Email tracking: how does it work?

    Last updated: August 30, 2023

    The spray and pray approach isn’t cutting it anymore. To win someone’s business, you need a deeply specific view of how that person — not the average person in their job title – in your audience is engaging with you.  

    Email tracking is one of the most effective and affordable ways to achieve this. It gives you a hyper-granular view of everyone that interacts – or doesn’t interact – with your emails. This empowers marketers to improve their content and offers, evaluate their conversion funnel, avoid costly missteps, and ultimately dedicate their time to the strategies that drive growth.  

    In this post, we’ll explain what email tracking is, how it can benefit your business, and how email tracking software produces the performance metrics you rely on. Then we’ll compare and contrast some of the best email tracking software on the market – so you can evaluate your emails with ease.  

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    What is email tracking?  

    You’ve already written and designed your email, segmented your audience, tested and retested your email, thought up subject lines. So once it’s sent, you want to know who’s acted on it, right?

    With email tracking, you can see who has opened your email, clicked any links inside, and use that information to inform your content and conversion strategy moving forward.

    Next, we’ll look at how email tracking generates the insights you need to plan your campaigns.  

    Benefits of email tracking  

    Provide context  

    Even if you’re only tracking open, click and click-through rates, email tracking lends useful context to your marketing efforts.

    For instance, if someone always opens your email newsletter but doesn’t open any promotional efforts, you can assume that they’re not interested or able to buy your product or subscription right now. With that information, you can remove them from your sales campaigns instead of continuing to blast them with sales emails that they won’t act on (and risking your relationship with them).  

    If your email tracking software goes beyond those big three email engagement metrics, it can give you even more information about how your audience is interacting with your content. With a heat map, you can see which parts of your email get clicked on most (especially handy if you write a newsletter with multiple articles, graphics and CTA buttons). Or you can see when someone has downloaded an attachment or clicked a link within your emails (which is important if you’re contacting a sales-qualified lead).  

    Email tracking helps you focus your email strategy on the tactics, message and design that resonates most with your audience. So you can spend less time chasing tactics that don’t work — and your audience gets a better experience. Everybody wins with just a little information.

    Create marketing segments  

    Email tracking also tells you how your marketing communications are performing among different segments of your audience. Seeing how different people interact with your newsletters help you create more specific behavior–based segments that you can pursue in the future with more targeted, personalized offers and content. This ensures that everyone gets the content that’s most relevant for them — and inspires them to act.  

    Maintain deliverability  

    Inbox service providers like Google Mail, Apple Mail, etc., decide which messages to send to recipients’ spam folders based on their engagement with the sending domain’s previous emails. If the overwhelming majority of your list doesn’t open or click any of your emails, ISPs will assume that your emails are spam and start diverting future emails straight to your recipients’ spam folders.  

    This can kickstart a negative cycle of low engagement, worse deliverability, bad inbox placements and even worse engagement. But by staying on top of your email engagement metrics, you can spot and resolve potential deliverability issues before they do long-term damage to your list health.  

    Identify send dates and times  

    Among our email clients, we’ve noticed that newsletters perform best when they’re sent at the same time, on the same day of the week, over and over again. (We also see this among publications with thriving newsletters, like The New York Times, Morning Brew, and The Atlantic.)  That way, your audience can anticipate exactly when they’ll get your content — and set their clock to it.  

    But what time should you send your newsletter? What day works best? There’s a lot of “best practice” out there, but the best choice really depends on your audience. Email tracking — and some tolerance — for experimentation will help you find it. (Pst, we’ve done some research on send dates and send times and the results aren’t exactly what you think!)  

    How does email tracking work?  

    You’ve probably (and most likely, torn your hair out trying to optimize for a few of them). But where do these metrics come from? How do inbox service providers – and how reliable are they?  

    There are three main ways to track an email, which we’ll go over next:   

    Read receipts 

    If you enable read receipts on your cell phone, someone that sends you a text can see whether you’ve opened and read the message. The same goes for email read receipts. When someone has opted into read receipts, you can see whether they have seen your message. Not everyone will opt into read receipts, making it less reliable than its counterparts.  

    However, with read receipts, you can see that someone with read receipts active has both opted into receiving emails from you and letting you know that they’ve seen them. It’s also less likely to run afoul of data privacy regulations.  

    Image pixels 

    One of the most common ways to track emails is through image pixels, also known as Web Beacon Trafficking. When someone opens an email, a small image from the email is called from a tracking server and counted as an open.  

    While this method is generally more accurate than read receipts, it’s not foolproof. Some ISPs don’t automatically load images when the email is opened and there are other times when the recipient is prompted to download images from the email upon opening it. If they choose not to download the images, the open isn’t counted, even if the recipient reads the entire message.

    Tracking links 

    Incorporating tracking links in your messages will count the number of clicks that every link in your email receives. If you use email tracking software that encodes your links, tracking links will give you reliable click rates and in turn, tell you how engaging and relevant your emails are. 

    Common email tracking metrics 

    The most common email tracking metrics include:  

    Open rate 

    This measures the percentage of recipients that opened your email. You can use relative differences between open rates to judge the success of your subject lines, as well as the relevance of your content.

    Open rate has traditionally been the best indicator of overall email performance, but the rollout of Apple’s MPP in September 2021 has complicated things. MPP falsely counts some opens from Apple devices — and open rates skyrocketed in the quarters following MPP. However, we’ve seen open rates stabilize in the last year, so you can compare open rates from two emails sent after September 2022 and use that to draw conclusions about your email program.  

    Click rate  

    This measures the percentage of recipients that clicked a link within your email (On Omeda and other email sending platforms, you can also get click rates for individual links in the message.) Use this to determine how well the content and design inside of your email is performing. You can also use click rates to figure out whether you’re sending the right promotions, offers and content to the right audience segments.

    Pay close attention to clicks: After MPP, click rate is now considered the most accurate indicator of email success.  

     Click-through rate 

    This measures the percentage of people who clicked a link in the email, out of those who opened it. Pre-MPP, your click-through rate told how successful you were at converting people who opened your email. But because CTR is calculated as a percentage of opens, it’s no longer reliable as a gross metric anymore. But like open rates, you can reliably compare CTR from emails sent after September 2022 to evaluate trends in your strategy.  

    Deliverability rate 

    This measures the percentage of people who received the email in their primary email folder (not spam). A deliverability rate above 98% signals that your sending reputation is good, but a lower number could be a sign that inbox service providers are labeling your emails as spam. (Having deliverability issues? Learn how to improve your sending reputation and get back in primary inboxes here.)

    If your deliverability is below 98%, review your sending practices, subject lines and list health to improve your sending reputation. Also consider partnering with an email sending platform that has a dedicated deliverability team, like Omeda. This team will intercede with inbox service providers on your behalf to help you resolve any sending or list health issues that are impacting your deliverability – and will help get your email program back on track.  

    Best email tracking solutions  


    Pros: Mailchimp is a widely used email sending and tracking platform with good ease of use.  

    Cons: Mailchimp is designed primarily for small businesses. If you have a large database, Mailchimp’s limited support features and scalability may not be enough for your needs. It also doesn’t remove click bots from email reports, which could distort your email metrics and compromise your list security.  


    Pros: HubSpot’s email tracking software is part of its CRM tool, making it a good fit for anyone that wants to track email performance across a customer journey.  

    Cons: Like Mailchimp, HubSpot is not designed for enterprise businesses, nor does it remove click bots from email reports. Its scalability and support options also may not be well-suited for organizations with millions of records. Hubspot uses email addresses as a unique identifier, so it is unable to see one person with multiple addresses as a single record – which could inflate your reporting. 


    Pros: Omeda — an end-to-end audience marketing platform — combines email, email tracking and marketing automation with a native CDP and subscription management solution. If you have a large audience that you’re engaging through content, their all-in-one solution may be more efficient and cost-effective than other single-point solutions like HubSpot or Mailchimp.

    Omeda’s email tracking software is connected to a native customer data platform (CDP), so each recipient’s email activity automatically flows to a customer profile that encompasses all of their interactions with you — across every channel. On other platforms, you’ll need to manually transfer someone’s information between profiles to create a single, complete profile for each of your audience members. 

    It also automatically removes click bots from email reports, ensuring that your email tracking is as accurate as possible.  

    Cons: Omeda is an enterprise email sending platform built for audience growth, which means smaller publishers or solo content producers might find Omeda overwhelming to use.  

    Want to dig into the details? Request a demo below to hear more about how Omeda is different from any other email tool you’ve used.

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