I think we all have faced a situation before where we wanted to know if an email was read by a recipient. Did he / she receive the mail, was the email read? You can't know for sure even if you have added read notifications to the email because most email programs ask the user about those or simply ignore them right away. There is no sure way to receive notification at all if the recipient is cautious, most are not on the other hand and the following tricks will work most of the time.
This only works with HTML emails and not with basic plain TXT emails. The recipient has to be able to receive and display HTML emails. HTML emails can contain elements besides text, graphics for example. Graphics can be hosted on websites where access to them can be tracked easily.
So, the trick is to add a graphic to the HTML email and check the stats to see if the image has been accessed on the server. If it was accessed the email was read. If it was not it either means that the email was not read or that the recipient read only the text and that HTML was disabled, or that the display of media was blocked by default.
If you do not have a website you can use a service like Spypig or Statcounter and add those elements to your emails. Spypig is free which is great but it adds that silly pig image to the email and recipients with just a little common sense will be able to check on that and find out what you have been doing. Would not recommend this.
Statcounter is better because an invisible 1x1pixel image is added to the email, still if someone knows what to do they can see why the image was added.
The last method needs a website and access to a statistics script. Google Analytics is fine for example. What you do is you add a harmless image to the email, make it part of your signature for instance. Make sure no one else accesses that image and that it is unique for every email that you send and want to track.
This makes it less obvious that you want to track if the email was read or not and should be the preferred way. Still, if you do not have a website you might want to try one of the other two possibilities.
Update: Another option would be to use an url shortener but that is only useful if the link is clicked on by the user. Many url shorteners provide you with statistics nowadays, Bitly does so for instance.
Note that many programs ask whether you want to load images from remote servers when you are reading emails.
Update 2: Spypig is no longer available. We have removed the link as a consequence.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.