The MarTech Matrix

  • November 10, 2021
  • Reading time: 3 min

The year is 1999. You’re sat in your local Odeon, watching the story of self-aware machines imprisoning mankind unfold.

Fast forward 22 years, and The Matrix is back.

No, not the new film (although yes, technically the Matrix 4 is out in December). We’re talking about the real-life rise of self-aware machines. And they’re doing something far worse than imprisoning all mankind: they’re terrorising marketers, opening and clicking our marketing emails and distorting all of our precious metrics as they go.

Sadly, we haven’t got the choice of taking a blue pill and pretending we know nothing about the world of bots. As marketers, it’s the cold hard truth of the red pill all the way.

So now we know, but what can we do?

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Hindrance – or help?

It’s estimated that more than half of web traffic originates from bots (we’ll call them agents for the purposes of this blog). As scary as that may sound, their purpose isn’t usually nefarious – but their presence does impact marketers significantly.

Well, email bots (agents!) are designed to open emails and click links in emails to explore, identify, and block links to malware or phishing attacks from entering a recipient’s inbox. Their job is to snoop around your inbox until they spot an email, pounce on any suspect links, and follow through to test if there’s trouble ahead.

Trouble is, these actions simulate real user engagement and can cause false opens and clicks data to be recorded.

So, what are the MA platforms doing about these agents?

HubSpot is currently working on redesigns to email reporting to better separate legitimate contact email engagement from that generated by security software. But what if you want to be The One who takes matters into their own hands?

Fighting back against the bots

This one’s been puzzling the OG MA team for a while – and we think we’ve managed to piece together a short-term solution. Think of us as Morpheus. Holding down the fort until Neo comes along and completely solves the issue.

Our solution? Place a hidden link in an email; a link that can’t be seen by the human eye. Then when reporting on email metrics, make sure to only account for link clicks when the recipient hasn’t also clicked the hidden link. This means we’re able to determine when agents have infiltrated an email, allowing us to ignore these metrics as agents will always click ALL email links.

Unfortunately, as we all know, agents have the ability to multiply. Just a couple of months ago, Apple unveiled Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), which is expected to deploy this autumn. MPP will cause an email’s content to automatically load when it’s delivered to the Apple Mail client, making it appear as if the subscriber opened every email. HubSpot have outright said that this software will mean email marketers will have to shift their focus to more stable metrics like clicks, click rate and conversion rate moving forward – meaning open rates may eventually become null and void.

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In other words: the bad guys are multiplying faster than we can keep up. At that point, even our hidden link solution won’t help.

We do however have a different solution for Apple’s MPP, but it relies on the various MA platforms playing ball. As soon as an email enters an inbox, Apple will open it immediately, with almost no time delay. This means we can assume that if an email is opened within 10 seconds it’s likely to be an agent. At the moment, the filters available on the main MA platforms don’t allow us to break down ‘opens’ by’ time from the email being delivered’. But it’s certainly a solution we may see cropping up in the near future.

Coming soon to an inbox near you

If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that privacy updates will continue to occur among the major email providers – and as regulations and technology changes continue to raise the bar on privacy, marketing will be forced to change too. Marketing automation software providers will be forced to use fewer individualised metrics and shift to use aggregate data, external activity, and more direct consumer interactions. A big change is on the horizon, but we’ll find ways to meet it when it does.

(Wish you could go back in time and choose the blue pill? Yeah, us too.)

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