Ethically gauging user engagement on your newsletter

posted by Ayush Newatia on November 4th, 2021
Spy pixels, click tracking and other invasive data hoarding methods are par for the course in most mailing list or newsletter apps these days. The problem is these methods have no respect for the reader's privacy. Even worse, this practice is not GDPR compliant so you'd be breaking EU law by using these methods.

Take spy pixels for example; they can let the sender of an email know how many people opened their email, where they opened the email and how many times they opened the email with the reader being none the wiser. That's just downright creepy! That's why Scattergun has taken a stand against these practices and doesn't offer tracking of any kind.

The data doesn't tell you anything substantial either. It cannot tell you if they actually read the email; whether they liked it; if there was anything they didn't like; or if they had any suggestions for improvement. Data tells you the "what" and never the "why".

Newer email services like HEY block spy pixels while naming and shaming the perpetrators. Users can also block the loading of remote content in their email client which will prevent the loading of the spy pixel. These counter-measures are gaining traction as people are taking notice of the fact they're being spied on. Hence, you can't rely on the data collected from these tracking methods as there's no way of knowing how many people in your reader base are deploying these counter-measures.

HEY calling out the use of spy pixels


This begs the question: how do you gauge the engagement on your newsletter or mailer? It's simple, just ask your readers! One option is to add a button at the bottom of your email telling your readers to click it to acknowledge they'd read the email. You can explain it's helpful to know people are engaging which keeps you motivated to produce similar content. That button could lead to a serverless function or something that tracks a hit count. Or you could ask them to reply to the email with any feedback they may have or even just to let you know they liked the email.

The quantity of data gathered using these methods will be lower, sure, but it'll be more insightful and it won't be insidious. It allows the reader to be in control of whether they let you know they've read the email or not; just the way it should be!

As of today, Scattergun doesn't have a mechanism for readers to provide feedback other than replying to the email. But, I'm committing to building some kind of "read receipt" feature which would allow a reader to click a link in the email to acknowledge they'd read it and you'd be able to see the count in the Scattergun dashboard. I don't know what this feature will look like exactly, but it will be in that ballpark. Watch this space!

Assessing people's engagement with your newsletter or mailer is important, but let's do it ethically!

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