at all trackable. So, something's better than nothing, and this technology is an improvement - though far from perfect.