Email Tracking: How to See If Someone Read Your Email

Wondering how to see if someone read your email? You’ll need to implement some read receipts or email tracking. Curious how? This guide explains.

how to see if someone read your email

Imagine knowing how to see if someone read your email. You’d never be left wondering if your email was delivered. You’d be able to know if they’ve received the information or offer that you sent. There are many reasons why you might want to know if someone read your email, but effectively managing your follow-up strategy is a leading one.

Some people might want to implement tracking because they’re curious. For many, however, it’s put in place because they deem it strategically necessary. Email marketers can better transform client or prospect interactions when they know whether an email has been read.

In this article, we’ll share the mechanics behind email tracking. We’ll also look into the potential ethical considerations that you might want to bear in mind. By the end, you’ll not only better understand email tracking, but you’ll also know how to see if someone read your email.

  • Email receipts, tracking, and how it all works.
  • Enable tracking in most major clients and via third-party tools.
  • Exploring ethical best practices.

Understanding Email Read Receipts and Tracking

Read receipts are designed to prompt a response from an email recipient so that a notification is sent to the sender that the email has been read. They’re helpful but do require the recipient to willingly comply. There’s always the option that they don’t send a receipt. Email tracking, on the other hand, is more advanced and doesn’t rely on any user actions.

Many email clients will offer some form of native read receipt functionality. It’s a matter of toggling the setting on or off. These offer some basic information but may not be quite as robust as you’re hoping for. If that’s the case, using a third-party marketing or sales email tracking tool is likely your best bet.

Email tracking works by embedding a tiny image that is invisible to the naked eye. It’s called a pixel, as the image is barely a pixel-wide. As the email is loaded, the tracker makes note that the image has been “seen” and, therefore, the email has been opened. This allows you to track deliverability and engagement without having to ask for a receipt explicitly.

The Pros and Cons of Email Tracking

It is obviously helpful to know how to see if someone read your email, but there are potential pitfalls and challenges to overcome.

Engagement and Efficiency

The main reason people install email tracking is to effectively track engagement. An email marketer is far better placed to develop a follow-up strategy if they understand how the user interacted with the initial email. Even if they just know when the email was read, this can better position their future sending patterns.

The data can also influence future marketing campaigns and email marketing tactics. If emails from a campaign have a low read rate, then it’s implied that the campaign wasn’t as engaging as initially hoped. Tactics can then be adjusted, and engagement rates can be improved.

This data comes naturally with pixel tracking. However, it’s worth acknowledging that with read receipts, the recipient can simply decline to send a receipt back. This skews the data as it’s not an entirely accurate picture of the actual events.

Refining Campaigns

Read receipts and pixel tracking offer their greatest potential when combined with A/B testing emails. A/B testing is a great tool for understanding the success of an email campaign. You might want to test which subject line receives the most engagement. Or if a certain call to action garners a better conversion rate. You can combine data from email testing with the number of recipients who read the email using email tracking.

If you’re using a sales tracking system or other marketing suite, you should look to combine these tools to achieve maximum results.

Privacy and Ethical Concerns

Chances are that by this point in the article, you’re thinking that email tracking is the way forward. There are, however, some considerations. The biggest ones are privacy and the ethical concerns. The read receipt method is less of a problem, given that the recipient is notified and can choose to ignore the request. Pixel tracking is less obvious.

The pixel used in pixel tracking is so small it is essentially invisible. That means that recipients of those emails are being tracked without their knowledge or consent. Their data is no longer private. This is naturally unethical and should, therefore, be approached with caution. Some users of pixel tracking mention that they do so by including a mention of it in their signature or footnote of the email.

From an ethical standpoint, tracking without explicit consent is not to be condoned. It is invasive and could lead to an erosion of trust if discovered at a later date. Yes, senders want to gather data, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the overall relationship.

Functionality

Many recipients will have image blockers in place on their email. Historically, this has been done to avoid spam images and reduce load times. As the pixel is technically a tiny image, these are also blocked, and therefore, the tracking does not register. This means that the accuracy of the tracking data relies on the recipient downloading images. Some recipients may be wise to potential email tracking. They may have a pixel blocker in place to purposefully deter the chances of tracking.

Both these issues create inaccuracies in data, which can skew marketing tactics that may rely on this information.

Enabling Read Receipts in Major Clients

Read receipts are typically available as a standard option in most major email clients. Pixel tracking tends to require the use of an additional platform or tool provided by a third party.

Read Receipts on Gmail

To enable reading receipts in Gmail, you first need to make sure that you have a Google Workspace account. That means a branded account with a verified domain for either work or educational purposes. As a standard user, you won’t be able to simply enable read receipts. You’ll have to request the administrator do it for you.

If you’re the admin, log in to your Google Workspace account and enable read receipts for users in the Gmail settings section. The fastest way to find that page is to search “read receipts” in the search at the top of the dashboard.

email tracking

From there, click the “Email read receipts” section and then select your choices from the radio buttons. By default, read receipts are not enabled. 

email tracking software

You may allow read receipts to be sent only to your organization or to any email address at all. 

Save your selection and wait for the changes to be applied in a few minutes.

Once applied, you can compose a message as normal, then from the More Options drop-down menu, select “Request read receipt.”

On their official page, Google notes that:

Read receipts work across most email systems, but you won't get a read receipt if:

  • You send a message to a group mailing list or alias.
  • Your administrator restricts receipts to people within your organization or to specific people outside your organization.
  • The recipient uses an email program that doesn't sync in real-time (such as a Post Office Protocol [POP] client that syncs only on demand or a G Suite Sync client).
  • The recipient returns a read receipt on an email client using Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), and read receipts aren't sent automatically.

Outlook

Outlook has a simpler way of dealing with read receipts and allows users to request a delivery receipt plus a read receipt. All you have to do is click Options from the composing window and then select the receipt request before sending.

see if someone read your email

You’ll know you’ve done it correctly when two checks appear next to each option:

Apple Mail

Similar to Outlook, Apple Mail allows you to request read receipts on every email as a standard. However, it is a far more complicated, multi-step process.

Our suggestion is that if you’re keen to use email tracking in Apple Mail, you use a third-party piece of software.

Email Tracking with Other Clients

There are many email-sending platforms that act slightly differently from a standard mailbox. Take Mailchimp or HubSpot, for example. They send many emails on your behalf via your mailbox. These platforms use pixel tracking so they can provide analytical data on your campaigns. The email marketing metrics include open rates, engagement rates, and conversion rates.

Using Instantly

Instantly is a comprehensive email marketing tool that enables cold outreach and facilitates maximum deliverability. Among its features is comprehensive email tracking through a detailed analytics dashboard.

When you launch an Instantly campaign, each audience member has specific tracking assigned to it. That means you can see which emails they open, which they engage with, and whether they have responded or not.

email metrics

This level of sophisticated tracking allows you to tailor your follow-up and responses accordingly. A benefit of this tracking is that it also allows for extensive A/B testing. In Instantly, we refer to A/B testing and A/Z testing. This is because you’re to test more than one change to a variable at once. If you’ve got ten subject lines you want to test out, you absolutely can do so, all within one single test.

Once you launch the test, thanks to email tracking, Instantly will report back detailed metrics. These metrics will give a clear picture of the best-performing variant. That can then be selected for future campaigns, maximizing your chance of conversion.

If you’re focused on deliverability and want your email to hit the maximum number of inboxes, you might be tempted to send emails as text-only. Text-only emails have a far higher rate of deliverability compared to ones that incorporate HTML features.

The issue with that approach, however, is that it not only disables HTML styling but also removes images. That includes the pixel. This means if you send a text-only email, there’s no way of enabling the tracking of open rates.

Using Mailtrack

Another option is to install an extension such as Mailtrack.

Mailtrack is a relatively inexpensive Gmail plugin. It enables read receipts, engagement tracking, link tracking, and even PDF tracking. It’s a useful tool for any team that is sending marketing or sales emails, especially proposals with PDF attachments. You can see what page recipients have lingered longest on.

Alongside tracking, Mailtrack also presents reports, click reports, campaigns, and email productivity reports. The latter reports per user and shows when you are most likely to send emails and how many messages you send.

The integrations section allows you to sync with major platforms such as Salesforce, HubSpot, and other CRMs. Plus, with the Zapier integration, there are endless other ways of integrating the system.

Another interesting feature that you can use within Mailtrack is the option to indicate when incoming emails are tracked. A simple overlay (three green dots) shows that the email is tracked. You can then do whatever you’d like with that information, but it may influence how fast you reply or when you open the email.

Best Practices for Email Tracking

If you’re going to embark on email tracking, it’s important that you follow a series of best practices. We’ve collated these to keep you on the right path:

  • Be transparent and consistent: If you’re using tracking pixels, clearly explain that you are on each email you send. You should also consider including an option to allow users to opt out of any tracking.
  • Be respectful of recipient privacy settings: There are ways of using deceptive practices that allow you to bypass email privacy protections. You should avoid this and honor any blocking that the client has in place.
  • Use any data responsibly: If you do manage to collect data, ensure that it’s only the data that you absolutely need. Then, ensure that it is secured and complies with data regulations.
  • Balance frequency with relevance: It can be tempting to bombard your recipients with follow-ups depending on their email tracking. Make sure you still reply in a polite way that is mindful of the email content, not their tracking.
  • Be ethical in your information use: Email tracking should only be used to help you improve your communication. It shouldn’t be used as a tool of manipulation.
  • Educate your team: If you’re working in a larger education and have a wider team, make sure that they are all aware of the ethical implications of using email tracking.
  • Pay attention to technology advances and changes: Email technology evolves all the time. You should pay special attention to any advances and changes that might affect the effectiveness of email tracking.

Key Takeaways

There’s no doubt that email tracking is a powerful tool. Chances are that you’re tempted to implement it into your business practice. The best piece of advice that we can give is to do so ethically and always with consideration of the audience. Remember that you’re building your business on relationships and trust. Always avoid doing anything that could undermine that.

  • You can find valuable insights through email tracking data, especially when it comes to user engagement.
  • Use the information you learn to adapt and evolve your email practice.
  • The more transparent you can be with your recipients, the more trust you’ll build.

Instantly offers a whole suite of analytical data on email campaigns. Each key metric is clearly displayed in a user-friendly, intuitive dashboard. You can even see the engagement of individual audience members. Start today.