Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection – what does it mean for email marketers?

We’re in a time where privacy and how individuals’ data should be handled are on everyone’s minds these days. We see politicians and large companies take action to protect private data. In 2018, the European Union implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with regulations on how companies should handle data on EU citizens. Google has announced that they phase out third-party cookies that are companies commonly use to track online activity and retargeting. The most recent update was from Apple that launched their App Tracking Transparency (ATT). The ATT means that Apple users can block apps from tracking their online activity. Following in those footsteps, Apple announced their next privacy feature, the Mail Privacy Protection for iOS 15. This affects Apple’s mail app users, which in turn, also affects the ones that communicate to those users, namely email marketers. To see what Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection means for email marketers, let’s start with what we know so far as to what it is and how it works.

What is mail privacy protection?

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is a part of iOS 15 which is rumored to go public in September 2021. It allows users of their mail app to block email senders from tracking their data, such as IP address, location, and device. When the update is live and the user opens the email app for the first time, a message will pop up where the user gets to choose if he or she allows email senders to track them or not. In other words, this update is not turned on by default.

Why should email marketers care?

If we look back at the previous privacy update Apple, the ATT, only 17% allowed apps to track their activity. That users this time around would say “yes, track me!” then seems unlikely. If a user blocks tracking, there’s a small technical change that has a big impact on email marketers. Previously, an email was considered as open when a user opened the email (and the email content, like images, is automatically downloaded). But in the case of the Mail Privacy Protection, Apple’s servers open and download the email content when the email is delivered. This means that it’s not just the recipients that are hidden for email marketers, but also if or when they opened the email.

With the adoption of the previous privacy update in mind, the fact that Apple is the second most preferred mail app out there, and that it means some technical changes in email opens, email marketers are bound to experience this change.

What Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection means for email marketers

From what we know about this update, let’s summarize what email marketers can expect when it goes live:

Changes in open rate (OR)

No matter if the recipient opened the email or not, it counts as opened in the email reports. The open rate is therefore higher if you compare it to your previous send-out performance. Furthermore, the open rate becomes an unreliable metric to measure email engagement.

Changes in click-to-open rate (CTOR)

The CTOR measures the click rate in relation to how many people opened your email. Since it’s based on the open rate, which is unreliable, we expect to see changes in the CTOR as well. Since the open rate will increase, the CTOR will then likely decrease compared to your previous send-outs.

Hidden information

Email marketers won’t see data such as what time the email was opened, IP address, location, and device.

What email marketers should do about it

Look at other metrics to measure email marketing

Many email marketers, if not all, use the the open rate and the CTOR to analyze email engagement. Which subject lines get the most opens, how strong the call-to-actions (CTA) in the email were, and so on. With those numbers now becoming unreliable, marketers need to focus on other metrics to see if an email was successful. The good news here is that clicks in email still remain the same. You can still use the click-through rate (CTR) to measure engagement and CTA’s. The CTR is the percentage of recipients that clicked a link in your email. Another way to keep track of the marketing engagement is to keep an eye on the number of contacts you have on your email list. How many are signing up and how many are unsubscribing?

But it shouldn’t stop by the CTR or list growth. If you haven’t already, look at numbers that show how your email marketing contributes to your overall business goals. For example, conversion rate, the percentage of email recipients that did a specific action. For example, signed up for an event, downloaded a piece of content, or made a purchase. You could also focus on Return on Investment (ROI), how much money do you put into email marketing and how much revenue can you attribute to it.

Double-check your automations

If you use automated email flows, where a specific action by a recipient triggers another action, you need to ensure that your automations don’t trigger if they open an email. As opens aren’t reliable, you don’t want to trigger automations that shouldn’t be. Instead, use triggers like clicked any link, clicked a specific link, or submitted a form.

Forget about resending to non-openers

I’ve always preached that you can give your email send-out a second chance by resending the email to the contacts that didn’t open it. Unfortunately, when we can’t see who opened the email, if at all, resending it to non-openers won’t be an option.

Consider how you segment your contacts

Some might use email opens to see if the recipient engages in your content. Therefore, it’s the email opens that decide how to segment the contacts. For example, if they haven’t opened an email in a while, you  could add them to a re-engagement campaign. But yes, you guessed it, you can’t rely on email opens for this purpose.

So, what Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection means for email marketers? I hope this information can help you prepare, but we will all see what it actually means when it’s live sometime in September 2021.

As Digital Marketing Manager, Josefine oversees strategies, production and processes for all content marketing efforts, including social media, email and blog. She also introduced videos into their content marketing strategy, in which she shares her best tips on different marketing topics.

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