It’s Okay If You Block My Tracking Pixel

We’re sending and receiving more email than ever, and that’s not just because people love email so much that they can’t help it. It just works. And to understand which emails are working and how well, we’ve got  a few tricks up our sleeves. What doesn’t always enter the conversation, though, is whether or not the user is comfortable with these methods.

Recently, there’s been an uptick in the popularity of plugins and extensions that block the functionality of tracking pixels. As a marketer, it may be your instinct to panic at this thought, but there are other options, perhaps even better ones, to give you insight into the performance of your emails.

What is a Tracking Pixel?

A tracking pixel is a line of code that generates an img tag; this image is usually sourced from a third party domain. When the user opens an email, their email client makes a request to the server with a unique identification.

This request is similar to an HTTP request in which the browser passes the user’s domain-specific cookie. In turn, the server responds with a transparent 1×1 image which goes basically undetected.

Open Rates

A tracking pixel in an email allows you to see how many people open your emails. Open rates can help with determining how successful an email subject line is. They can also be used to verify if emails are being sent to an active email address.

Despite this,  open rate can be a bit of a “vanity metric”, since it doesn’t provide as much insight as click-through rate or conversion rate and it’s not directly tied to a business goal. Attempting to maximize your open rate can also lead to a reliance on slimy and misleading subject lines.

There’s just one issue…

Tracking pixels provide more information than open rates but this has caused a privacy issue. For example, when a reader opens an email containing a tracking pixel, their IP address, email address, and the time they viewed the email is returned to the sender.

Naturally, this raised some concern among readers; people started to wonder what other information tracking pixels could reveal? As result, readers are now able to block tracking pixels by using an email client that does it automatically or by installing a browser plugin.

Fear not, fellow marketers, not all hope is lost! As the industry changes, so should our tools. In addition to using tracking pixels, you can use UTM tags in your links in order to track performance. In fact, UTM tags provide further insight into how your effective your emails are.

UTM Tags

UTM means Urchin Tracking Module which is the format Google uses to tracks unique URLs in Google Analytics. In order to track your URLs, you need to use UTM tags which are added at the end of a URL.

2 of the 5 available utm tags listed below and their associated values

A UTM tag consists of a tag and its value.

When your link is clicked on, all the tags in the link are sent to Google Analytics for tracking. This allows you to view the metrics of a specific link.

If you’re working with multiple links, it’s a good idea to customize your tags using relevant keywords. Thankfully, UTM tags have a format you can follow, this is referred to as UTM categories.

UTM Categories

There are 5 categories of tags:

  1. utm_source: tells you where your traffic is coming from.
  2. utm_medium: tells you which element you are running a split test on.
  3. utm_campaign: tells you the name of the campaign that you are running.
  4. utm_term: if you are using paid search, this is where you’d enter in the keyword that you’re bidding on.
  5. utm_content: helps you differentiate between the versions you are running a split test on.

Performance Tracking

UTM tags allow you to view traffic coming from your emails via Google Analytics or your preferred analytics platform. This is helpful as it tells you how your readers are engaging with the content. Click rate can also indicate whether or not your content is interesting to readers, not just if you’re subject line piques their curiosity.

One thing worth noting here is that any time you see click rates in Sendwithus, they are out of total sends (so clicks/sends, not clicks/opens) which may not be the same as a click rate shown in your ESP’s dashboard.

Set Up

UTM tags are super helpful and super simple to set up! Google Analytics has a URL Parameter builder where you can plug in your values and generate a URL. If you’re using sendwithus, we even do the heavy lifting for you, just open up the settings pane with the gear icon (highlighted in orange below)



And add your template-wide UTM parameters to the settings:


Keep in mind, UTM tags are case sensitive so if you use lowercase in one field and then uppercase in another field, you will be creating two different campaigns.

In Summary…

The growing trend of blocking tracking pixels can be quite worrisome, but we are not without recourse. In addition to using tracking pixels, we recommend you use UTM tags in your links. Not only are they easy, but they track more important activity and work across other platforms.

We’re all for tracking pixels but as the industry changes so should our tools. Click tracking metrics are important to us now more than ever and we should be utilize all the tools available.

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