The Truth Behind Email Marketing Reporting Myths

Email marketing is a powerful tool that enables marketers to track and trace almost every interaction of the prospect. But whether you like it or not, there are still some things that can not be measured properly. Although some reporting figures are sometimes presented as being accurate, the truth is that they are just a rough estimate of what is really happening. This article will help you get a better insight in these email marketing reporting techniques.

The viral effect reporting

Motivated by specific marketing actions or tickled by the interesting nature of an email campaign, people are often prepared to forward the email to the mailbox of new prospects. This is what we call the viral effect. Being able to measure it would be fantastic – just imagine how great it would be if you’d know how many times your email was forwarded by your contacts. And to which new specific prospects…

And yes…it is possible.

But only if you do it like this: just ask your contact to forward your email through a viral module. By using this technique, the email address of the sender will be logged, as well as the email address of the new receiver. This type of reporting will give you a precise view on the viral effect of your email campaign, telling you exactly which of your contacts forwarded the email to a new prospect. But be sure to handle the information you get from this reporting with care. Although you are in possession of the new prospect’s email address, you are not legally authorised to use it without prior consent from this new contact.

The viral marketing reporting myth

Even if a viral marketing module is the only correct reporting technique, IP address tracing is sometimes presented as a reliable technique to measure the viral effect. Which it isn’t.

When measuring the opened ratio of email marketing campaigns, it is possible to track the number of times an html email message was opened by a specific email address. This technique makes it possible to define the number of opened messages and the number of unique openers. When tracing the different type of IP’s used by one e-mail address to open the same email message, you could conclude that the email was forwarded to a new contact. An IP address is normally related to one email address, so you would think that different IPs per email address are new users, thus forwarded messages. Wrong!

Some Internet Service Providers use one IP address for different internet connections. That’s why it could be perfectly possible that you have the same IP address as your neighbour. Same goes for companies: they often work with one IP address for the entire organisation, making it impossible to trace forwarded messages within a company based on the IP address.

IP address tracing and opened html message tracking only give a rough estimate of what the viral effect of an email marketing campaign really is. This manner of reporting can’t be considered as being exact, but is only there to help marketers get an estimate of the effect (when they prefer not to use a viral marketing module).

Spam or deliverability reporting

One of the major concerns of email marketers is to get an opt-in message through the spam filters. Due to the continuous flow of spam messages, spam filters are becoming more strict. Email is not only filtered at ISP level, but is also facing company spam filters and personal spam filters. Different techniques used by these spam filters -from blacklisting to content analysis- make it very difficult to create the perfect spam-proof email message. The result is that opt-in emails will sometimes be considered as being spam – and will be consequently blocked. Can’t we track these false positives and – like so-called bounce messages- resend them after the problem is recognised?


False positives are impossible email1and1 to trace. The incoming email message that is falsely detected as spam will immediately be deleted or relocated to a specific mailbox. All this is done without notification or activation of tracking mechanisms. It’s as if your email was delivered to the recipient and that he has deleted it without reading.

The only indication of an email possibly being a false positive is a low opened ratio of your e-mail campaign. You could then consider resending the email message to contacts that did not open the html email, this time with a different copy or a less complex design. But what with email messages delivered to Outlook 2003 or Gmail accounts? These specific mail accounts have standard ‘no image view’ settings. The recipient decides whether he wants to get the images in the email or not. Which may prove to be a problem for opened html email reporting, since it works with an image to detect opened ratios.

Nothing I can do about that?

Yes, you can. You can analyse the email message with a spam check- a simple and handy tool that is programmed to react like most of the standard spam filters. The interesting part is that the spam check tool will tell you exactly why your email message would have been blocked. This gives you the opportunity to adapt the content or html design of your email campaign, increasing your chances to get through spam filters considerably. Although this technique is extremely useful, it’s not 100% infallible. It simply is impossible to program a spam check with every spam filter technique on the continuously evolving market. So only the major and most common spam filter techniques are taken into account.

Why these reporting techniques are used

Reporting techniques such as viral effect reporting or deliverability reporting are used to give the closest reporting email marketers can get. Use these techniques as an indication – do not expect them to give you exact figures. Therefore it’s important to know the nature of the metrics and the way they work.