Request a Read Receipt
There are a couple of different ways to know whether or not someone read your email. If you're simply sending an email to a colleague or contact, you can request a read receipt (also called a return receipt, or confirm receipt.)
A read receipt is a notification that confirms that the person who the email was intended for has received it. Most professional major email platforms allow you the option to request a read receipt for any email you send.
When you request a read receipt, the recipient will see a pop-up at the bottom of the email telling them that a read receipt was requested. They will then have the option to click a button to send the read receipt.
This method is nice because it requires explicit consent from the recipient to let the sender know the email was received. This is great for privacy-concerned individuals.
Read receipts are easy for recipients to do, and easy for senders to implement - however, the read receipt feature doesn't work well for cold leads. The method requires the recipient to confirm the read receipt. A person who doesn't know you is unlikely to be interested in returning your read-receipt request.
Read receipt requests work great for internal emails amongst coworkers and colleagues, or with warm prospects who have already had some interaction with you.
Common Email Clients and Read Receipts
You won't be able to request a read receipt from your free version of a Gmail account - however, you can request one from a Google Workspace core services account.
From the Admin console, go to Apps → Google Workspace → Gmail → User Settings. In the Email Read Receipts sections, specify the senders to your users can return receipts. Click Save.
Once you've enabled the option, you can request a read receipt on any email by clicking the ellipsis at the bottom and selecting "Request Read Receipt."
Read receipts are available to all Outlook users by default. You don't need to enable anything to make them work.
When composing an email, click the "Email" icon and you'll see options to request a read receipt.
Apple Mail doesn’t support read receipts by default, but you can enable this feature using the Terminal.
Launch the Terminal app using the SearchBar (open SearchBar with command + space, and type "Terminal.") Then, copy and paste the following into the terminal window:
Use Email Tracking Tools
The other way to find out if someone read your email is to utilize email tracking tools. Email tracking tools are great for cold leads because they don't require any input from the recipient to send a read receipt.
Email tracking tools offer features beyond just read receipts: they can tell you how many times an email was opened, what links were clicked inside the email, when the email was read, and more.
Understanding Email Tracking
Email tracking is a built-in feature of most email marketing tools. Platforms like Mailchimp, Mailerlite, and SendGrid have email-tracking software built into their core services. If you use one of these email platforms, you may already be using email tracking tools.
What is Email Tracking?
Email tracking is the process of tracking emails and using the data to make informed business decisions. When you know which emails your customers are responding to, you can analyze the content of those emails and use those findings to craft better emails going forward.
How Does Email Tracking Work?
Most email tracking tools work by adding a single pixel to the body of an email as an image. When the email is opened, the image loads and the sender receives information about the exact time, location, and date that the pixel was loaded.
Why Use Email Tracking?
Email marketing is the single most effective form of online marketing. A robust and healthy email list is the foundation of any online marketing effort. If you're not tracking your emails and learning about your user's habits, you are missing out on valuable information that can help you connect better with your clients and customers.
Types of Email Tracking
There are three main types of email tracking tools. Let's take a quick look at what they are.
As mentioned, pixel tracking places a single, invisible pixel into the body of an email. When the email is opened, the pixel loads and the metadata is sent to the sender. It requires no input from the recipient and happens entirely in the background.
It does not tell you whether the email was actually read, or if any links in the email were clicked. It simply tells you that the email was opened.
As with personal and work emails, you can request read receipts from your email tracking tools as well. This is a great option if you have an active and engaged mailing list who are conditioned to clicking links in your emails and is happy to return read receipt requests.
You should always be tracking any links included in your emails. Email link-tracking software redirects your recipient to a custom URL, where the click is tracked, and from there redirects them to the final page.
Enabling Email Tracking
Email tracking tools are built into most major email platforms like Mailerlite and Mailchimp. However, you can also add email tracking to your regular email client.
How to Enable Email Tracking in Gmail
Once you've installed the Chrome extension, connect it to your Gmail account, and you'll start to see green checkmark icons next to any emails in your Sent outbox that have been opened. Hover over the checkmarks to see how many times the email was opened.
How to Enable Email Tracking in Outlook
Similar to read receipts, Outlook includes the option to request a delivery receipt. Delivery receipt requests tell you whether the email has been delivered, while read receipt requests require input from the recipient to tell you it has been read.
Click on the "Email" icon while composing an email to add a delivery receipt option to your outgoing message.
How to Enable Email Tracking in Apple Mail
Like Gmail, Apple Mail doesn't let you track emails by default, but there is a third-party app available in the App Store that will let you do this. It's called Mail Tracker.
Once you download and install the app, you'll get instant push notifications any time your emails are opened. You can configure your notification options through the app. The app works across all your Apple devices.
Email Tracking Services
In addition to these services, there are many third-party email tracking tool options that you can download and use with any mail service. Most offer free and paid options - free tiers are usually limited to a certain number of emails per month or day, while paid tiers offer unlimited tracking and advanced features like link tracking.
Some of the most popular third-party services include:
- HubSpot - the free version sends notifications as soon as someone opens your emails. You get a complete overview of interactions with your emails, and you can send tracked emails from Gmail, Outlook, or HubSpot.
- YesWare - free version integrates with either Gmail or Microsoft Outlook. Once installed, you can see who opens emails, clicks links, and views attachments with real-time notifications.
- SalesLoft - this option integrates directly with Gmail or Outlook, or allows you to send emails from your own CRM. It provides templates, link tracking, email open tracking, and A/B testing.
Benefits and Risks of Email Tracking
Before you get started with email tracking, it's best to understand both the benefits and the risks.
The benefits of email tracking are easy to understand: you get more insight into your customers' behaviors, and you get to know whether or not your carefully crafted emails are being read. Knowing which emails are effective is incredibly powerful when it comes to crafting marketing emails down the road.
The risks of email tracking mainly to do with security and privacy. Email tracking has the potential to expose sensitive information about your users. EFF researchers discovered that the data gathered by tracking pixels and tracked links are often transmitted over unsecured, unencrypted HTTP, as opposed to HTTPS. This runs the risk of exposing data to potential attackers.
Best Practices for Using Email Tracking
To avoid exposing your users' data and to ensure that you treat your email list with care and respect, always adhere to best practices.
Only use tried-and-true, reputable tracking services like the ones listed in this article. When researching third-party services, ask what protocol they use to send user data, and opt for HTTPS wherever possible.
Finally, always include an "Unsubscribe" button at the bottom of every email. The US's CAN-SPAM legislation, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, states that you must include a clear way for subscribers to opt out of your messages
How accurate is email tracking?
Email tracking is extremely accurate. It can tell you down to the nanosecond when an email was opened, how many times it was opened, which links were clicked, or whether the email bounced.
Can you track if an email was forwarded?
No. Email platforms and tracking tools do not include features that allow you to track whether an email was forwarded.
Can email tracking be turned off?
Yes. To turn off email tracking in your own email client, take a look at the instructions in this article for enabling and configuring email tracking.
Can email tracking be blocked?
Yes. There are browser extensions and plug-ins for most major email platforms that allow users to block email tracking.
What if the recipient doesn't have images enabled?
If the user doesn't allow images to render in their email, the tracking pixel will not work. Most users have images enabled by default, so it's only those most privacy-conscious users that might choose to do this. The majority of email recipients have images enabled.