For years, email marketers have been using open rates as a key performance indicator for the success of their email programs. The thinking goes: “if my subscribers are opening my emails, then they must be interested in what I have to say.”

Open rates have also been at the heart of a lot of A/B subject line testing. It’s a common marketing tactic to send an identical email with two different subject lines to a percentage of an email file, see how many people open each variant and send the one with the higher open rate to the rest of the list.

And, marketers have been using email open data to identify the people on their lists who are no longer engaged as part of general list hygiene and maintenance best practices.

Well, all of that is going to get a LOT murkier.

Apple recently announced that its upcoming release of iOS 15 will include a number of privacy-related changes designed to give users greater control over their personal information that is shared with third parties.

 For consumers, this is good news. Providing greater transparency of how our information is being shared (and sold!) as we spend our time online is incredibly valuable. And, we hope that more companies move to provide this information in the future.

That said, this latest release by Apple could have a major impact on how fundraisers and marketers do their work.

The most critical metric for measuring the success of your welcome series is if your users open these messages.  We look for a high open rate that sends a signal to email service providers (ESPs) that your email and your organization are credible. This can help improve email delivery rates and increase the size of your emailable file. 

Apple Mail Privacy Protection

After updating to iOS 15 later this fall, users of the Apple Mail app will receive a pop-up asking if they want to opt-in to Mail Privacy Protection. According to Apple, “Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. [It prevents] 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.”

As a reminder, email marketing platforms embed tiny invisible image pixels into the content of the messages they send to monitor when emails are opened. As users choose to opt-in to the Mail Privacy Protection program, marketers will no longer be able to reliably know if their messages are being read.

Why Should You Care?

If you are a digital marketer, this change is likely going to impact a HUGE percentage of your email subscribers. Everyone who uses the Apple Mail app – either on a mobile device or via the Apple Mail desktop client on a Mac computer – to access their inbox will be shown the prompt about Mail Privacy Protection. Various benchmarking reports indicate that could be between 35-40% of all people who open and click on your emails.

How Should You Prepare?

1. Measure Success Based on Primary Objectives

Email open rates are likely not your primary KPI.

After all, it’s much more important to know if people are actually converting from your messages (donating, signing advocacy petitions, etc.) as opposed to simply opening them.

However, open rates have been a useful proxy to learn about the effectiveness of your messaging (Is my subject line compelling enough to get people to open? Are the people who open my emails actually clicking through and taking action, or do they simply read and then delete my message?). Unfortunately, that indicator will no longer be reliable. Depending on how the Apple update actually functions, your open rates could be all over the map going forward.

It’s important to ensure that you are measuring the success of your email campaigns based on the primary objective you want your readers to complete. For fundraising messages, that objective is making a donation. For advocacy, it’s signing a petition or calling their elected representative. For special events, it’s registering or buying a ticket. By keeping your eye on the prize of that primary objective, you’re less likely to be swayed by unreliable open rates.

2. Benchmark Your Current Email File

Before these changes go into effect, it’s a good idea to audit your existing email subscriber list to see what percentage of your readers are likely to be impacted.

Many eCRMs and emailing platforms allow you to download reports that show what devices and operating systems your subscribers are using to open your messages. Use this information to estimate how many of your subscribers are likely to be impacted by the Apple updates and how large an impact that will have on your campaign reporting. This can help you to manage expectations for yourself and your colleagues once the Apple updates go into effect.

3. Review Your Existing Email Automations to Avoid Problems

Email open data has been extremely helpful in assisting with list hygiene and maintenance and avoiding potential email deliverability problems.

For example, if a subscriber has not opened a message in the last 6 months, an organization may scrub them from their active file and stop emailing them altogether to avoid potential spam traps. This type of tactic will no longer be reliable as we won’t be sure who is actually opening emails over that time.

Instead, organizations should prepare to transition to monitoring metrics that can be reliably tracked to identify engaged versus disengaged users. This means that any queries and marketing automation that you use to monitor list health and promote list hygiene need to be updated to use clicks and conversions (rather than opens) to identify who is a disengaged subscriber.

Top Takeaways

  • The new Apple iOS 15 update will limit your ability to know if subscribers are opening and reading your emails.
  • Marketers should focus on primary objectives such as donations, conversions, etc. to measure the success of their email program.
  • Audit your existing email file to better understand how many of your subscribers are likely to be impacted (benchmarks suggest 35-40%).
  • Update your existing list hygiene and marketing automation that identify subscribers who have become inactive. Rely on clicks over a certain period of time, rather than opens, to tell if a user has indeed become inactive and should be scrubbed from your active file.

Any questions? Allegiance’s team of digital marketers and analysts is here to help.  

Questions about Apple’s Privacy Changes?