How to Know if Someone Read Your Email

How to Know if Someone Read Your Email

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Rejection isn’t the hardest part of cold outreach and email marketing. It’s not knowing whether someone has actually read your message that can quickly become frustrating.

With no feedback, sales reps have a stark choice: let the connection slip away, or risk annoying your contact with multiple follow-ups. For marketers, there are even fewer good options.

This might seem like a problem without a solution. But there are ways to fix the issue.

In this post, we’re going find out how to know if someone read your email, whether the recipient clicked any links, and how to avoid dead email addresses.

Why Email Tracking Matters

From personal outreach to sending out the latest edition of your company newsletter, there are many situations where it would be helpful to know whether someone has opened your email.

For salespeople, email tracking makes it easier to find the right approach for each lead. When you can see that someone has read your email and ignored it, you can ask whether they are interested. Conversely, someone who hasn’t opened your message will be more likely to respond to a direct follow-up.

In digital marketing, understanding who is opening and interacting with your emails is a vital part of optimizing your approach. If people are reading your messages but not taking action, you know that the body content needs to be adjusted. If recipients are not reading your emails at all, your subject lines and send timing might need to change.

Email tracking can even be useful for internal messaging. For managers, open rates on important company-wide email blasts can indicate whether communication is getting through.

Email Open Tracking Methods

Of course, email does not natively support this type of data collection. If you want to unlock insights, you will need to choose one of the following email tracking methods:

Read Receipts

Read receipts are automated messages that get sent back to the sender when an email is opened. The delivery receipt confirms that the email was opened, and at what time. It’s exactly like the little icon you see next to a WhatsApp or Facebook message when someone has seen what you sent.

Read receipts can be useful in certain scenarios:

  • For important legal, medical, or financial documents where read confirmation is mandatory.
  • When emailing individual clients or prospects to confirm they've read key information.
  • For internal communications at a company where managers need to confirm all employees read a policy change or announcement.

However, read receipts do have one major weakness: many email clients block read receipt requests by default. In Microsoft Outlook, Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), Mail on iOS, and Gmail for Android, users can also opt to switch off the trackers for privacy. This is worth bearing in mind if you decide to use read receipts for tracking.

How to Use Read Receipts

This feature is built into both Gmail for Work (not the free version of Gmail) and Outlook.

In Gmail, you can enable read receipts after you create a new email. Click Compose, and select the little More options arrow in the bottom right of the pop-up compose window. Then, select Request read receipt to enable tracking on that message.

If you plan to send a lot of tracked emails from your Gmail account, using a third-party add-on like MailTrack may make the process a little easier.

In Outlook, simply navigate to File > Options > Mail > Tracking and select the checkbox for “Delivery receipt confirming the message was delivered to the recipient's email server” or “Read receipt confirming the recipient viewed the message.”

Pixel Tracking

A more advanced method of collecting data from emails is pixel tracking. This is where a tiny, invisible image is embedded within your message; when the email is opened, the pixel image is downloaded and your email server records the event.

In comparison with read receipts, there are several benefits to using pixel tracking:

  • Salespeople and marketers can monitor how many times an individual email is opened.
  • Pixels can track email opens anonymously, without collecting personal information (e.g. IP address).
  • Pixel tracking data is aggregated and available for analysis in most email service provider (ESP) dashboards.

Unfortunately, pixel tracking has a familiar weakness. While email clients don’t block pixels specifically, some automatically block images in emails from unknown sources — including the tracker pixel.

Thankfully, this feature isn’t universal. As a result, the data you collect from pixel tracking is still likely to provide useful insights.

How to Use Pixel Tracking

Most professional ESPs and CRMs offer pixel tracking as an option nowadays (e.g. MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, MailBird).

Alternatively, you can use a dedicated tool like Paste Pixel to enable pixel tracking within your favorite email app. Such tools usually work through a Chrome extension, or you can manually paste some HTML code into the body of each message.

Link Clicks

The idea of link tracking is to record every time someone clicks on a particular link within your email. However, you can also use this data to get an estimate of open rate.

The logic is pretty simple here. In order for someone to click a link in an email, they probably had to open the message first.

The mapping between the two isn’t perfect, but link clicks serve as a decent proxy for estimating how many people are reading your email messages.

The potential benefits of adopting link click tracking include:

  • No additional tracking needed; links are automatically tracked by most email services.
  • Tracking indicates both open and engagement with content.
  • Better accuracy than pixels or read receipts.

Where click tracking falls down a little is on specificity. Link clicks do not specifically tally with opened messages, and there’s no way of knowing which recipient has visited each link. In addition, you may find some of your data is warped by spambots clicking on links.

In spite of these potential drawbacks, link tracking is definitely a smart way to get a sense of how many people are opening your emails.

How to Use Link Click Tracking

As with pixel tracking, most ESPs, CRMs, and email tracking tools include link tracking as a feature. Specialized newsletter publishing platforms tend to provide link tracking tools, as well. In most cases, it’s simply a matter of switching on that option in the settings of your chosen solution.

Alternatively, you can go down the DIY route and use a dedicated link tracking service, such as Bitly, Rebrandly, or ClickMeter. These tools tend to integrate with email platforms like MailChimp and Constant Contact, meaning you can easily drop custom tracking links into your content.

Email Tracking APIs

Many email platforms allow businesses to send, receive, and track messages through an API. This includes the ability to detect when an email is opened or clicked in real-time.

In practical terms, the API integration applies pixel tracking to outgoing emails. When the pixel fires, opening events are logged and accessible via the API.

Compared with manual pixel tracking and other methods, API-based tracking is quite an upgrade:

  • Open and click events are registered instantly.
  • Pixels can be attached to specific emails for targeted tracking.
  • Email open data can be integrated seamlessly with CRMs and marketing automation systems.
  • Tracking data can trigger customized workflows like automated follow-up sequences.
  • API tracking easily scales to high email volumes.

On the downside, the extended features of API-based tracking do open up issues around privacy. In addition, access to this type of tracking rarely comes cheaply; such features tend to be aimed at businesses with a budget.

But for companies that can afford the investment, API tracking has undeniable benefits.

How to Use API Email Tracking

You will find both ESPs and email trackers that offer API tracking data.

To use this service, you will have to authenticate your account and get your own token. You will then need to add tracking pixel code to your email templates; some platforms do this automatically. Once this task is complete, you should start to see the data come through to the analytics dashboard of your chosen platform.

When to Use Different Tracking Methods

Each of the tracking methods above has merits. The key is to know how and when to deploy each approach within your workflow:

  • Read Receipts: Best used for individual important emails, when open confirmation is required. Examples would include signed contracts, sensitive HR notices, client reports and documents, medical records, and emails with legal requirements for open acknowledgement.
  • Pixel Tracking: Best used for estimating open rate data on large-scale email blasts, newsletters, and other bulk sending campaigns.
  • Link Click Tracking: Best used for gauging both opens, and engagement with content. Consider using this option to take a deeper dive on newsletters and bulk email campaigns.
  • API Tracking: Best used for precision tracking of individual emails, real-time event data, and integration into automated campaign workflows. You can even use API tracking to power live personalization.

Best Practices for Email Tracking

It’s worth remembering that any form of email tracking could be seen as an invasion of privacy. To reduce any potential harm, it’s worth following some best practices around data collection and handling:

  • Disclose you are using tracking; you could include this as the small text after your signature.
  • If possible, get consent from your subscribers when they sign up.
  • Use tracking strictly for gathering analytics and optimization data.
  • Avoid tying tracking data to individual subscriber identities and personal info.


How to Analyze and Act on Email Open Data

If you successfully deploy email tracking within your workflow, you should end up with a nice stream of data in your admin console. The question is, what can you learn from this information?

The answer really depends on your goals. Open data can help you:

  • Identify trends in the way people are responding to your campaigns.
  • Compare your work with industry benchmarks to gauge performance.
  • Try A/B testing with various components of your campaign to increase open rates and engagement.
  • Flag up deliverability issues if open rates suddenly drop off.
  • Automate workflows when based on email engagement events.

By combining multiple data streams and metrics, it’s possible to build a complete picture of the performance of any campaign.

Improving Deliverability

When businesses really start paying attention to open rates, one common finding is that many emails are never reaching their destination. This is usually caused by incorrect and outdated data in your email list.

If you discover that your deliverability rate is under par, NeverBounce can help you get back on track. Our platform can clean your entire email database with 99.9% accuracy, and verify new additions. It works with all your favorite third-party email tools, as well.

Sign up today to try NeverBounce free and get your email campaigns back on track.

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