Think your email click data is straightforward? Think again.

Oct 19, 2021

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It seems simple: you put together an email campaign, send it out, and watch the click data pour in.

You can count on the fact that the click data you are watching and analyzing (aggregate counts, percentages, WHO is clicking, heatmaps, etc.) is representative of a real person that is interacting with your super well thought out email marketing campaign, right?

Wrong. 

Those of us deep in the world of email understand that – in addition to the actual people interacting with our email campaigns, and the email campaigns of our thousands of customers – there is another force at work that is impacting our click data.

So what is this additional force at work?

In short, it’s bots clicking links in emails as a security measure.

What are email security gateways?

Email security gateways, or email security systems, or email spam filters, are just a few of the common terms for the services that organizations employ in order to scan their inbound email content for viruses and other IT security threats.

These solutions typically consist of several technologies working together to enforce a set of rules around inbound email. One way for these software technologies to “scan” incoming emails by clicking on the links within the emails with a security bot.

And in some cases, these click bots can do a lot of clicking.

So much so that each link in an email to one user could be clicked, for example, 5 times within just a minute of receipt of that email. That’s a lot of fake clicks.

What types of emails do these spam filters impact?

The short answer is all of them.

Bot activity affects the big players in the email space like Mailchimp and Sendgrid all the way down to mom and pop email service providers. Mailchimp says this about users who notice sky-rocketing click rates: “Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to see if a link has been clicked by a spam filter or your intended recipient, but if you see an unusually high number of clicks from a single domain, it’s likely to be a spam filter.” 

And this is not a data and analytics problem that is going to go away soon.

These software providers are only gaining in popularity as they become less expensive and easier to implement. Of course, these services are ultimately performing important and a much-needed function to eliminate IT threats, but they give email senders far and wide quite the headache. 

What does this mean for interpreting my click data?

Keep in mind is that even though it might be tempting, filtering out what you think are from suspect IP addresses and/or domains entirely from your email analytics reports could cause you to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. 

That is, you might be ignoring some real, natural click data as a result.

Furthermore, any IP address associated with these spam filter clicks will constantly be in flux and never published for certain. These providers want their services to continue to perform as under the radar as possible. 

At rasa.io, we recommend a few things to any email sender in order to get a better grasp of what their reports are telling them:

  • Pay more attention to unique click rates over total click rates, as the validity of the total rates is the greatest victim of a security spam filter
  • Validate the click data on links to your own website content by looking at Google Analytics and other website analytics reports. Google Analytics likely will not register any corresponding bot traffic from these artificial clicks. However, you do need to be wary of discrepancies between analytics tools and email tool dashboard data: whereas your email service might have higher than normal numbers because of email security gateways, tools like Google Analytics often underreport data due to a few factors, including analytics opt-out tools, and their inability to thoroughly track traffic from all email browsers.
  • Ask the right questions. Your email service providers will likely have some insight as to how they identify and treat bot activity.

If you’ve got any questions about email data or sending a more successful email newsletter, schedule a demo with us today.

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