For those of you who are familiar with Microsoft Exchange servers and other enterprise email solutions, you've probably gotten used to the convenience of the email read receipt feature. That is, when the recipient opens the email, the server will notify that the email has been read. That way, you can make sure that they actually "got the memo," without nagging them about it later. Web-based email services like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail do not have this feature, however. There are two easy ways to implement a similar feature for Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, both with their pros and cons.
Method 1: Embed a Tracking Image
A tracking image is a special externally hosted image file that is monitored by an analytics software. These are often used for affiliate programs and web site statistics services. Essentially, tracking images are hosted on a different server than the page being requested. When the user's browser accesses that page, it has to send a request to the remote server to fetch the image. The server where the tracking image is hosted can see which page triggered the request to load the image, giving valuable insight into visitor activity.
Now, when your recipient receives your email and opens it, the image will load, registering a hit on your stat counting dashboard. In this way, you'll know that the email has been opened and viewed.
The only caveat to this is that the image must be loaded in the email for the tracking to register. Most email clients will not load images by default. Furthermore, if the recipients email client does not support HTML emails, this method will not work. But if your trying to track email receipts for emails sent to people you regularly correspond with, they will likely have their client set up to automatically load external images in your emails.
Method 2: Use a URL Shortener
URL shorteners were designed for us in social media channels, such as Twitter, where you are limited to a certain number of characters. But URL shorteners also have built-in analytics that help you keep track of clicks on your links. This can come in handy with your emails. Instead of copying and pasting normal links or URLs into your email, use a shortener such as su.pr, bit.ly or goo.gl for all of your links in your email. This way, you can see not only whether or not a user read the email, you can tell which links they clicked.
The downside of this is that you don't get any feedback unless the user clicks a link. Furthermore, users may be wary of shortened links, since URL shorteners are often used by spammers to obfuscate suspicious looking URLs. So, if someone opens your email but does not click your link, you will not get a receipt.
However, trackable links are incredibly helpful for opt-in email newsletters. If you have a number of links to "Read more..." about a certain topic, redeem an offer or take some other action, you can find out exactly which calls to action were compelling and which underperformed.
The best practice: use a combination of invisible tracking images and trackable link shorteners. This will give you well-rounded data regarding how many recipients opened your email and how which links they clicked, if any.