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How to know when your email has been opened and read (and what to do with that data)

How to know when your email has been opened and read (and what to do with that data)

min read

You take time and effort researching, formatting, and writing copy to compose the perfect sales outreach email

With an air of pride and excitement, you send it off to your prospects.

Now the waiting game.

A GIF of a woman sitting on the floor in front of a sofa waiting for something and looking tensed


After days of checking your inbox, what’s the next move? Send another email, or keep waiting?

Understanding when an email is opened can be a quick and straightforward process that helps you make an informed decision.

There are two basic ways to track if your email has been read or not. One of the methods has several clear advantages, which we’ll explain below. The two methods are:

  1. Return receipts
  2. Email tracking tools (recommended)

We’ll cover both options but feel free to <a href="#emailtracking">skip straight to email tracking</a> if you prefer.

<a href="#return-receipt" class="anchor-link">Request a return receipt</a>
<a href="#email-tracking-tools" class="anchor-link">Use free email tracking tools</a>
<a href="#how-to-use-streak" class="anchor-link">How to use Streak to track email views</a>
<a href="#what-to-do-next" class="anchor-link">What to do next</a>
<a href="#start-tracking-emails" class="anchor-link">Start tracking your emails</a>

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Request a return receipt

A return receipt is a confirmation message sent by the recipient (to the sender) that says they have read the email.

Your recipient receives a prompt asking: “Sender requested that a return receipt be sent when message “Subject line” is read. Do you want to send a receipt?”

If they answer “yes,” you’ll receive the receipt and know they have read your email.

The return receipt feature differs depending on your email client, and some clients don’t offer them at all. Some providers that offer return receipts may also put limitations on them. For example, Google only allows return receipts for Google workspace accounts and not the free  version of Gmail.

The main benefits of using return receipts are:

  • Simple – they are already in your email service
  • Free

The main disadvantages of using return receipts are:

  • The recipient has to agree to the receipt request for you to receive information
  • Not all email platforms support this feature
  • They’re not widely used so many people might find these requests a little pushy, invasive, and just awkward

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<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="email-tracking-tools" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Use free email tracking tools

An email tracking tool is software that triggers instant notifications when your recipient opens your email and provides insights on key metrics like open and response rates. 

Small businesses, sales teams, marketers, and customer success teams often use email tracking software.

How do email tracking tools give you data on your email views?

Email trackers insert a tiny image, called a tracking pixel, into an email. When the recipient opens the email, their provider has to send a request to open the image.

Tracking tools use this request to give you crucial email tracking metrics like your open rate, total number of views, clickthrough rates, location of where the view took place (if location data is available) and more.

The benefit of email tracking tools is that they notify you if a recipient reads your email without prompting the recipient. Just an instant alert straight to your inbox or and update to email tracking columns in your pipeline when they open the message.

There are various email tracking tools, each offering different features, although they have some commonalities.

Tracking tools are all a little different – some focus solely on email tracking, some have other functionalities like CRMs with email tracking capabilities, and others check for tone and grammar as you type.

At the core, they all enable you to track valuable email metrics to increase your sales outreach efficiency.

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How to use Streak to track email views

How can you tell if an email has been read in Gmail? Utilize Streak’s simple (and free) email tracking tool.

To enabling email tracking:

  1. Install Steak’s free Chrome extension or Safari extension
  2. Email tracking is a free feature and turned on by default
  3. Adjust tracking on a per-email basis at the bottom of each draft by clicking the eye icon
A screenshot of the eye icon that you can find at the bottom of the email draft

The orange eye icon means tracking is on – to turn it off, click it once, and it will turn gray.

This icon also enables and disables link tracking (available on paid plans), giving insights into how recipients interact with links in your emails.

Once you install Streak and enable email tracking, you’ll find email tracking data in:

  • Browser notifications
  • At the top of each email message
  • Your Gmail inbox
  • Your recently viewed emails folder
  • The email tracking sidebar in Gmail
  • Email tracking magic columns in your Streak pipelines
A screenshot of the Streak pipelines with email tracking magic columns

Email tracking Magic Columns automatically update in real-time so you can view the progress of each prospect at a glance, allowing you to connect more efficiently.

This information allows you to create an informed, targeted strategy to contact a prospect when you’re top of mind.

It also enables you to prioritize leads who engage with your emails the most.

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What to do next

So now you’re sitting on an absolute wealth of precious data, sipping your coffee and thinking…

A GIF of a middle-aged man drinking coffee and asking him whar they will do


The next step is using this knowledge to your advantage.

What if they haven’t opened your emails? What if they have read your message – what then?

We’ve got you.

If someone hasn’t opened your email

Alright, so they haven’t opened the message – but now you know for sure, so you can build a game plan.

The first area to inspect is the subject line. Your email’s subject line is your message’s billboard drawing the eye and shouting, “I’m worth your time.”

Don’t worry – it won’t all be guessing. There is a method to create high open rate email subject lines, like keeping them short and casual and personalizing them with a name.

After you develop a few catchy subject lines, take it a step further and A/B test each one. Send subject line A to half of your prospects and subject line B to the other half. Use Streak to monitor open rate metrics, then scale and repeat the winner.

The subject line is the backbone of great open rates, but there are even more points you can test to improve open metrics:

  1. Have a clear, human sender nameEric Jones > Best Sales Inc.
  2. Send at different times of dayThe prospect could always be busy at 1 pm. Try sending it at another time.
  3. Send on another day of the weekTry different days of the week. Studies show that Monday has the highest open rate at 22%.

Don’t forget to optimize your outreach email campaigns for mobile. Mobile responsiveness is critical since 61.9% of email opens occur on mobile.

An email formatted on a desktop is not guaranteed to look great on a mobile device, which could be hurting your open rates.

Try using optimization tools like TestSubject to ensure your emails look as good on mobile devices as on desktops.

If someone has read your email

That “email opened” notification is so satisfying, but might also leave you wondering:

“Are they interested?”

“What’s my next move?”

You want your email viewed, but you want the prospect to respond more than anything.

Time to send a follow-up – now armed with data-driven knowledge.

Here are a few tips to prompt your recipient to hit “reply”:

  1. Assume they read the previous messageRefer to a detail you mentioned in your earlier email.
  2. Expand on that messageAdd more relevant information to add value to your follow-up.
  3. Restate what you're sayingIt always pays to reiterate. If it’s a sales email, make sure to convey the value you’re offering.
  4. Use the data to make better contacte.g., If the recipient opened the email at 2 pm, you know they’re active at 2 pm – it could even be their designated email check time.

By using a variety of strategic ways to follow up on tracked emails, you can improve your connection with leads based on their email engagement.

This information makes an email more relevant, human, and valuable. That’s why 42% of marketers use past interaction data to personalize their emails better.

One last tip: Don’t forget to note what subject lines you used for these emails. The prospect opened it, so you definitely hit on something good.

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Start tracking your emails

Knowing when an email is opened is a valuable tactic that will improve your efficiency and efficacy, whether you’re conducting sales outreach or getting the most out of a marketing campaign.

Email tracking software triggers instant alerts, making it easy to check if someone has read your email – they also offer success metrics and provide you with actionable insights.

Once you start email tracking, the next step is learning how to track an email and actually use the data so you can put all this info to good use.

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