Easy Email Tracking: Know When Your Messages Are Actually Read

Woman working on Apple laptop

Email is one of the greatest inventions of the computer age—when it works properly. Believe it or not, email delivery isn't guaranteed and occasionally, messages go undelivered. But how do you know if someone failed to get your message or is just blowing you off?

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Whether you have a home office or just like to keep up with friends and family, using an email tracker can ensure that your recipient has received the message, whether they want to admit it or not.

How email tracking works

Most email trackers come in the form of an app or plug-in for your web browser. Just install the program and it'll start tracking every email you send. You'll be able to see when it was received, which links were clicked, and if any attached files were downloaded. You'll be like your own fancy marketing agency.

Screenshot of Mailtrack report
credit: Techwalla/Rachel Cericola

Once you have an email tracker installed, your emails will have a tiny graphical image embedded in them. It's really small and subtle, so your recipient may not even notice it. This graphic contains a tracking code, which automatically reports back to the service to indicate that your email has been opened.

(Of course, this means that email trackers can't track emails sent before you started using the program.)

Depending on your settings, you can be notified about read emails via a return email receipt for each message sent, or by a daily "digest" of what's been read and what is still outstanding.

Be aware that browser-based email tracking has its limitations. For starters, it is designed for web mail (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and so on) and won't track emails sent from an actual email program, like Outlook. For a standalone email client (like Outlook), you'll need a different kind of email tracker--which I talk about at the end of the article.

Moreover, it only works with emails sent from the browser in which you installed the plug-in. If you installed a tracker on Google Chrome, any emails sent through Firefox or your smartphone won't be tracked. Unless, of course, you load plug-ins onto those other locations as well. But these tracking plug-ins typically works across computers, so it can work both at home and at work.

Who needs email tracking?

Every time you send an email, it's a bit of a gamble. Did the person get it, or did it end up in the great abyss known as the Internet? Did it get filed in their spam bucket, or lost at the bottom of the inbox and never opened? Instead of waiting, worrying, and nagging, you can keep track of those emails with an email tracker.

Woman's hands working on laptop

At home, it's a great way to make sure kids, teachers, and family members receive questions and correspondence. At work, it can be an essential tool, allowing you to make sure important documents are received—and keep recipients on their toes.

Some people don't love the idea of email tracking. It can seem invasive, nosy, or maybe you already get enough emails and notifications as it is. And frankly, some people just don't want to know why those recipients aren't getting back to them!

But if you're intrigued, it's really easy to get started.

Get tracking!

There are several professional email trackers that can provide detailed analytics and services that would appeal to business users, such as HubSpot, Yesware, and Contact Monkey. But you don't need to mess with those. There are also plenty of free (and easy to configure) options for the home emailer.

Mailtrack on Gmail
credit: Mailtrack

Streak offers a free plan that allows users to track 200 emails each month through Gmail and Google Apps. If you're a serial emailer, you can jump to unlimited tracking and extra reporting features for $39 per month.

Boomerang is another popular option designed to keep tabs on Gmail and Google Apps. The free account will only allow you to track 10 messages per month, but it's actually more affordable than Streak if you send a lot of email; you can go straight to unlimited tracking for just $5 per month.

Bananatag allows you to track up to five emails each day. That's not much, but it is a diverse service, with options for Gmail and Outlook, as well as Mac Mall, iOS Mail, and Android Mail. Also, the service does have pricing plans that boost that number to 100 and 200 emails for $10 and $20 per month, respectively.

One of my favorite trackers is Mailtrack. Designed specifically for use with Gmail, it delivers unlimited tracking for free. Having a free account does mean that every email will include a "Sent with Mailtrack" signature at the bottom of every email. However, you do have the option to delete the watermark (and not track that particular email). If you want to ditch that line from every email, sign up for a Pro account, which offers a few other perks for $4 per month. However, the basic package might be all that you will ever need.

Do your homework

Before you pick an email tracker, make sure it works with your browser or preferred email program. Many work with Google, but there are options for Outlook, Yahoo, and other email accounts. Also think about how and why you want to receive these notifications. Maybe you don't want to know that it's taking people forever to get back to you. Maybe you don't want the email receipts clogging up your inbox. For others, it can be a very valuable tool, both at work and at home.

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