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In PHP mail, how can I track which mail is opened and which is deleted?

Posted on 2013-05-30
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Last Modified: 2013-05-30
Hi Guys,
My PHP mail functions just fine when sending out numerous messages. How can I determine if mail is opened or deleted?
I'd appreciate the help,
Sas
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Question by:sasnaktiv
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by:COBOLdinosaur
COBOLdinosaur earned 600 total points
ID: 39208816
You can't.  The email is out of your hands and control the second it is sent.  You could try some hacks like sticking an image in that has to be downloaded from your site to be viewed, but it is unreliable because user settings may not allow images, and mail with an external reference may be blocked or dumped in the spam folder.

Cd&
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Ray Paseur earned 1400 total points
ID: 39208834
You cannot know with 100% certainty.  I'll discuss the risks below.

Most tracking applications use a "tracking pixel" image in the HTML version of the message.  This "pixel" is not really an image, but instead it is a link to a PHP script.  The GET argument to the script is the identity of the client you want to track.  When the request is made to the tracking pixel script, the script takes the client identity and writes it into a data base.

Obviously the client identity can be very elaborate.  It can include information about the message itself, when the message was sent, etc.  With some clever design you can track all kinds of things about the email including whether, if it was forwarded, someone else opened it.

Risks:  Client turns off HTML email.  Client email program does not allow images.  Client email program sees program files in image tags and assumes the message is spam.  Client reads the text of the message but does not display the images.  Etc.  There is no way to know if the message was deleted because all of these alternatives produce the same indication -- there was no hit on the tracking pixel.


The only really secure way to know if a client read a message, is to include a clickable link in the message and look for the clicks.  This article describes the technique.
http://www.experts-exchange.com/Web_Development/Web_Languages-Standards/PHP/A_3939-Registration-and-Email-Confirmation-in-PHP.html

That's about it.  A very high "open rate" among opt-in clients is 25% or to put it another way, not all that many people read automated email messages.  And none of them care anything about your desire to track them.

Best of luck with it, ~Ray
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by:sasnaktiv
ID: 39208920
Thanks Guys,
Yes I'm familiar with the clickable link & I'm using it, but it only tells me if the recipient clicks on it. My personal Thunderbird email client actually tells me if a message was read or deleted without any links in the messages. So apparently, there is another way. How do they do it?
Sas
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Expert Comment

by:Julian Hansen
ID: 39209035
They have to have notifications set on on their side - this is optional and can be switched off so it is no guarantee.

There are obviously privacy issues here which need to be addressed - you cannot force an acknowlegement of a mail read / received.

Think of it a courtesy the recipient extends to you - not a right you have.
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Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39209066
How do they do it?
Maybe they just look like they are doing it.  Email is a complicated mess, without any accountability for the communications.  Microsoft has built some tools into Outlook - things like "read receipts" and the like, but for the most part, unless you control the email reader programs that your recipients are using, you do not control enough to get a dependable indicator of who read, who deleted, who ignored, etc.  What you can know is whether the tracking pixel script was activated.  Your "read rate" is almost certainly at least that high.
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Author Closing Comment

by:sasnaktiv
ID: 39209187
Thanks for all the help.
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