Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion, concern, and speculation over recent Apple email privacy announcements.  At Apple’s WWDC event, several iOS 15 email privacy features were announced, including “Mail Privacy Protection” that will have ramifications for metrics that digital marketers have relied on to measure engagement: The Open Rate and the Read Rate.

Additionally, Apple will be masking IP addresses, essentially disabling automatic location tracking, and providing an option to paid iCloud+ subscribers to hide their actual email address.

There is no need to panic!  There are just a few things that marketers need to be aware of and minor adjustments that will need to be made when thinking about engagement metrics going forward.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • A Refresher: How things work today
  • What will change
  • What you need to do to prepare

How does open/read tracking work?

A quick primer on how open/read tracking works in a marketing email: Behind the scenes, a transparent image (a pixel) is inserted into any message HTML sent from an email marketing platform.  When a contact opens the email, that image loads from the server, alerting the platform of the specific time the contact opened the email.  In Listrak, it also registers a "read" if it is opened for several seconds.

What will Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection do?

Based on the initial language from Apple, when iOS users receive an email in the Mail app, rather than downloading remote content when they actually open an email - Mail Privacy Protection will pre-download remote content in the background by default, regardless of if/how they do or don’t engage with the email.

This means that Apple will automatically download all images (including the tracking pixel), which could have potential impacts on the following email metrics:   

  1. OPEN RATE | An open event could be triggered across every email prior to a user opening.  This could result in an artificially inflated open rate across all iOS contacts. 

  2. READ RATE | Subsequently, we anticipate that the read rate could be completely deflated due to an instantaneous pre-load of the images.

Apple will also route email through proxy servers to mask IP addresses, essentially removing any form of automatic geo-tracking to a precise location.  It has been a recommendation for quite some time to use first-party physical addresses collected from your customers rather than relying on programmatic location tracking… this update continues to reinforce that strategy.

Will these changes affect SMS campaigns?

No.  For marketers using SMS to text message your customers (and if not, why not?), you are already accustomed to not having metrics like opens or reads since there has never been a way to embed a pixel into a text message.  There will be no changes to SMS reporting.

What will “Hide My Email” do?

For iCloud+ subscribers, Apple will be providing a “Hide My Email” feature that will use a unique, random email address that will forward to their personal inbox.  This may sound a lot worse than it actually is in the sense that there is still an email address tied to the user, it’s just a different address than their actual email address and gives the user a way to “unsubscribe” without clicking the unsubscribe button.

What should you do to prepare?

First, we need to mention the content above is based on initial information released by Apple, and there could be significant changes before a public release – which is tentatively planned for the fall.  

There is no need to take any drastic measures.  However, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re ready for the fall iOS updates…

  • Measure Your Audience
    As a Listrak client, you can use the Email Client Report (Analytics > Contact Analytics > Email Client) to see the percentage of contacts on your list that are Safari Mobile users by ever used, last used, or preferred client.  This will give you a better understanding of the percentage of your list that may be affected by these updates.
  • Establish Your Baseline
    Shift your focus to the most meaningful performance indicators: Clicks and Conversions.  Create your own benchmarks today from these essential metrics so that you can be ready to measure performance once the iOS updates are live in the fall.

  • Review and Refine Segmentation
    You may have several saved segments/audiences that use Last Open Date or Last Read Date.  Now is the time to evaluate these segments and consider expanding filters to go beyond opens by including click and purchase data.

  • Evaluate Personalization Strategies
    With a renewed focus on clicks, review your email creative to ensure that you are using personalization strategies such as product recommendations and targeted offers using dynamic content to deliver truly personalized one-to-one experiences.

  • Focus on Cross-Channel Engagement
    Continue to enhance your customer’s cross-channel journey with a spotlight on SMS (where the focus of measurement has always been clicks and conversions!).  Your iOS users are clearly mobile contacts, so evaluating your cross-channel strategies going forward will be paramount.

While open and read rates have been a measure of email engagement for marketers, the ultimate goal of any campaign is clicks and conversions.  Those are the metrics that matter the most and will not be impacted by these updates.  

The most important thing that you can do is to continue focusing on delivering messages that engage customers to purchase and drive revenue!

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