Email Delivery: How do you know if an email was received?

July 17th, 2017

You just sent an important business communication via email and assume all is well, but what if that email was not received?

How do you know if an email was received? There could be significant delays or consequences if the message was not delivered. What can you do to put your mind at ease?

Read Receipts and Web Bugs

If the recipient did receive an email message and opened it, there are ways to know. Some tools include:

  • Read Receipts – email notifications sent back to the sender to confirm that a message has been read. Most email programs support these, but the recipient can control if they are sent back to the sender. They are simple but not reliable.
  • Web Bugs – You can embed tracking images in your email messages and then silently detect if these images are loaded from your web server. If they are, it means the message was opened. Email web bugs require special software and are not trivial to implement (for example, when sending from Outlook or Mac Mail). They are much more reliable than read receipts but are not 100% reliable. Email filters can strip them out, and the recipient’s email program might not automatically load images when an email is opened. Additionally, spammers often use web bugs as “depth charges” to mine for valid email addresses based on which recipients open the messages. For this reason, advanced email filters are getting more thoughtful about providing options for blocking them.
  • Reliable Read Receipts – Using a service like SecureLine Escrow, the recipient picks up your message securely at a web portal. You can track if and when that happened and send yourself email notifications. This is 100% reliable.

For more details on these three mechanisms, see Has Your Email Been Read? Read Receipts and Web Bugs.

Yes, but how do you know if an email was actually received?

Knowing if the recipient read a message is one thing, but knowing whether they received it in the first place is usually more important.

In many cases, messages are not successfully delivered due to a mistyped or misspelled recipient address, though there are many other possible causes. See Where’s the Email? The Case of Missing or Disappearing Messages. When this happens, the sender would ideally like to know immediately if the message delivery failed or was delayed. Often this is the case. If something is wrong, a bounce message may indicate that the message was rejected or the delivery permanently failed. However, receipt of a bounce message is never guaranteed, as the bounce itself may have been lost due to mail filters or other obstacles. Furthermore, if the message is sitting in an email queue trying unsuccessfully to get through, a bounce message may not be created immediately or even at all.

So how do we reliably determine the disposition of a sent message?

Automated Email Delivery Status Alerts

LuxSci has a feature for keeping you on top of your mail delivery status.

In your LuxSci account under “Email – Outbound Email – Settings,” Delivery Status Digest alerts can be enabled:

  • Specify the frequency of updates (down to every 15 minutes)
  • Specify a comma-delimited list of up to 10 email addresses to send these alerts to

Then, an emailed list of delivery status updates will be sent to those addresses at the indicated frequency (only if there are updates, of course). This will tell you:

  1. Which messages were successfully delivered to the recipients’ servers
  2. Which are still queued being retried and why
  3. Which have permanently failed and why

Within minutes of sending, you will know if the message went through or not. Later, the sender will be informed when it eventually goes through or fails. Problems can be fixed and correspondence can be delivered promptly without asking the recipient if they got the message or waiting for them to complain that it didn’t arrive. You can be proactive and alert recipients of their email system problems.

The caveat (because there is always one) is this: once the message is delivered to the recipient’s server, it’s impossible to track it any further until the recipient tries to open it. The message can get lost on the recipient’s side (e.g., in filters, mail system problems, human error, etc.), and there is no way to know this without asking the recipient.

However, most missing messages cannot be delivered to the server. These delivery status reports keep you abreast of these issues in a way not offered by most other email providers. Email delivery reports are available in all LuxSci email accounts, including smart hosting accounts.

Have a question? Contact us!