Waiting for someone to reply to an important email can be a frustrating experience. The reasons for the lack of correspondence could be that they are busy, avoiding answering, haven’t yet read it or haven’t even received it.
This process is made simple in messaging apps like WhatsApp which display ticks to indicate delivery and when the message has been read, but is there a similar thing for email? Unfortunately not, but there are a few ways you tell if someone has seen your message or not.
Using Read Receipts
The traditional way to know if someone has opened any emails was to use the Read Receipts feature. But this isn’t universally available in all email apps.
If yours has it, and it tends to be available only for business users, not consumers, then you can enable it and it may work. However, recipients might see a pop-up asking them to agree to the Read Receipt being sent back to you. They can deny this request, which kind of defeats the point.
Gmail – the free consumer version – doesn’t have a read receipt option, so you’d have to use a third-party add-on which often involves paying a subscription. The Mac version of Outlook we tried for this article had the feature disabled, and most popular email apps on Android and iOS don’t offer it at all.
A further complication is that many email services don’t actually offer this feature. Gmail currently has no way to employ Read Receipts unless you go for a third-party option which often involves a subscription. Plus, we found that our Mac version of Outlook also had the feature disabled while most popular email apps on Android and iOS don’t even have it as an option.
If you’re using the Outlook app on a Windows PC then you’re in luck, up to a point. To set up a Read Receipt you’ll first need to launch the app, compose a new email, then click on the Options tab along the top of the message window.
In here you’ll see two tickboxes: Request a Delivery Receipt and Request a Read Receipt. Tick the latter and send the email. If things go well, you should receive the notification that your email has been opened.
In our tests though, this wasn’t plain sailing at all. Some email addresses filtered out the Read Receipt request entirely, while a private Gmail account popped up a scary warning message for the recipient. And we couldn’t find the option in the web-based version of Outlook at all – only options for what to do for read receipts received from other senders.
So, this old method is all but useless these days.
Using a third-party Gmail extension
Standard Gmail accounts don’t support email tracking, as these are reserved for work and school versions, but you can use an extension to add this feature.
Mailtrack is one example and the free tier allows unlimited tracking. To add Android compatibility and other advanced features you’ll need to step up to the Pro level, with prices starting at $4.99 (about £4) per month.
To install Mailtrack, open Gmail in a web browser on a desktop computer and go to the Chrome Web Store. Search for Mailtrack and click on the one by mailtrack.io. Click the Add to Chrome button and once you’ve gone through the various agreements, and the app is installed, you’re ready to give it a test run.
Go to Gmail (www.gmail.com) and then create a new email. You’ll notice that there are now two green arrows down by the Send button. Click these and you’ll open up the Mailtrack settings. Ensure that it is switched on, then close it, complete your email as normal and click Send.
If things go well, you should receive an email as soon as the recipient opens your message, with the bonus that they can’t refuse to send the notification.
The free version of Mailtrack does append a signature to your message so the person knows that you’re using the service. This can be removed though if you pay for Pro.
Mail tracking services
If you need to monitor email opens for your business, then alongside Mailtrack there are other services that allow you to get read receipts as well as other things designed for email marketing. You might get a variety of features, such as newsletter creation.
Two popular ones are Bananatag and ContactMonkey, both of which offer a range of price tiers dependent on the number of features included in the package.
One way that these services monitor whether people have opened emails is by using a ‘tracking pixel’. This is a tiny image that the user won’t notice, but it’s loaded when they open the email. These may or may not fall foul of data protection laws such as GDPR, CCPA and others, depending upon what information they collect.
Plus, like read receipts, users can usually prevent these from loading by setting their email app to not load any external images unless they say so, or the email comes from someone on the ‘safe sender’ list.
Ultimately, if you’re a private user and want email read receipts, then Mailtrack is your best option.