Tip: track when your e-mails are read without using return receipts


Did you know that you can track e-mails with Piwik? Yes you can. I do that and here’s how.

The purpose
As a freelance worker, I happen to send marketing e-mails (yes, unsolicited messages, shame on me) to targeted correspondents. I want to know whether my e-mails have been read but I don’t want to bother the other person with a return receipt.

You need to have my download.php script (or a similar script) at 301 Moved Permanently

Here’s what I do: I simply add a link into my signature. The link points to a transparent 1x1 image. In order to customize the link to each e-mail, I add a unique number to an argument that the script doesn’t use. The full link looks like:

http://example.com/download.php?file=<your image file>&<chosen random parameter name>=<specific value>

Here’s how to insert such a link using Thunderbird: put the cursor somewhere in the message (preferably in your signature), go to Insert > Image in the menu and type in the link to your image in “Image Location”. Make sure to untick the “Attach this image to the message” checkbox!

Also, make sure the file (logo.gif in my example link above) does exist.

[EDIT] When adding the link via the e-mail client, the client will fetch the image from your server, causing some “pages” to appear in your Piwik dashboard. But it’s actually only you composing the e-mail I’m about to send. I for one am willing to accept this nuisance in exchange for the benefit I get.[/EDIT]

[EDIT2]I’ve discovered that this method has a somewhat serious shortcoming: in case the receiving end has blocked images (e.g., they don’t click Thunderbird’s “Show remote content” button), the e-mail will be read but you’ll never know.[/EDIT2]

Very nice! Thanks for sharing!

Indeed, that’s a cool idea!

People have been copying the link in my original post and pasting it into their browsers… I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish. Please don’t: it serves no purpose other than polluting my Piwik reports, thanks.