You write an email. No reply. You send another email. No reply. You’re halfway through a third email and you stop. What happened to the first two? Junk folder? Were the messages just ignored?
In the 21st Century, our inboxes are flooded. According to the technology market research company The Radicati Group, the average adult will receive 92 email messages per day in 2017. That doesn’t even count the spam that pours into our accounts. The longer we wait for an answer, the more we wonder whether the message was seen at all.
The communications stream is compounded by text messages. You send a text and you expect an immediate reply. But what if you don’t get a reply? Click here to learn how you can tell when someone is seeing your text messages.
That’s why “read receipts” were invented. This tool will tell you the exact time that your message is read. Better yet, read receipts nudge the recipient into writing back as soon as possible. This is especially helpful for tracking urgent and time-sensitive messages.
There is a drawback: privacy. Read receipts are great for you, because you have an idea of what is taking place in the recipient’s inbox. But some people find receipt requests intrusive and never send them back. There are ways to turn to “invisible” third-party email trackers, which will send you a receipt without the recipient ever knowing.
Depending on your platform, here are various ways to know if someone has opened and read your email.
Request a Return Receipt
Read receipts are much more common than most people realize. Most major email platforms will give you the option to request return/read receipts with email that you send. Some will also let you specify these receipts for every email you're composing.
Keep in mind, these requests only do half the job; the recipient can still decline, and you’ll never receive the receipt you’re hoping for. Some email platforms, like the version of Gmail and Apple Mail, for example, do not officially support the sending of read receipt requests.
As an alternative, you can use "invisible" email tracking and read receipts, but here you'll have to rely on third-party tracking software. (More on that in a minute.)
For the other major email platforms, here's how you set them up:
To request a return receipt in Microsoft Outlook, click Options on the top menu bar to bring up its sub-menu.
Now, just check "Request a Read Receipt" to receive a notification when your message is opened. Additionally, you can also get notifications when your message is successfully delivered by checking "Request a Delivery Receipt."
Here's how to turn on return receipts in Mozilla's email client Thunderbird:
Click Tools (on the top menu bar) then click Options. Now, on the General tab click on "Return Receipts."
Here you can expect Thunderbird to always include return receipts with your emails. You can also send your own return receipts and the location of your receipts. When done, just click OK.
You can also configure Thunderbird return receipts on individual emails. While writing a new email just click on Options on the top menu bar then select "Return Receipts and or Delivery Status Notification" to configure its return receipt setting.
Again, as usual, the recipient can choose whether to send a return receipt reply or not.
In the free version of Gmail, you can’t request a read receipt. But the feature is available via Google's paid business cloud software G Suite.
If you are a G Suite subscriber, you can turn on read receipt requests via the G Suite Admin Console. Go to Apps >> G Suite >> Settings for Gmail >> then click Advanced Settings. Here, you can scroll down to the Email Read Receipts section, where you’ll find this wordy option: "Allow email read receipts to be sent to all addresses in my organization as well as the following email addresses." Switch it to “on.”
With this option on, you can click on the lower right down arrow on your Compose window to request a read receipt for the particular email you're writing.
Use Email Tracking Software
Maybe you have a small business. Maybe you're doing research, and you just need to know which emails were opened and which were untouched. In this case, you might turn to third-party email tracking solutions.
Most of these are paid services with monthly subscriptions, but some have free basic plans, too. These third-party trackers offer more features than your regular free email client.
One basic way to track your emails and get read receipts is Get Notify. For each message read, you’ll receive a notification. You will be notified of the exact date and time the email was read. You'll also receive the recipient's IP address, geographical location, operating system and which web browser they are using.
GetNotify's free version caps your tracked emails to a maximum of five per day and a total of 150 a month but you can give a "small donation" to remove the daily limit and increase your monthly limit.
Mailtrack is a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera that's designed to work with Gmail. Mailtrack's free version offers unlimited email tracking, but your emails will be tagged with a Mailtrack Signature. This is typical for individual non-business use.
For about $5 a month, you can get its Pro version to remove the Mailtrack signature. The Pro version also provides tech support, notifications, and usage for three different email addresses. Finally, small companies can sign up for the "Teams" plan, and large companies can sign up for "Enterprise."
Streak is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) add-on for Gmail. Their free version has basic CRM features and email power tools. You can track 200 emails a month, which should be plenty for personal use.
Streak also has a Corporate Plan ($39/month) and an Enterprise Plan ($89/month) meant for small to large businesses. Aside from full CRM features, these paid plans also include unlimited email tracking.
How else can you improve your communications? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.