Some are calling it the ‘death of email marketing metrics’ so what is this Apple privacy update and what does it mean for you?
Apple’s latest software update, iOS15, was released in the UK last week (20 September 2021) and includes a new feature Mail Privacy Protection which Apple states:
“stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email”
Emails will now be downloaded to a remote Apple server whenever the app is active, so it will appear to senders that the email has been read at that time, but the recipient may read it later or not at all.
Users will be asked when they first open the app after upgrading to the new iOS whether they want to “Protect Mail Activity” or “Don’t Protect Mail Activity”. It’s safe to assume most people will choose to protect.
What is the impact on email marketing?
Because this update stops senders from tracking if and when an Apple app user actually opens an email, it means that email marketing metrics like open rate will become inaccurate and unreliable. It is estimated that 37% of UK emails are currently opened using the Apple mail app – either on iPhone, iPad or Mac computers – making it the largest email client. It is therefore possible that a third of the emails you send out will automatically appear to have been read even if they haven’t.
Aside from creating inaccurate open rates which are one measure of email marketing success, this change will impact your ability to test. For example, subject line testing is really useful to learn what attracts the attention of your audience but will no longer paint an accurate picture.
Importantly, many brands will have email automations set up which are triggered by user actions. For example, “if someone opens email x, send them email y 24 hours later”. Marketers often also use email opens as an indication of whether a recipient is still engaging with a brand and might clean up data lists by removing those who have not recently opened an email.
What do I need to do?
If you use any automations or filters based on opening emails, you need to check your workflows and if necessary change the trigger actions to something else like click-through rate.
When it comes to metrics, you’ll need to take this update into account when comparing past and future open rates and start thinking about relying on other engagement statistics. If it’s important to know who is engaging with your emails, focus on how to get your readers clicking on your content as that should still be something you can track.
Take a look at your email platform to see what they are doing in response – some will give you an estimated open rate and some have the option to exclude sends to Apple devices from statistics. It will take some time to see what full effect this will have on email marketing and whether any other email clients will follow suit.
For now, don’t panic but do check your automations and metrics, and start focusing on engagement, not just open rates.
If you need any advice, training or assistance with email marketing and automations, Louise Taor is a specialist in email marketing and offers training and help with setting up, optimising, and running your email marketing activities. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a free 15 minute call to discuss email marketing requirements.