#044: Don't track open rates

Open rates are killing your reply rate

Read time: 3 minutes

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Tracking open rates on prospecting emails could be destroying your reply rates.

We get this question all the time…

“How can I improve my open rates?”

Open rates have historically been the best way to determine if your message was delivered and your subject line resonated with your prospects.

However, because of new privacy updates, open rates will no longer be a relevant metric for email tracking.

The open rate you see is filled with false positives and false negatives. It’s no longer a predictor of how many people opened your emails.

Before I explain why it’s a terrible metric and affects your reply rate, you need to know how open rate tracking works.

How open tracking works

When you send emails with open rate tracking enabled, each message is sent with a little 1×1 pixel (image) included in the email. It’s transparent so you’d never actually see it.

When the recipient “opens” the email, the pixel (image) gets downloaded.

This download action returns information to the sending platform, such as time of access, frequency, and sometimes even the device and/or location.

Your sending platform logs that information as an "open”.

Privacy updates

Email providers and security systems are becoming more advanced.

  • Many providers have spam filters “bots” that open your emails and click on the links you have in them. This gets counted as an open or a click when the recipient may have never opened the email.

  • Some email providers (like Outlook) have a preview mode so people can “open” the email without actually opening it, they are just moving/deleting it. So even though the recipient only clicked on it long enough to move it, this counts as an open.

  • Some email security systems don’t allow images to be downloaded. If images can’t be downloaded, there is no way for your pixel to be triggered. So you might have situations where someone has actually opened your email, but it doesn’t get logged.

  • As of 2022, Apple preloads emails on their servers. This triggers the tracking pixel for every email they process. That means you could potentially see a 100% open rate for your Apple Mail recipients, whether they actually open your message or not.

So what does this mean?

There are both false positives and false negatives when it comes to open rate tracking. Many emails are being marked as opened that might not even make it to the inbox. And a good amount of emails being read aren’t being tracked.

This means you can’t trust any of the data.

But how does this impact your reply rate?

Increase in SPAM or “Promotions”

With some of the latest Google updates, tracking open rates increases your likelihood of landing in spam or the promotions tab (not the primary inbox).

When a tracking pixel is used, the likelihood of your emails landing in SPAM is 15% higher than without tracking!

Email Service Providers can detect that you are using a tracking pixel and can immediately move your message to SPAM or the promotions tab.

Don’t track open rate

We can’t trust the data and tracking open rates increases our chance of landing in SPAM.

So what’s the takeaway?

Stop tracking open rates.

If your manager pushes back, just send them this article.

Track these metrics instead

Our number one goal with any prospecting email is to get a “positive” response.

The main metric to track sequence/campaign success is: Leads contacted to positive replies.

A positive reply is someone who wants more information, gives you a referral, schedules a meeting, etc… You want a way to track and measure the sentiment from your emails.

If you only look at reply rates, you’ll be measuring negative replies as well.

So to determine the quality of your list and the quality of your message, you want to track your reply to positive reply rates.

Example 1: You reach out to 100 people and 10 respond but only 1 is interested.

This means you have a good reply rate, but 9/10 aren’t interested. You should ensure you’re targeting the right people and then tweak your messaging to improve the positive reply rate.

Example 2: You reach out to 100 people, 5 reply, and 3 are interested.

You have a decent reply rate but it’s clear that your message is resonating with those people.

Looking at these examples, if you focused on “reply rate” as the metric, you’d prioritize campaign 1.

However, you got 3x more replies from campaign 2.

This is why the absolute success metric is “Leads contacted to positive replies”.


The tracking pixel added to emails to measure open rates can:

  • create false positives (tracked but not actually opened)

  • create false negatives (people open but not tracked)

  • increase your chance of landing in SPAM or the promotions tab

So don’t track open rates and give your email the best chance of being delivered.

Instead, track your leads contacted to positive reply ratios to learn which campaigns are performing best.

Episode 36: [Sales] Frameworks for telling stories with data with Ben McLeod

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