Saturday, January 11, 2014

your email sucks: open pixels

how many of us give any thought to where we place the open pixels in our emails? probably not many of us because we live in the world of esp's and more than likely it's done on the back-end.

but I think we should. if you hand code your emails, or even build out your own templates, then this post is for you...if you don't do those things, this is probably a conversation you want to have with your designers.

i started thinking about this for a couple of reasons. the first is in conjunction with our own going communications audit at work, I've been looking at people's emails, in most cases the code is horrendous. i've seen code that would make a two-year old cry, (1) open pixels missing, (2) open pixels at the bottom of long emails, (3) open pixels in the header tag, and (4) the open pixel placed outside of the HTML tag. the second reason i thought about this is because so many people rely on open rates to gauge the success of a why not set yourself up for the "most" success possible?

since I've worked with home grown and esp's i think about ways to improve them... and measurement is always part of those thoughts. let's dig deeper and try to figure this out, and why i'm blogging about it in the first place...
what is an open pixel anyway?

open pixels are a graphic. most system use a standard 1x1 transparent graphic and the esp gathers data from that graphic, data like views, unique views and so forth... and because they are graphics we know that if people don't download images then they don't work. 

as marketers and designers we are taught to design with images off optimization. great strategy, but that optimization should include ways to motivate the reader to engage with the email and download the images, thus firing the open pixel. 

let's look at the placement (from above) and trouble shoot those, and why they could be skewing your open rates.
1. a missing open pixel is well email marketing success suicide, you're not going to get any data about this communication at all.
2. open pixels at the bottom of long messages are iffy, and here's why...some email clients and browsers don't render the images until they see it in the code, and if the communication is long, some readers may abandon the communication, and the browser won't call the pixel - think preview panes...
3. the header tag, often times email clients, and especially web-based clients remove everything outside of the opening and closing <body> tag, if you put your open pixel there - or worse client sponsored advertising tracking pixels - the open rate is going to be flawed, especially if you have a lot of web mail readers.
4. placing the open pixel outside <html> tag is just as bad as not including the pixel at all. think of your code like're playing hide-and-seek. counting signals the hiders to go hide, this is the opening <html> tag. everyone goes and hides, a new seeker is found, and game play continues...closing </html>. during the next round a hider from round one is found by a new seeker, and doesn't believe he's the new seeker... no one called oly-oly-oxen-free to tell the other hiders to come to base and see who the new seeker is...that's what having the open pixel outside of the html is like...

when I code my emails, more often then not, i place my open pixel after the first name personalization token, that way it's in the message, and in the preview pane. placing the pixel here gives me the best chance of an accurate open. if i'm building templates for others I put it after the "forward to a friend statement", cause they won't touch that part of the code.

so when you're thinking about all the optimization efforts, and in dealing with your designers and coders, remind them to place it as high as possible in the code, but within the <body> tag and you'll see a more accurate measurement of your open rates.