Every email marketer has heard the news regarding Apple's new privacy updates. Among these updates is a new feature for the built-in Mail app designed to prevent email marketing systems from tracking when consumers open their emails. So does this mean open rates are dead? Unfortunately, the answer to this is a little more complicated than 'yes' or 'no'.
What Apple's privacy update actually means
To track email open rates, email service providers rely on a tracking pixel. The tracking pixel is usually a 1px by 1px square image created by a line of code that is discreetly inserted into your marketing emails (typically transparent and placed in the header/footer). If a request for that image is made from the email client, it gets marked as an ‘opened’ email when a person opens the email. Nice and easy for marketers to handle and no impact on the subscriber.
In Apple's Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using tracking pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps prevent senders from knowing when someone opens an email and masks their IP address to stop it from being linked to other online activity. Unfortunately, this means that you can't use automated email marketing campaigns based on customer's interactivity with your website and can't track whether they open your emails.
It's a little early to tell how much of an impact this will make. However, it won't be long before email marketing experts get their hands on the iOS 15 beta and begin rigorously testing the implications and possibilities. What we do know is that open rates aren't going to be a reliable metric for reporting on email campaign successes.
What Apple's update means for email marketers
One of the reasons this is such big news is due to the sheer size of Apple's email client market share. A recent report by Litmus shows that Apple has over 50% of the email client market share. So, first things first, check your email distribution list. In eCommerce, we tend to find that Gmail is more prevalent, so check how much this change will impact you ahead of time. You will still be getting data from users not using Apple. You can leverage this sub-dataset to continue optimizing your campaigns, doing A/B testing, etc. There is no indication that Apple users have significantly different behaviors when reacting to email marketing. Hone in on the clients for which you have the data and use that as a baseline.
As it is, open rates are a debatable metric. Just because someone has opened your email doesn't mean that they have read, engaged, or converted. Click-through rates (CTR), click-to-open rates (CTOR), and conversions are more important to measure campaign success. A few more foreseeable issues are that open rates impact deliverability. Whether an email ends up in the spam folder or gets delivered is tied to how many and/or often your emails are opened. Also, we're unsure how the CTR and CTOR will be determined without the open rate denominator. Time will tell on how these will be impacted.
Steps you should take now
Industry experts say that having a parameter on your end will enable you to identify traffic to your site from an email. It just won't always be possible to identify who that person is and which email they came from. Focus on time-based metrics rather than tracking/identity-based. Strategically time your campaigns so you can measure their impact one by one. For example, for a campaign sent on Tuesday, the traffic coming with a generic email identifier in the 2 days after that would be attributed to that campaign.
Apple is leading the charge on a topic that most people support - better privacy online and less tracking. There is a high possibility that others will follow suit. This means marketing teams will need to adjust the way they work and think about campaign building. With less tracking data available, it will become even more essential to focus on differentiating your content.