Email servers read our emails

In Email Marketing by Xu CuiLeave a Comment

In the fall of 2019, we noticed an unusual high click rate of the emails we sent. The click rate reached as high as 500% in October, as shown in the yellow line in the figure below.

Open and click rate

As a background, the emails were sent to researchers by our Stork app, which helps researchers to stay informed of new, critical publications. On average, there are 1 million emails sent each month. So the rise of the click rate in the figure above is not by random fluctuation.

We were obviously excited to see how “engaging” our emails were! But 500% seems off. It means on average each email was clicked 5 times. This is unbelievably high. So we did an investigation.

We found that 90% of the clicks (roughly 4 million) were from as few as 12 computers (by IP address). Obviously these clicks are not done by human. A further investigation reveals that these computers belong to the big email providers (Google, QQ etc.).

Apparently, these companies, as well as smaller email servers of many universities or companies, sometimes do the following things:

  1. Scan texts in email
  2. Open images in email
  3. “Click” the links in the email

We may discuss in a separate time if this is disturbing in terms of privacy. But from a marketing point of view, we need to be aware of it. It explains some weird behaviors in email marketing. For example,

  1. Recipients from the same organization unsubscribed at the same time (the recipients’ server did the click)
  2. No recipient from a certain organization opens the email (the server scanned the text and put the emails to spam folder or even dropped them)
  3. Unusual high open or click rate (the server opened the images and clicked the links)

We obviously do not want the recipient’s email server to “unsubscribe” our contacts. So we suggest to use a “two-step” unsubscription. Your unsubscribe link should direct to a confirmation page, instead of unsubscribing directly. Here is an example confirmation page.

Lesson learned:

  1. There is a third person (email server) reading our emails
  2. The email server may “unsubscribe” our contacts
  3. It’s better to use a “two-step” unsubscription.

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