How would you track if someone opened your plain text email?

It will probably help to read our short discussion on tracking ‘opens’ in emails before reading this article.

Use Links For Tracking Opens In Plain Text Emails

Non-HTML (or “plain text”) emails can not have the tracking images that are normally used to track opens in HTML emails. There is simply no way to embed an image in a plain text email, because you can’t use the “img” tag (which is the HTML tag used to embed images) inside a plain text email . But, you can actually track “opens” from a plain-text email as well – although the user does have to click on a link in the email. This is exactly what some mass email senders do – they just track who clicks on the links inside plain text emails, and they then count those as ‘opens’. There is an obvious disadvantage here: if a plain text email is opened by a recipient, but he/she does not click on any of the links in that email then that will not be counted as an open because of the fact that you are just keeping track of who clicks on the links in the emails.

The details of how to track opens in plain text emails?

So, how would you actually track who clicks on the links in a plain text email? This actually involves a bit of modification of the links that are embedded in the email itself. When we say modification, we just mean that the actual URL is changed to first go through a server that logs the ‘open’, and maintains a count of the number of opens it has seen. Then the URL should redirect from the server to the actual original intended destination. If you are confused by this, an example should help clarify what exactly we mean.




Suppose you have a plain text email that contains links to two different pages in the email body – www.somesite.com?somepage=12 and, www.somesite.com?somepage=89. The first step to be able to track clicks on these links is to modify both of the links so the URL’s actually go through a script on your server – so those links become www.somesite.yourserver.com?somepage=12 and www.somesite.yourserver.com?somepage=89 (this is of course just an example, and you can modify the links however you please). Then, each time someone clicks on the links in the email, the script will log that click on the link – presumably in some sort of persistent storage on the server. Finally, the script on your server will automatically redirect those links back to the original destinations of www.somesite.com?somepage=12 and www.somesite.com?somepage=89. What do we mean when we say a script? Well, any simple server side script can do this pretty simple job – whether the script is written in PHP or Perl – if you’re not technical, you will need someone who is technical to do this for you.

Note that to someone who is reading the email, this whole process will be invisible – the only thing they may notice is the fact that the URL’s are slightly different. And, the details of how to implement this can definitely vary – but the general concept that links are modified to go through a server first, and then go back to the original intended destination is pretty much the same for most people who are trying to track opens in a plain text email.

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