Are Email Read-Receipts Worthwhile?

A reader asks: ‘When I send email to my business contacts, how can I be sure they’ve opened and read my message?’ The answer is read-receipts for email, also called open tracking. But the technology isn’t always appreciated by recipients, and isn’t very reliable, either. Here’s a more detailed look at the tools and techniques…

Can I Get a Receipt For That?

I have a friend who uses Microsoft Outlook as his email client. He says that some of his contacts like to request a “read-receipt” with every email they send him, apparently because they just have to know the instant he opens one of their messages. Outlook asks my friend if he wants to send a read receipt as soon he opens a message that requests one. He finds that very annoying.
“Plus, whose business is it when I read an email?” he asks. “I don’t like to be under anyone’s insecure microscope.” I told him that he can configure Outlook so that it doesn’t bother him with read-receipt requests. Here’s how to turn off that feature, if you as the recipient don’t want to send an email open notification:
Email Read Receipts
On the Outlook Tools menu, click Options. Then on the Preferences tab, click E-mail Options, and then click Tracking Options. Under “Use this option to decide how to respond to requests for read receipts,” click to select either Always send a response, Never send a response, or Ask me before sending a response, and then click OK.
Anxious email senders can still get confirmation that a message has been read, thanks to a number of other solutions. Some of them notify recipients that a receipt was sent, others do not.
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has long had a read-receipt feature. The sender can turn it on or off, and recipients can tell their BBM clients whether to respond to read-receipt requests. Apple’s iMessage service does the same things. In a corporate environment, the ability to get read receipts depends on both parties agreeing to use the feature.
Streak provides read-receipts for Gmail users, and a whole lot more. It’s really a comprehensive Customer Relations Management (CRM) system that revolves around your Gmail account. You can schedule emails to be sent at future times; track client contacts and projects; collaborate with other Gmail users; and organize all Gmail correspondence in some pretty sophisticated and useful ways. But it does not notify a recipient that a read-receipt has been sent to the sender of a message.
RightInBox is a similar but simpler Google Chrome browser extension. It tracks when emails are read and allows you to schedule emails for delivery in the future.

Detecting Opens With Pixel Tracking

Savvy email senders can embed a link to a nearly invisible, one-pixel “image” in an HTML email. When that email is displayed, a call back to the sender’s server fetches the tiny image. That “fetch” request is recorded on the sender’s server log with the date and time, telling the sender when an email was read. If you read your messages with image display turned off, these pixels will never be activated, and your “open” will not be recorded. If you turn on the image display feature, the open tracking will happen.
Bananatag.com uses the secret-pixel method, and has addins for Chrome, Firefox, and Outlook. It’s free for up to 5 tracked emails per day, or $5/month for more plus detailed reports and CRM features.
Most desktop email clients (Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird) and webmail services (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail/Outlook.com) give you the option to display images in your incoming mail, with the default being not to display images. Gmail is the exception, having made automatic image display the default back in 2013.
To sum it up, as a sender, you can use the “request a read-receipt” method, if your email program supports it. But most desktop and webmail clients ignore it, or allow the recipient to disable the sending of a receipt. So it’s the least useful option, unless both sender and recipient agree to use it.
Senders using the tracking pixel method to track email opens are at the mercy of the recipient, or at least the default settings in their email client. If image display is turned off (and it usually is, except for Gmail) then no notification of the open will happen.
The issue with both of these methods is that they can tell the sender if a message was received, but they really don’t guarantee that it was read. Email clients that automatically display inbox messages in a preview pane can trigger the open tracking, and give the sender a false impression that the recipient actually read the message.
There’s a third possibility for open tracking, which is more accurate. If the email contains links that lead back to the sender’s server, and the recipient clicks such a link, that can serve as an indication that the message was truly received, intentionally opened, and presumably read.
It’s understandable for email senders, especially in a business environment, to want assurance that their messages have been opened by the recipients. But as I’ve detailed above, the technology to track email opens and send read-receipts is imperfect.
Do you track who is opening your messages? How do you feel about email read-receipts? Post your comment or question below…


More Posts about Email:

  • Email Marketing Best Practices

  • Are Email Read-Receipts Worthwhile?

Comments

  1. Interesting, I thought email read receipts were pretty much a thing of the past. Thanks for posting some alternatives that work, at least sometimes. 🙂

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