Spam filters are becoming the bane of my existence lately. The way I have my email set up, they hit Bluehost first because my email address is connected to my website. Then they get forwarded to a Gmail account because I like the tools they have.
A few weeks ago I was getting calls from people asking if I’d received their email. I’m talking clients and show bookers. People I really need to get messages from. After searching around the Gmail spam filter and not finding them I realized there’s probably a spam filter on my Bluehost account too. And there they were. Along with lots of other emails I should have received mixed in with the Cialis ads and financially strapped Nigerian princes.
What You’ll Learn
- Why an email tracking service is important
- How the tracking services work
- My process for testing the email tracking services
- Five popular services and my test results with them
- My pick for the best email tracking service
Long story short, I turned off the Bluehost spam filter completely and let Gmail handle things itself. Even turned off, my Bluehost account will still tag stuff as spam, just not file it away in another folder. So I still have to surf through my Gmail spam folder a couple times a week to make sure I’m not missing anything. And I usually find stuff.
So this all made me think that maybe my emails aren’t getting to people sometimes too. Like a booker at a club that I did great at and asked to headline me next time? And yet I’m getting no response to emails? How soon before someone gets to sue one of these companies for lost work because of overzealous spam filters?
Why not just call? Because the people I’m emailing are extremely busy and having a comic call to just ask if they got an email isn’t going to endear me to them.
I need to see if these people are actually getting my emails or if I’m pissing in the wind. Delivery receipts are an idea, but a lot of people have them automatically turned off in their email programs. And I don’t think Gmail even supports them.
Email Tracking Services
So I started looking into email tracking services. Of course, that’s included on the emails I send out to my mailing lists through Your Mailing List Provider. But I need something for single business emails.
All of these programs basically work by inserting a 1 pixel image into the email that will then show up in the stats when the email is opened. It’s not foolproof as some people have images turned off. It will look unopened if that happens. But at least it’s a starting point for further contact.
I found 5 different tracking sites to try out and I’ll give you the rundown below.
My testing process:
I sent similar (but not exact emails) to myself from Gmail, Thunderbird, and the tracking site’s email composer interface if it has one. I also tried sending both to my Bluehost account (which gets forwarded to Gmail) and directly to my Gmail account to see how the different spam filters react.
Package: 20 outgoing emails and 500 incoming notifications per day.
Other Features: Link tracking, email scheduling, delivery receipt, email expiration mode
To use this service, you sign up for a free account. You can then either use their internal email composer or whatever you normally use. If you use your own, then you simply append “.whoreadme.com” at the end of the email address you’re sending to. That part will not show up on the receiving end, so your tracking is invisible.
When opened, you’ll get an email telling you it’s been opened. You can also check your account on their website where everything is kept track of.
Any email sent to my Bluehost address was tagged as spam and got caught in Gmail’s spam filter. The main reason seeming to be the small image served from a 3rd party source. Now you certainly don’t want the tracking service to do more damage to deliverability than what might already be happening. So this didn’t make me happy.
Emails sent directly to my Gmail address were not tagged as spam and hit the inbox just fine. Gmail’s default setting though, is to not show images. So people have to click the “show images” thing for the tracking to work. And that can come off as weird if there’s no actual image they can see.
This service also lets you add your own SMTP server to their system. This has two advantages. First, you don’t have to worry about credits anymore. Send as many as you want. Second, the little graphic won’t be coming from a 3rd party so, in theory, should be less likely get filtered to spam.
I added my Bluehost SMTP server and sent emails from both the onsite composer and Thunderbird. This time Bluehost didn’t tag it as spam at all. But Gmail did, and filtered it as such. Their reason being “It’s similar to messages that were detected by our spam filters.”
I wasn’t sure if that was due to the many recent emails from my address that got sent to spam because of Bluehost or if Gmail was legitimately tagging it as spam. I tried a test email from Thunderbird to Bluehost with no tracking and it landed in the inbox just fine.
So my final result was that no matter if I sent it through my SMTP server or theirs, one of the spam filters picked up every time, therefore decreasing the deliverability of the email.
I’ll be testing the other sites momentarily, and reporting back if they work any better. But right now I have to leave to do a show. Check back soon for more information.
Score: 1 out of 5 tiny happy Satans
Free – Edit 4/19/16 – Yesware is ending their free tier at the end of April. So this one will be out of the running for now unfortunately. I’ll be doing some more testing and update the rest of this as soon as I can.
Package: 100 tracking events per month
Other Features: Loads of reports and email templates. Even more stuff on their paid plans.
Yesware’s service is really geared towards businesses rather than individual users. That being the case, I’m hoping it’s even more deliverable than other services. All I need is tracking, so I’m not super concerned with all the other stuff they offer right now. But if you’re running a business where you need a lot of team collaboration on sales emails, their monthly prices are really pretty reasonable, starting at $5.
Their system works as a Gmail addon for either Firefox or Chrome. It’s very quick to do. Just click the “Add Yesware to Gmail” button on the site and your browser will ask you to allow the installation. (I’m using Firefox for this example). Then it kicks up to big buttons. Clicking the first will let your Gmail account verify and finish installing the Yesware addon. The second one takes you to your Gmail account.
Once you’re in Gmail there’s a popup giving you some options of what to do with Yesware. I clicked on the “tracking email” one and it went to my regular Gmail page without any further instructions.
But if you just click “Compose” you’ll see a new little toolbar at the bottom of the composition window. It looks just like the pictures below…
The tracking checkbox, by default, tracks opens but not link clicks. You can change the preferences to track link clicks as well. The remind button lets you set a reminder to follow up when either you don’t receive a reply or no matter what happens. Handy for keeping up with different prospects.
The CRM checkbox lets you send the email to whatever CRM system you’re using. And they link up with lots. I don’t use a CRM system, so I won’t be playing with that part of it. And then on the right there are links to whatever template emails you’ve set up. They start you off with 3 prospecting templates that probably have absolutely no bearing on your business.
Since this is a strictly Gmail thing, my testing will be a little different. I will send emails from Gmail to both my Bluehost and Gmail address and see what the spam filters do.
On the first pass, everything looks great. I sent emails to both my emails and they both showed up in the inbox without fail and without any spam tagging.
The only thing I see so far is that Yesware is telling me the email was opened as soon as it hits my Gmail inbox. In speaking with one of their techs, it seems to be because I was emailing myself. Apparently sometimes the compose window will generate an open signal. However, you can turn off tracking yourself in the preferences. And the stats in my account on their website were accurate.
So far, Yesware seems to be a winner.
Score: 4 out of 5 tiny happy Satans
Package: 150 tracked emails per month (5 per day)
Other Features: Basic metrics. Other features like in depth reports and team integration are available with their reasonably priced paid plans.
Bananatag works as an addon for either Gmail or Outlook. Or you can use the “btag.it” extension on any email address to track from other platforms or mobile devices, much like WhoReadMe.
I’m going to test the extension tag, sending to both my email addresses, from Thunderbird.
Emails sent to my Bluehost address were tagged as spam, but still hit the inbox on Gmail. Emails sent directly to Gmail were not tagged at all and were also delivered just fine. So a couple little snags, but delivery seems to make it pretty well and the emails notifying me they’d been opened came through quickly after.
One quirk I noticed is that the resulting emails I received (from myself) had lost all of their formatting. So if you type in short paragraphs with carriage returns or have a specially formatted sig file, it appears all that formatting will be obliterated by the time it gets to your recipient. It would seem to me, that since the email is being sent in an html format anyway, they’d be able to retain formatting.
Score: 2 out of 5 tiny happy Satans
Package: 150 tracked emails per month (Max 5 per day)
Other Features: Basic stats, ability to use your own image for a tracking image
I’ll admit I was a little turned off right off the bat by the Adsense ad right at the top of their home page and on every other page. That being said, they work on a “donation” basis of some sort. So, hell, as long as it works, who cares what their site looks like. Let’s see if it does.
This one also uses an email address extension (.getnotify.com) like some of the others. It’s a regular ‘ol easy signup process. Once signed up they give you a page of instructions on how to not to get dumped in the spam bin.
A few interesting notes from that guidelines page:
– “When sending email to yourself through an external service such getnotify.com, some email providers might put it in Spam/Junk folder. This will not happen when you send email to another party.” – I guess maybe there would be some sort of techie reason for that, but I’m not so sure. Probably something to curb email spoofing.
– “Always Write at least 3 to 4 lines of proper language in your emails.” – That’s great unless you’re really sending just a quick note to a person. But I suppose this can be worked around.
Testing will be the similar to the first one. Emails sent to both Bluehost and Gmail addresses, and composed both in Gmail and Thunderbird. And of course, following their guidelines.
Both emails written in Thunderbird were delivered to the inbox without a problem and no spam tagging. However, I did notice that delivery was a lot slower than some of the other services. Not 3rd world country slow, but maybe an extra minute or two.
Strangely, one of the open notification emails did end up in my Gmail spam box. But just the one.
As well, both emails written in Gmail were delivered just fine without spam tagging. So delivery looks good on this one, though it’s a lot slower than other services. Man, I feel like a 1st world douche saying that…
Score: 3 out of 5 tiny happy Satans
Package: 10 emails per month (dinky, right?)
Other Features: Email scheduling and reminders. Paid plans give you unlimited emails.
Ok, this one also runs as a Gmail addon for Firefox and Chrome. Which means we’re comparing against Yesware above. And it works in the same way with a little checkbox on the compose screen. The only significant addition here is email scheduling. You can write an email and schedule to be sent at a later time. In the meantime it sits in your Drafts folder where you can either edit or delete it before the scheduled send time.
… Might be a good idea for that angry email to your soon-to-be-ex, yeah?
The email scheduling isn’t something I’d use that often. And since they only let you have 90% fewer emails each month than Yesware, I don’t see a way this one can win. So I’m not going to bother to try it.
If you’d like to try it out and report back in the comments below, be my guest. 🙂
So, let’s wrap this up…
I think the big winner here is Yesware. Easy to use, good delivery, and quick tech support. The downside is that you have to be using Gmail in a browser to track an email. It can’t be used in Thunderbird or Outlook, or on your mobile device.
So, the backup plan, particularly if emailing from my phone will be GetNotify’s easy email tag. They also had good delivery and ease of use. The biggest downside for them is how slow they are to deliver.
Have you had a different experience? Or know of a service (preferably with a free account) that fixes the downsides I mentioned on the others? Leave me a note in the comments below and check it out.