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Who clicked that link ?

July 29, 2013

Recently I saw a post from Laura Atkins about one particular type of spam filter following links in emails before the intended recipient even has a chance to open the message. She concluded:

"I expect more filters will adopt this behavior over time. Some ISPs may even start following links to some URLs."

There have been some interesting updates in this area recently that it might be worh thinking about if email open and click rates are important to your marketing.

The rise of URL shortening and easily available online file sharing services has meant that just looking at the text of a link is no longer enough, because a link from Bit.ly could, and does, end up on any domain. This means increasingly the only way to see where a link goes is to follow it and then examine the final page or image to see if it meets the rules of the mail server.

We do occasionally see this with some of our clients, and in fact you may have seen it yourself when looking in detail at the click history of a particular target in one of your campaigns in the CRM section of Reports. In isolation it's fairly easy to spot because you see a sudden burst of activity just after sending, usually before an open is recorded and almost always from a different IP address than later clicks. This sort of thing can skew raw open and click rates, which is why we always encourage people to focus on the unique rates instead.

It's also difficult to remove automatically, because there are perfectly normal reasons why you might see several links clicked close together, or before an open. This can be because the target's mail client isn't loading images, or because they hit a link by accident and then immediately noticed and clicked the correct one. Opens from different IP address for the same target is very common, as we often see people reading the same email on a mobile phone, and then again on their desktop when they reach the office.
As Laura says more and more mail servers are likely to begin doing this over time.

Internet Service Provider TalkTalk has already begun visiting the same links as it's customers as part of a new anti-malware system it is developing. Some commentators are saying this is a bit like a 'digital stalker' who follows you around the web during your normal day to day browsing. Unfortunately, filtering them out will be hard work, because unlike companies like McAfree who publish a list of address involved, TalkTalk is keeping the details secret.  This makes the extra clicks look just like the automatic clicks Laura and we have been seeing for a while now.

This is why you must make sure that pages that take an action such as adding or removing someone to a particular service have a confirmation step. As well as being good practice ('opt-in') it means these automatic systems will not cause duplicates or other issues for you.

Posted by Tom Chiverton

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