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Tracking when a newsletter email is opened
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Question:I send out a weekly newsletter and would like to track when each user opens his email. I feel that some users submitted a wrong email adress, and if I find that they never open their newsletter then I want to remove them from the mailing list.
Answer:The traditional way to track emails would be to insert a little image and give it an argument. This technique is also called 'inserting a web bug'. The image's name could be:
Then daily check your log files for accesses to file 'some_image.jpg' and see the arguments passed to it.
You could even link to a perl script that redirects to an image or the script could actually generate an image on the fly. The script could directly enter time and originating IP, browser user agent and most importantly the email address into a database. The URL to such a script would look like this:
The problem with these solutions is that it is very obvious to the user that you are tracking their activity and they might not like it.
You could hide your intentions by keeping a database with user numbers e.g. email@example.com would be user number 1234 so your email would contain an image
Advanced, technologically savvy users also tend to view emails in text mode only thus your tracking would fail. This is not just being old-fashioned but a very basic and mostly efficient way of avoiding any sort of scripting attacks or email worms.
In text mode, however, it is annoying to wade through a cluttered mess of tags and not seeing the content easily, which imposes a high risk for a mail getting moved to the trash bin before being read to its end.
The value of tracking is really questionable. Keep in mind that you only can track if the email was 'opened'.
1) If the email was opened, you do not know that it was opened by the intended reader. It could have been (by accident) a child.
2) If the right person happened to open it, it could still be that they cannot read it because they accidently deleted it before they view it.
3) If he viewed it, there is still a chance that he does not actually read it.
4) After reading carefully, there a chance that your email was not comprehended.
So all in all, "tracking" an email seems not always to be welcome, the involved techniques may be quite contraproductive, as they adds to the annoyance level on the receiver side and thus may hurt the reputation and trustworthiness of the sender.
If you do not get results from the newsletter, you might want to look into other means of communication. A paper letter or a phone call maybe.