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Email Marketing for Dummies

Here are the seven most common email marketing questions, that you were too afraid to ask, as answered by the experts.


What is the open rate and click-through rate?

The open rate is the ratio of the number of unique people in the email campaign who opened your email to those it was delivered to. Click rate is the same but for clicks. Open and click rate definitions do vary between email service providers so check the definition of your system. See also the S.A.M.E project definitions.

– Tim Watson, Founder at Zettasphere (@tawatson)


How are opens and clicks tracked?

Opens (rendered opens) are tracked by an invisible pixel that is loaded when the email is opened with images on. That pixel is given a unique identifier which is tied to the recipient.  When that person opens their email it is tracked to them. Opens can happen either in the preview pane, when an email is fully-loaded or even when the web version is visited.

Clicks are tracked by a URL redirect process; each link in an email is given a redirect with a unique tracking token that is tied to each individual recipient.  So they click a link, that link is logged in the database and then redirected to the final URL destination.  Each link is tracked separately.

So let’s say you receive an email and open it with images on, you then forward that email to five friends and they open it with images on and click on a few links. All of those opens/clicks will be attributed to you, as you were the first recipient. Even though others clicked and opened, the email still thinks you are the one making those actions.

Also, if you forward the email to a friend and they click the unsubscribe link, they will actually be unsubscribing you, as the email is tracked by recipient which was you.

– Chris Donald, Chief Strategist at Inbox Group (@inboxgroup)


What is an email bounce?

A bounce can be hard or soft. A hard bounce is a permanent bounce where the email address is not valid, for instance. A soft bounce is temporary like when a receiving server is down and you can continue to retry the sending with a higher success of reaching the subscriber.

– Kelly Lorenz, Marketing Strategist at Apsis (@KNLorenz)


What does previewing an email mean?

Broadly speaking, ‘previewing an email’ refers to anything that the user might see before fully opening an email campaign. This can include the preview pane in email clients, and additional preview text that is shown alongside the subject line in the inbox. As users often evaluate whether they should open the email based on these previews, it’s worth thinking about how to make these engaging and intriguing.

– Elliot Ross, Freelance Senior Creative Designer at (@iamelliot)


Can I retract a sent email campaign?

Some ISPs, such as Gmail, provide an option to “undo” the sending of an email. However, this feature is rare and not a 100% guarantee. Most email marketing companies do not provide this option. You will want to check ahead of time if this feature is offered. Better yet, take a few moments to look over your email before you click “Send” to verify its accuracy.

–  Andy Shore, Social Networking Manager at Benchmark Email (@benchmarkemail)


What does CAN-SPAM really restrict me from doing, or require me to do?

Don’t send stuff to people who said they don’t want it. Being decent, honest and transparent is a good start to conforming to CAN-SPAM. It’s the minimum legal standard rather than best practice. Offering opt-out, processing promptly and reliably is a key requirement. Here’s a good check list summary.

– Tim Watson, Founder at Zettasphere (@tawatson)

What email metrics are the most important?

Contrary to popular belief, standard email metrics like open, click and conversion rates don’t reveal the true impact of your email marketing program. At best these “process metrics” are diagnostic in nature. In my book, the most important email metrics – the ones that provide a true picture of email contribution – are ROI (return on investment), RPE (revenue per email address) and EAOV (average order value directly attributable to an email response).

– Karen Talavera, President Synchronicity Marketing (@SyncMarketing)


About the Author: I’m Scott Hardigree founder of Indiemark and curator of Email Critic. I can be reached at

Scott Hardigree
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