Email Tracking in Gmail: How Google Improved it?

Most of us have experienced the frustration of sending an email and waiting for a response while having no way of knowing whether or not the receiver has opened and read it. There's just one way to get rid of all that doubt: email tracking.

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Emailing is one of the only digital marketing tools that doesn't provide businesses with any data, making it hard to improve emails and reply rates. Since there is little or no data from emails, there is a need to know how people interact with your emails.

"Quality over quantity – Emails may be cost-efficient, but it is no excuse to not produce quality content to give to a targeted audience." – Benjamin Murray

Tracking emails makes it easy for senders to know who got a message and know if the mail is delivered. Hence, email tracking lets businesses know if their messages end up in the right inbox for companies that send multiple emails. Initially, google allowed email tracking using Google Workspace, but it has proven to be quite limited. It mainly requires read receipts that require approval and because it is not available for all Gmail accounts.

What is Email Tracking?

Email tracking tells you when a receiver opens and reads your mail. It works by adding a microscopic pixel image into the mail. The idea is invisible and doesn't affect the integrity of the mail; neither does it interact with the recipient in any way. In most cases, the receiver is oblivious to the presence of the image. Once the receiver opens the email, the idea—web beacon—reports back to you, and you get a notification.

Email tracking does two things. First, it notifies you if the recipient opens your email, at what time, and even what device the mail was opened on. Second, it informs the sender whether the links and attachments in the emails are opened.

Hence, with email tracking, the sender can figure out two key metrics:

  • The open rate
  • The click rate

Why Should You Track Emails?

From a generic point of view, email tracking seems like a feature you do not need. However, immediately you get started with email tracking, you won't look back. It is a crucial tool for a business to gather data from the emails they send

1. Helps Email Marketing Team to Write Better Emails

Software that tracks email does not lie, and it does not lead to your sensitivity or pride. Email tracking software will give you an honest assessment of the success of your email campaigns. It offers you the opportunity to reverse-engineer the content of each message so it will get through to your customers every time.

Consistent tracking of your emails doesn't just answer whether your emails have been opened, but it gives you an idea of why your emails have not been opened. Since it monitors each email, you will have a picture of why receivers are not interacting with your emails over time. Hence, giving you invaluable insights about your subject lines up to scratch.

2. Saves Time

The knowledge that someone is interacting with your emails gives you an idea of how interested they are in what you offer them. If an email is consistently opened, the sales team knows that the receiver is actively interested in the products, and there is hope that the mails will be converted into sales very soon. Also, if an email left unattended for long is suddenly opened, the sales team can know that they need to follow up as quickly as possible to close the deal. Conversely, if mail remains unopened, the sales team can understand that future emails to the same recipient would meet the same fate to discontinue the campaign.

3. To Collate Data

Once you have a comprehensive picture of who is engaging your emails, your marketing team can collate a segmented list of clients beyond buyer persona and demographics. Also, you can know what content type is doing well and what content is not being favorably received. By understanding the kind of data an individual is looking at, the sales team can recognize their needs and bend their emails to suit their needs.

4. Increased Productivity

Having valuable data about email open rates will help your team focus on what matters. Receivers who do not open emails are removed from the active list of receivers, and the whole team can get on board on how to convert the active ones.

How Do You Track an Email in Gmail?

There are four ways to track emails in Gmail:

1. Read receipts from Google Workspace

The native Google email tracking functionality allows for read receipt, which Gmail itself facilitates. However, read receipts are limited.

Read receipts add awkwardness to email conversations by requiring a read confirmation to be accepted by the receiver. That is contrary to our face-to-face conversations and also how we deal with receipts in instant messaging applications.

Also, the Google read receipts are only available to Google customers, and the organization's admin must activate it to be open to all members.

Google Workspace read receipts must be sent individually and accepted by the reader when the mail is received. This makes the use of technology complicated and every communication exchange unreliable.

Thereby, there is a need by google to improve email tracking system

2. Adding Tracking Pixels

This is the best alternative. This method is done by embedding a tiny tracking pixel—usually 1x1—an attachment that loads when a receiver opens an email. After that, the email client sends a signal to the Google server, which interprets that the email has been opened. Furthermore, the pixel also notifies the server when a link or attachment is opened.

Tracking pixels are found all over the webs and are used frequently by websites to monitor engagements and sign-ups.

3. Measuring Link Clicks

Another way to track emails is by using link clicks. However, monitoring link clicks won't let you know if someone opened your mail unless they click the link. It is mainly used to track click-throughs of mails. Due to this limitation, most email tracking platform uses tracking pixels by default.

Tracking link clicks work by routing the receiver through the tracking program's server before sending them to their destination.

4. Google Analytics

Finally, you can also use Google Analytics for email tracking. This method requires a convoluted process and requires you to use Google analytics in a way it is not really intended to be used.

This works by setting up your tracking pixel image and embedding it into every email you send. This is how Openedornot tracks email opens, which will only take you a few minutes to get started compared to setting up the pixels yourself.

Why is Google's image policy necessary for email tracking in Gmail?

Google made some changes to its image tracking policy in Gmail in 2013 and 2014. Google started downloading all images on its servers in California. When a recipient opens an email, the image would load from this server and not from the sender's server.

Google took this step to protect the integrity of Gmail users’ privacy. Before, tracking pixels detects the location of the recipients automatically. Now, monitoring pixels opened in Gmail or the web will tell the sender that the recipient is located in California, where the Google proxy servers are.

"Email marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images. They will see a single request from Google, which will then be used to send the image out to all Gmail users. Unless you click on a link, marketers will have no ideas the email has been seen. While this means improved privacy from email marketers, Google will now be digging deeper than ever into your emails and be modifying the contents" – Ars

An excerpt from a blog post from MailChimp sheds more light on this, it read:

"Using cached images is a fine idea for Gmail, but it has the potential to mess with open tracking for ESPs. Fortunately, MailChimp can still detect the first request for the open-tracking pixel. This won't interfere with the count of 'unique opens' you get in your reports, but it could prevent us from seeing multiple opens per subscriber…

"In Gmail's announcement today, they said image caching allows them to turn on images by default securely. Image caching still lowers our ability to track repeat opens, but turning those images on means we'll be more accurate when tracking unique opens; at least theoretically, it should work that way."

Recently, in 2019, Gmail launched a large-scale Gmail update in the form of a dynamic email. Dynamic emails allow senders to include forms or surveys that recipients can interact with inside emails. This makes it easy for senders to gather information about the recipients without the—recipients—having to visit an external link. So a sneaker business owner can let users view, select and order a pair of sneakers without leaving their email.

With dynamic emails, images load automatically. If recipients want to stop tracking pixels, they can disable automatic downloads; however, they will also miss out on dynamic emails.

Misunderstandings about Gmail Image Policy

There was a decent outcry of worry when the proxy image server policy from Google came into force. Some people were worried that email tracking wouldn't work at all anymore. Fortunately, the worry is unwarranted. You can still track emails through a tracking pixel, and the link tracking still reins the same functionality.

Email pixel tracking cannot give a recipient location with Google proxy servers, but they do not play any part in link tracking. So, businesses can still use link tracking to show the geolocation data of a recipient. Hence, email marketing programs encourage users to get recipients to click links to acquire more data.

Finally, some people were worried the recent upgrades would make email trackers receive false opens. Since Google now downloads images ahead of time to its servers, won't the tracking program think the email is opened? Also, the worries are ahead of their time. After the server change, various tests were conducted, and it was found that the Google proxy server doesn't send false opens when it downloads images.

Email Tracking Software for Gmail

"When I started this blog, I made the newbie mistake of not including a way to accumulate email addresses. No newsletter, no opt-in form – nothing." — Pat Flynn, smartpassiveincome.com

OpenedOrNot automates your email tracking process. The Chrome extension analyst the best time to send emails and feed you real-time alerts for every activity on your email. Furthermore, the extension gets you detailed information about the recipients, such as several times your mail is read, last read time, location, the device used, etc.

Learn more about Openedornot here.

Conclusion

“Don’t debate ‘Chicken or Egg, which came first?’ Bring the Chicken” — Jordie van Rijn

In future, we can expect email tracking in Gmail to become more sophisticated as people have responded well to interactive emails content and dynamic emails.

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