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Why I turned tracking off on my newsletter

Sally Fox

Copywriter and brand voice strategist for businesses that give a damn (ethical, sustainable)

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Most of the emails you receive – whether they’re from your friendly neighbourhood freelancer or the big fashion brand you bought your niece a Christmas present from back in 2017 – contain spy pixels.

These spy pixels tell the sender whether you opened their email, where you opened it, how many times and what you clicked on when you did. Marketers like to use these metrics to crow about success: “75% open rate!” “35% click-through rate!”

Now, if you’re like me, the most a company is going to find out about you is whether you prefer ads about scarves or socks or what time of week you read your marketing emails. Does that really matter? After all, if you’ve nothing to hide, what’s the worry? Right?

True, but equally, why does that business need that data? And are they being upfront about collecting it? Especially when most of it is nearly worthless in many cases. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about accuracy.

For example, how many of us open an email we’re subscribed to just to find the unsubscribe button? Yet brands and businesses count that as a win. Upcoming Apple updates include a block on spy pixels, meaning you could instantly lose data from a third of your subscriber list anyway.

With all this in mind and thanks to encouragement from the Below Radar community, I recently decided to turn off tracking on my email newsletter. This isn’t going to be an in-depth technical analysis, in case you couldn’t already tell. For that, I recommend you chat to Dave and the Below Radar gang.

This is also not going to address the pitfalls and challenges that exist for larger, monetised newsletters or email campaigns run by brands. This is just my personal experience of letting go of the urge to spy on subscribers for my relatively small email newsletter.

So, why did I do it?

  • Because I believe subscribers have a right to enjoy (or not) their emails in private without me (or anyone) snooping on their activity.

  • Because I’d like to do more to protect my and my network’s privacy, and this felt like a quick step in the right direction.

  • Because as an ethical and sustainable business, it’s important to me to push the boundaries and lead by example.

  • Because those metrics are essentially meaningless anyway.

  • Because it fits with the values of my newsletter as a small community, helping one another out and learning together.

How did it feel? Scary. I didn’t mind too much about clicks, but how would I know that I wasn’t just typing into the ether if I didn’t know how many people opened it?

Luckily, Dave had the answer: ask people to reply. And boy did they! I don’t want to delve into numbers because it kind of defeats the point, but I had more subscribes, more replies and more shares than usual, and ultimately felt a stronger connection to readers than I did looking at a percentage on a dashboard.

And if that’s not success, I don’t know what is.

Ready to turn off tracking? Here are some steps to take:

  1. Check how your platform works and slot it into your existing process.*
  2. Update your email footer, sign-up form and anywhere else it might be handy.
  3. Tell people! Remind them that if they don’t contact you, you don’t know they’re there.
  4. Enjoy! Letting go of pointless metrics sets you free!

Dave and the community at Below Radar go into a lot more detail regarding what to do if you need stats for partnerships or sponsors and how different platforms work.

If you want to check out which emails are watching you, this is the tool for the job.

*Since writing this post, I’ve learnt that as a user of Mailchimp’s free plan, whilst I no longer track opens and clicks, Mailchimp still has access to click data to “prevent abuse”. Plans to switch to Buttondown are afoot.

First published on sallymfox.com

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