It’s a pretty safe bet that at some point all new ReachMail clients ask me, ‘How does ReachMail track opens?’
Well here’s the deal; opens, or ‘reads,’ if you prefer, are tracked using a unique image that’s appended to the end of every outbound email. This images is small (1px X 1px) and transparent and unique amongst users and campaigns. That is to say each campaign that goes out has a unique image generated for each user that the campaign is delivered to. When a user loads the images in a mail a request is made of our servers to deliver the image to the user and at that point we record an ‘open.’
Re-read that last sentence. Notice I said ‘loads the images,’ not ‘opens the mail,’ not ‘loads it in the preview pane, just ‘loads the images.’ Loading images in the mail is the only action that will record an open. There’s simply no way of knowing if a recipient double-clicks a mail to open it in a new window or scans it in the preview pane. All those actions happen locally at the user level, we’ve got no way of tracking those actions. All we can do is make note of a user requesting information from us and so we track that as an open.
I know, now you’re probably thinking that opens are a flawed measurement and you’ll never pay attention to them again. Hold on a minute though. Try to think of opens as a gauge of perception rather than an isolated metric. We’ve talked about perception in this blog before and of how to increase open rates and click rates by sending mail perceived as valuable. Well, if someone takes the time to download your images, they perceive some value in your mail and that’s what you want to know. It’s not so much that they’re loading the images, it’s about why they’re loading the images.
So the next logical question is ‘What’s the margin for error in the open report?’ Good question. The fact is, there’s really no way of knowing. We can’t track any actions without the user taking any action, so though there may be people who read the mail word for word, if they never load the images, we’ll never know. Again, don’t dwell on the people who aren’t being recorded, try to view the opens as a measure of how the mail is perceived. Opens won’t increase perception, perception will increase opens.