Over-Collecting Clicks

E-mail marketing campaigns involve blasts of e-mails that incorporate tools intended to measure response rates.  HTML-based emails can include blank images that create a record in your Web site analytics.  Since the e-mail is essentially a Web page and the invisible image is on your Web server, when the email is opened, it triggers a visit record.  Another way to measure response is using links that redirect the visitor to the appropriate resource.  The trick is to avoid these links looking spammy.

I was talking to a colleague about this because they had received reports back from recipients that their organizations were now blocking all links that redirected.  In other words, if the link you clicked didn’t actually go where it appeared to, the organization’s network would block it.  You can tell by hovering your mouse over a link.  This link goes to where it says it does – https://ofaolain.com/about/ – and this one gets there through redirection https://ofaolain.com/about/.  Since phishing and other exploitative emails are more likely to obscure the redirects, it makes sense for these to be blocked.

How to solve this balance of using bulk e-mail marketing while not losing visitors due to the redirection problem?  There are lots of ways to avoid the redirection but the purpose of it is to capture information about who is opening your email and then taking an action.  If you lose the redirection, is there any benefit to using bulk emailers?

The core question became:  do you use the data that you capture from the email?

If the answer is yes, then you need to figure a way to continue to provide links that can add visitor information.  If the answer is no, then you can substitute the obfuscated URL for the real URL, so that the visible URL and the actual one are the same.  In this case, there is no redirection but (a) you will still get visit information on the page you send the person to and (b) you won’t lose potential click-throughs to organizational security.

If the answer is yes, you might still avoid redirection and just enrich the URL you are using.  For example, if I used a URL that was


the Web server will ignore the ? and everything after it but it will still get registered in my Web analytics so I can see who clicked the link.  This is just one of many alternatives.

More importantly, though, was how much information the redirection was capturing.  In my colleague’s case, the resulting URL included a lot more information than the campaign:  first name, last name, e-mail address, and so on.  If you aren’t using this information proactively – for example, that you’re going to cleanse your marketing list based on it or focus your future efforts on – then it seems to me that you don’t want to capture it in the first place.

In particular, if you are having an event and capturing a registration at the end, you may only need to know the click-through rate from the email plus the registrant information.  In that sort of situation, you may be better of skipping the email redirection, using a simple URL, and avoiding capturing a bunch of unnecessary data.

I realize that not capturing this data is anathema to many businesses and marketers.  In libraries and non-profits, though, where we may want to be more wary about collecting information that isn’t going to be used, simpler can be better when faced with the alternative of having your links blocked.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.