How do we detect openings?

Have you heard of the PIXEL, which detects openings?


When you send a newsletter, devices embed a small, pixel-sized image in the background. As soon as your subscribers view the images contained in a newsletter, they also download this PIXEL. In doing so, the systems detect the image download that is assigned to each recipient and can deduce that the newsletter has been opened… as simple as that! But is it really that simple?

A PIXEL that says it all, or not?

How are newsletter openings detected?

Your newsletter has been sent? Great… off you go in the stats. Wow, 60% open rate!

But have you ever wondered how newsletter systems manage to detect when a newsletter has been opened?

Well, to put it simply, your subscribers download an image attached to their profile at the moment of opening. The download of this small image, consisting of a PIXEL, is detected by the sending systems and triggers the recording of the opening for the profile associated with it.

Inboxes have worked to enable this practice for decades, making it an industry standard. But are we coming to the end of this era?

Recent privacy movements are putting this technique in jeopardy. As useful as this PIXEL is for analyzing your results… it’s also intrusive for the consumer. The general public is now suspicious of anything related to tracking, calling into question the long-term viability of this metric…

A metric which is always... always reliable?

An evolving technique

Do you rely exclusively on the open rate to establish the success rate of your newsletter campaigns? This rate is still an important indication of performance, but you might want to look a little deeper, because your data is probably wrong! Not because systems falsify data, but rather because things are changing…

Technological advances and growing privacy concerns are jeopardizing the accuracy of the data produced by this detection method. Once 90% reliable, the PIXEL is becoming less and less indicative of real, reliable data.

Let’s take a look behind the scenes of PIXEL opening detection.

At Apple, they're opening in droves!

In early 2020, the industry is on the move. The priority becomes privacy. Governments warn and suppliers act.

Fall 2021, Apple launches its “Privacy Protection” campaign in Mail. A revolution begins for the newsletter industry. As soon as iOS 15 and macOS 12 Monterey are released, users are offered the option of hiding the opening of their emails by easily activating a feature in their settings.

The technique is simple: Apple hides its users’ actual opening by systematically uploading all images (including the PIXEL) to remote servers, thus preventing detection of the recipients’ location and actual opening time.

As a result, we end up with false positives and a higher-than-real opening rate!

At Outlook, it's not easy!

Outlook is just the opposite of Apple. Widely used by businesses, the Outlook desktop application remains an obstacle to the PIXEL opening. And yes, the more the years go by, the less things change.

If you’re using Outlook, the application… not the one you’re accessing in your browser, but the one on your computer, you’ll know that you need to click on “Click here to download images”. To protect user privacy, Outlook prevents images from being downloaded automatically.

So, as you may have guessed, the PIXEL is not downloaded and opening detection is not possible. Outlook users are used to receiving newsletters with holes in them, so they usually download the images, but not necessarily.

As has always been the case with Outlook, this results in false negatives and a lower-than-real open rate!


The impact of iOS multi-address data protection

Protection for the entire targeted audience

Enabling data protection in Mail for Apple product owners doesn’t just apply to addresses! As soon as you have an email address, you can link it to the little blue Mail icon on your phone. The business address of your iPhone-owning subscribers is almost always included, while other email addresses such as,, etc., are largely integrated.

Last October, we published the TOP 10 inboxes. We told you to consider YOGA (Yahoo-Outlook-Gmail-Apple), the most popular inboxes. In this information, we stated that 58% of all recipients use Apple’s native inbox. Considering that around 95% of them own a device that offers this privacy feature, and that 95% of us activate it, we’re talking about just over 50% of users affected by this change!

How many Gmail and Outlook addresses do you have?

Gmail and Outlook address holders are far more likely to use their respective service provider’s applications than Mail. These web giants offer full-featured inboxes that users appreciate. Basically, these people are less likely to integrate their addresses into Apple’s native environment, thus protecting the PIXEL, since images are automatically downloaded into those environments.

As a result, it’s now essential to know the proportion of Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo! addresses in your database. This will enable you to better control your analysis of openings with full knowledge of the facts. Also consider your audience’s demographics and comfort with technology. This may influence adoption of Apple’s native box.

How do you measure the real effectiveness of a newsletter?

Changing minds

If you’re relying on open statistics to establish the success of your newsletters, it may be time to dig a little deeper with other metrics. While the open rate of a newsletter is an indication of the effectiveness of the subject line and header, as well as your audience’s interest in your organization, it’s not a true indicator of performance.

When it comes down to it, more precise metrics are needed to determine how well a newsletter is performing, especially if it’s a campaign made up of a series of newsletters.

We can categorize three (3) performance indicators:

1. Click-through and conversion rates

Create newsletters with clear conversion objectives from the start. The objective is not to be read, but to be clicked!

Prioritize these objectives when analyzing your results:

Focus directly on these objectives in your analyses. This information will enable you to establish the return on investment (ROI) of your campaigns, and judge their effectiveness.

2. Growth rates

Go back 1, 2, 5 or even 10 years. What do you notice about the number of addressees on your lists?

Gather information by asking yourself if :

In short, see if you can explain the growth or decline in the number of addressees, and try to replicate what’s working and eliminate what’s not.

3. Re-engagement rate

Do you have a high-quality recipients database? Have faith in them!

Study their behavior:

See what percentage of your passive contacts perform an action to get a real idea of your performance.

Don’t hesitate to run a re-engagement campaign for contacts whose opening you fail to detect.

How to adapt to false positives and false negatives?

See outside the openings

The newsletter landscape is changing. You need to adapt and change the way you think about newsletter performance analysis. Will we slowly move towards maximizing privacy at the expense of marketing data analysis? We’re already there!

We’d like to suggest a few ways to change your mindset:


Clicks at the top of the podium

Think of the open rate as an indicator of deliverability.

Prioritize click and conversion analysis.

Position your CTA buttons strategically.


Interactivity to the fore

Enhance your susbcribers’ user experience.

Adopt a maximum 65 image / 35 text ratio.

Clearly prompt action with the newsletter.


The brake on advanced targeting

Think twice before targeting to far and limit yourself to the interests of your subscribers.

Prioritize obtaining functional data and don’t push your tracking too far.

Respect the confidentiality of your contacts and ask for their consent.

Francis Sauvé

Marketing director

Want professional advice?​

Email-based communications strategies are no secret to this email software specialist. When ever you have questions about emailing strategies or how to get to a certain design goal, he his there to handle the situation.

Get more details on the PIXEL that detect openings by contacting him right now! He will be able to offer you innovative and creative solutions for your email marketing campaign.

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