Should I use email trackers in my newsletter?

There’s a growing debate on whether newsletter creators should use email trackers to get data about their subscribers. The privacy advocates are against the email trackers. They do not think it’s legitimate ask from your readers. On the other hand there are the people who are pro data. They want to know if people opened the newsletter. We’ll deep dive into this discussion so you can know every argument and make your decision whether to track your followers or not.

What are email trackers?

Email trackers are a tool that newsletter creators or email marketers use to get data about their readers. When talking about email trackers, it’s usually referencing to pixel tracking or web beacon. The tracker is embedded in the email, as a pixel x pixel graphic (not visible to you). The email or browser will automatically download this graphic, this will send a note to the server that will include data.

The data that the trackers are revealing includes: if your subscriber opened the email, the IP of the computer, the software they use to read emails. So it means they know when and where the reader opened the email (and if it was opened again after the first time as well).

Pro email trackers – data is power

Those in favor of using trackers are usually interested in the data they can get from those email trackers. With the data from the email trackers they can learn which newsletter issue worked and which didn’t.

They can use the location of the readers to tailor the content. If most of your readers are from the UK and not the US, maybe the content should be about topics that are more relevant to the UK?

Morning Brew, a business news newsletter with 2 million subscribers, is using the trackers to decide which subject line would get more subscribers to open the email.

So the main claim here is that they are using the trackers to get data, and then use this data to improve the newsletter. Between the lines you can understand that the more your subscribers are engaged, the more money you can gain. More subscribers = more ads money. Better content = more paid subscribers.

Against email trackers – Pro privacy

privacy - against trackers

People are not even aware that they are being followed online. Many websites are using Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, and more, to learn more about their visitors. The amount of data that you can gather is vast. It’s possible to know where geographically a visitor is from, where did he come from (did he searched your site on search engines? or clicked on a link they saw online?). Additionally, with the Facebook Pixel you can even re target a person that visited your website and display an ad for your service on Facebook for them to see.

Newsletter trackers are not that different. You can see exactly which of your subscribers opened the email, when, and from where. Additionally, you can see if they clicked on any of the links you added in the email.

David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) from Basecamp is a strong advocate for privacy. They released an email service this year that blocks those and lets you know which trackers are following you. They removed all the third party trackers from their website and are only using their own trackers.

The main argument against email trackers is that the subscriber is not in control of the use of their data. You can’t decide what they know about you, and you can’t control who are they forwarding this information to. If you clicked on a link about cats, is it fair that they will sell your email address to a cat related company?

Additionally, it’s very unsettling that they can know where you are geographically. Unlike the website analytics where they know that visitor X is from New York, the email tracker actually knows your email address, and sometime your full name.

Moreover, when people feel they are under surveillance, they usually change their behavior.

What you can do to have data and keep your subscribers privacy?

There are a few ways you can get enough data and still keep your readers privacy.

  1. Ask for the subscribers permission. Let them opt-in and opt-out from trackers. Give them the power to decide, and let them know what exactly are you tracking.
  2. Only track data in the group level and not the individual level. There’s no need to know who exactly opened the email. If you know that 40% opened the email it’s good enough. Additionally, try to track only the country and not the specific location of your reader, if that’s important to you.

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