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What Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Means For Email Marketers

Apple announced its iOS 15 updates are set to launch mid-September 2021, and the email marketing community was sent into a panic frenzy.

While the updates were celebrated by Apple as part of their “legacy of privacy leadership”, some people lamented it as the death of email marketing. But it’s not all doom and gloom! Email marketing will continue to evolve, as it has done with other recent data privacy changes.

Marketers can either bury their heads in the sand OR embrace it as a new challenge and an opportunity to improve their email marketing campaigns.

Here’s the breakdown of what the updates mean for email marketing and what you can do now to prepare.

What is Apple Mail privacy protection?

The privacy update is set to roll out between September and November 2021. It will present Apple Mail users with the options to “Protect mail activity” or “Don’t protect mail activity”. If they choose not to protect their activity, there won’t be any change to their email service. If users choose to protect their activity, Apple will hide their IP address and stop email senders from learning whether an email has been opened.

Apple will be routing emails through a proxy server to pre-load the message content (including any tracking pixels) before serving them to the email recipient. This will happen even if recipients don’t actually open the email, so email marketers will not be able to track who opened their emails on apple mail.

While it’s not being rolled out as a default setting, the likelihood of people selecting to not protect their mail privacy is slim. Given that only 4% of users chose to enable in-app tracking after the iOS 14.5 update, we can expect to see a similar adoption rate this time around.

Apple detailed how the update will work in their press release:

“Mail Privacy Protection 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, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”

We won’t know the full extent of what this update looks like until it’s rolled out, but there are going to be a few changes to how email marketers measure data and deliver personalised campaigns.

How will it affect email marketing?

While it might sound all doom and gloom, the changes will only affect the Apple Mail app on iOS 15. Other email apps won’t be affected, even if they are on Apple devices. That being said, Apple Mail now accounts for 38.9% of the email client market share, so the impacts are likely to be felt by most.

The biggest change that most people will see is with email open rates: it may become next to impossible to track accurate data. If your audience is largely made up of Apple Mail users, you may start seeing an open rate of 75% (not 100% as originally thought), even if no one actually opens your emails. While this sounds extreme, many marketers have long considered open rate a vanity metric. There are plenty of other performance metrics that you can and should track that will give you more powerful and relevant insights.

Here are some of the other effects marketers may see due to the Apple Mail Privacy updates:

  • If you have any audience segments or targeting based on the last open date, this may no longer be useful. This is also relevant if you clean up uneganged contact lists using last open date. 
  • Any automation workflows that have triggers based on when someone opens an email will need to be reconfigured. 
  • You won’t be able to accurately get results from A/B split testing for your subject lines as it heavily relies on open rate.
  • Data around optimal send times may become unreliable.
  • Any email elements that feature countdown timers or similar capabilities might show outdated times. This means that a contdown timer will begin at the time of send instead of the time of open.
  • There could be issues with interactive emails that reference external CSS to work. 
  • It may not be feasible to conduct audience targeting based on location, especially if the location is obtained from IP address information from your subscriber’s previous activity.

What can you do to prepare?

Change in digital is inevitable, particularly with the move towards greater data privacy across the board. As email marketers, we need to be adaptable to these changes and learn how to track beyond Open Rates.

While open rates and A/B testing subject line testing might not be the most helpful weapons in your marketing arsenal, critical metrics such as click-through rate, customer onsite behaviour, conversion rates and others, remain intact.

Here’s five things that you can do before the changes come into effect:

  1. Audit your contact lists to see how many of your subscribers use Apple Mail to read your emails. This will help you determine the kind of impact you’ll see. You never know, you might find that you will be largely unaffected.
  2. Create audience segments based on current open rates so that you can keep using them, if need be. It’s not ideal to continue using these lists based on that data long-term though. 
  3. It might be difficult to use opens as a sign of deliverability problems in the future. So take the time to clean up your lists and implement strategies to increase lead quality.
  4. Start tracking click-through rate, and other engagement metrics, instead of deliveries and opens. This will give you a good baseline for reporting on your campaigns moving forward.
  5. Start testing subject lines and email creative to get a better idea of what resonates with your audience. You can use this data to help shape your campaigns in the future.

Email marketing will evolve with the updates, as it has before. And we’ve seen time and time again that email marketing will continue to be a primary channel for business growth (in fact, 81% of SMBs said that they heavily rely on email for customer acquisition).

The key takeaway is to know your customers and invest in the data you have. Marketers who provide value-add content to the right customers at the right time will succeed. And no update will take that win away from you.

So take a deep breath, chin up, you’ve got this! Start planning now and you’ll find that the impact on your campaigns is nowhere near as bad as you think.

Want to learn more about how to prepare for data privacy changes? Check out our free webinar: How To Prepare For Tighter Data Protection Regulations.

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