Google Analytics is an amazing tool. With some basic setup and a little tweaking, you can use it to track pretty much all your website traffic, including where it comes from and how your visitors behave once they’re on-site (including whether or not they convert, which is handy for all you online marketers out there). Best of all, it’s free—a common quality of Google products.

And while it can’t tell you everything about your website or online experiences, it’s one of the better web analytic products out there, even excluding cost as a considering factor.

But can you track in emails with Google Analytics?

Kind of.

Defining “Email Tracking” in Google Analytics

First, we need to define what “email tracking” with Google Analytics means, as it’s a somewhat vague phrase, since it could refer to a few different practices. For example, an email marketer might take it to mean analyzing the performance of an email blast or other email marketing campaign; determining opens, clicks, and other metrics is an important step in maximizing your email marketing ROI.

A salesperson, by contrast, might consider email tracking to be the process of determining how a lead interacts with your emails, such as whether they open your message or download your attachment.

Then we have a more open-ended process of email tracking; determining how your employees are spending their time while using email, such as by analyzing their number of sent and received emails throughout the day, or calculating the average length of email threads between your team members. Measuring and visualizing these elements are key in improving your email productivity.

Unfortunately, Google Analytics can’t help you in all these areas. It was designed as an application for website analytics, so while there are some email tracking capabilities you can unlock, you won’t be able to take a deep dive into your team’s Gmail activity—even if Gmail comes from the same parent company.

Setting Up Email Tracking With Google Analytics

If you’re interested in using Google Analytics to track email opens or link clicks for an email marketing campaign or a specific sales email, you can set up some level of email tracking.

This is a somewhat complicated process, and requires a bit of technical know-how, but is otherwise approachable. Just keep in mind you won’t be able to track many variables, nor is this the best solution for tracking your email productivity. Follow the five steps below to track emails with Google Analytics.

Step 1. Get a Google Analytics account.

First, you’ll need to sign up for a Google Analytics account if you haven’t already. You’ll have access to Analytics with any Google account, but you’ll need to set up a property (i.e., a website or app) and prove your ownership with a tracking code before you can start collecting and reviewing data related to it. This is how Google Analytics works; you install a short snippet of code in whatever online product you want to track, and Google will use that script to collect information on your behalf. This is a problem for email, since emails don’t load JavaScript the way websites do. But there’s a tricky way around this.

Step 2. Get your trackable URL.

You can start by generating a special URL, which will capture specific reporting data and tie it to your account. Google has a great guide on building custom tracking URLs here. You’ll need to specify a handful of parameters, including your Google Analytics Tracking ID, or tid, which you can find under Property Settings. You’ll also need to specify a customer ID (cid), though you can set this to 555 to keep things anonymous, and other items like hit type, event category, event action, and the path and title of the tracked item. You can fill in most of your own custom language here. When done, you’ll have a long URL, something like this: https://www.google-analytics.com/collect?v=1&tid=(youraccounttidhere)&cid=555&t=event&ec=emailtracking&ea=open&dp=%2Femail%2Fcampaign1&dt=Email%20Tracking. Phew.

Step 3. Turn your trackable URL into an image.

This is how you can get around Google Analytics’s natural limitations for email tracking. Essentially, you’ll wrap this URL into an HTML tag for an image, like <img src=”yourURLhere”>. Paste this into an HTML file, along with at least some of the text from your email, then save as an HTML file. The idea is that you’ll use this prompt to open an image as a sneaky way to get your email recipients to open a custom URL—this code prompts users to download an image from a URL, but instead of hosting an image, it hosts your tracking URL. This may seem deceptive, since Google generally doesn’t like it when you redirect web users unnecessarily, but this process is outlined by Google directly, so you can use this method guilt-free.

Step 4. Send a test email.

Open that HTML file in a browser, then copy and paste everything into an email draft. Note that if you’re using an email account in a browser, you may get some funky errors; it’s better to use a program like Outlook or Apple Mail. If you have any tweaks to make, you can make them now, but if you’re just testing things out, it won’t much matter what text you use in the body of your email. Send the email to yourself or to a coworker to see if your visit registers in Google Analytics. If it doesn’t, something may have gone wrong with the file. Or your email program. Or your tracking URL. Honestly, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong here, since there are so many moving parts to consider.

Step 5. Start tracking.

When you’re done, you can head to Google Analytics and check out the real-time analytics page. Replicate your testing conditions with your real email, and watch as your “active user” numbers begin to climb—this is an indication that people are opening your nonexistent email. In other words, they’re opening your email.

This isn’t a perfect system, even for email campaign tracking. It doesn’t track many behavioral Gmail metrics. It’s a pain to set up. And it doesn’t work that well for Gmail, ironically, because Gmail typically prevents this type of email tracking by saving the picture and storing it. However, it’s one of the only ways to track emails with Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a web tracking application, first and foremost, so if you’re interested in learning more about your emails, it’s better to seek the help of one of the third-party email tracking apps we’ve recommended that are specifically dedicated to the cause.

What About Email Tracking for Productivity?

Assuming you’re able to manage the multi-step technical process of setting up email tracking with Google Analytics, or are able to track your sales and marketing emails through some other platform, you might be left wondering how to track the other emails important to your company’s bottom line.

Remember, your team’s email habits have a direct impact on your overall productivity. If you want to increase that productivity, or just get a better understanding of how your team is working, it’s important to have some method of email tracking, measurement, and analysis in place.

That’s where our tool comes in. You can think of it as Google Analytics for Gmail, capable of collecting data like number of emails sent and received, top senders and recipients, email traffic by day/hour, average email word counts, and even average email response times. It integrates with you and your employees’ email accounts with a single click, and displays a comprehensive and customizable Gmail report, so you can interact with immersive data visuals that tell you exactly how your team is emailing.

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