How can I know has my email been read?

Email Hints and TipsIs there a reliable way to tell that the email I have sent has been read by the recipient?

The short answer is NO!

There are three main methods used to check whether an email has been read.

  • A Read Receipt
  • A Delivery Receipt
  • An image in an HTML email.

None of these methods are reliable and to a certain extent are pointless.

The Read Receipt

Let’s examine the first method – The Read Receipt.

Users of Outlook can ask for a read receipt that asks the recipient to confirm you have read the email. This is how to do it.

  1. Create a New Email message
  2. Click the Options button in the toolbar
  3. Tick the box that says Request a read receipt for this message
  4. Close the Options box, finish the message and Send in the usual way.

Now when the recipient receives the message they are given a choice to send the read receipt or not. And that’s the point – They have a choice and many people choose to say NO. In fact many corporate email servers deny read receipts from the server – not even affording the recipient the choice to say yes or no.  Some email clients plainly ignore the 'read receipt' protocol - e.g. Hotmail, Gmail etc.

At best a read receipt can be used to communicate that this email is important to you. What is completely pointless is setting read receipts in the program (in Tools / Options / Email Options / Tracking Options) so that it is requested for every email you send. This will serve to annoy many recipients and foul up the Internet with unnecessary traffic.

The Delivery Receipt

Again in Outlook the delivery receipt attempts to send you a message to tell you whether your email has successfully found the email server for the recipient.  It doesn't tell you whether the email has actually been read and at best it will confirm that the email address you sent to exists.  However many email servers will not even provide any delivery information (possibly to prevent spammers getting such information).

Using an image in the email

The third method is slightly more reliable. Typically used by mass mailing programs, it uses HTML composed email to include an image that is displayed in the email from a remote server. Sometimes the image is invisible (e.g. a small white dot). When the image is displayed the time and date can be gathered (even the number of times it was read). However this technique is used by spamming programmes so many email programs block images until the recipient chooses to show it. (Which they may choose not to)

Ultimate Proof?

So if any of these methods actually work - is that ultimate proof?

Even if you receive a read receipt telling you that the email has been displayed on the recipients computer, it doesn’t prove that they read it. They may have discarded it before reading or it may have been read by somebody else.

Conclusions

There is no reliable method to check whether an email has been read.

Use read receipts very sparingly for when you want to communicate extra urgent/important emails.

If you would like a person to confirm receipt of an email – ask them in your email message.