Do You Need Email Tracking in Your Newsletter?

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Stop Tracking Random Emails – Greg Morris

Why on earth do you need to track your newsletter? Yes I see you, attempting to see when I open and on what device for absolutely no reason other than your ego. Stop joining in with the attention economy to satisfy your own need for validation. I’ve subscribed, I read it, it’s great. Isn’t that enough?

I actually have a different take than Greg here. While tracking that tells me what device you’re on or what time/location you opened the email is overkill, basic analytics on your email newsletter has real value in my opinion. “I’ve subscribed, I read it, it’s great. Isn’t that enough?” sounds reasonable, except with no analytics, I have no idea if you subscribed, if you read it, or if you gave any indication that you liked it. Maybe you shared it online and I saw that, or you emailed back and told me it was great, but as anyone who makes online content knows, it’s a very slim portion of your audience who takes the time to comment and that slim portion is often not representative of your audience as a whole.

When I was writing with MailChimp, I turned off all analytics, largely because it collected so much by default, and was clearly not needed for someone like me. When I moved to Substack a few months ago, I gained analytics again, although what Substack collects (or at least presents to authors) is far less invasive.

I’ll even let you peek behind the scenes at what I see about my emails.

The only thing I’m not showing is the list of subscribers, which I can see, but they probably wouldn’t love me sharing that list publicly (not that Birch Bark is a seedy newsletter or anything, they just would not have expected signing up would be a public thing).

The subscriber number is indeed a vanity metric, but it does tell me at least if people are staying with the newsletter, or if they’re losing interest and tapering off. And then the only real usage stats I get are what links are most popular in the emails I send out. As someone who’s newsletter is entirely based on giving people interesting links, this has actually been hugely helpful in figuring out what my readers like so that I can make sure to tailor my selections a bit to what I know they’re more likely to enjoy. The links/videos/art/music still needs to be interesting to me, but I will adjust my picks ever so slightly to make sure I’m not just writing for me.


If someone is using a tracker blocker on their email service (ironically, like I myself do with Hey) and I don’t get analytics from them, that’s fine too. I’m not an evil mastermind over here twirling my mustache as I gobble up data, I’m just trying to make something fun, and some basic numbers help me do that better. Also, if I was doing this for a living, as many more are these days, then having some metrics like these would be even more important as this was a true business.

Don’t get me wrong, there are limits, and I do not think it makes sense to have analytics around specifically who opened emails when, what devices they used, and absolutely not where they physically were when they did it. I’m sure marketing departments would argue that they need all this, but I’m really not convinced they do, and I certainly don’t think that’s needed for newsletters.