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iOS 15 & the impact on open rate measurement: Everything you need to know and how it affects you

September 15 - 2021

Email Marketing Strategy 5 min read

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You could be forgiven for missing it but, if you've been paying close attention, you'll have noticed the doom mongers are out in force again.

This time they're sounding the death knell of email marketing (for the umpteenth time!) thanks to an announcement Apple made regarding the upcoming iOS 15 update.

Before we get into it, here's what's happening:

As part of the iOS 15 update, Apple Mail is getting a new Privacy Protection feature. The new feature will disrupt tracking pixels in emails. This means Apple will stop senders from knowing when users have opened an email and will mask their IP address so it can't be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

In a nutshell, all emails sent to Apple devices, read using native email apps will show as 100% opened - therefore rendering open rates useless.

Apple Mail Privacy selection screen
Source: Ryan Jones

We expect to see this update anytime from mid-September (2021) and Apple will give users the choice whether they want to opt-in or opt-out of this feature. However, we can safely assume the vast majority will opt-in. The App Tracking privacy feature Apple added to the last update (which works in a similar way) currently has an estimated 95% adoption rate of the privacy setting and we expect the numbers to be similar for this feature.

In essence, this means open rates, click to open rate, send time optimisation and content based on time of open (like countdown timers) will no longer be reliable from readers with Apple devices (between 40-60% of all users).

"Whaaaat? We can't track open rates from Apple devices?" is probably pretty close to what you're thinking right now. But worry not, there is no need to panic.

You see, open rates can serve a purpose - they're a useful indicator of a number of things, especially how strong a subject line is - but they aren't the be all and end all. Like list size, open rates are a vanity metric. They'll tell you information that might make you feel good when the numbers are high but this information doesn't tell you anything about conversions or engagement - the metrics that really matter.

Great email marketing is about building relationships with your subscribers and this can't be tracked through an open rate. This is measured through how your subscribers engage, interact and, ultimately, buy from you.

This being said, there are a number of actions you can take to make sure you've got all your bases covered:

  1. If you haven't done so already, move your mindset away from vanity metrics like open rates to more valuable metrics such as engagement rates. Use clicks and conversions as measurements of engagement to truly see how successful your campaigns are. This will give you a far clearer picture of how well your email marketing campaigns are performing.
  2. Create Apple & Non-Apple segments now - before the updates. This will provide you with a benchmark of opens and clicks between these groups. Correlate this now, while you can, and you can then use your Non-Apple segment in the future (which is not affected by this change) to draw some inference of opens across all sends. Doing this will depend on the email service provider you use. If you need assistance we'd be very happy to help.
  3. Create open rate benchmarks for both segments and calculate the relationship between segments for future estimations. If opens for Apple is 30% and Non-Apple is 30%, then you can infer Non-Apple opens for all sends
  4. Test as soon as possible (before the change) for any emails you have running or planned where open rate is the key success metric. For example, you might want to test emoji use in the subject line or long subject lines versus short one.
  5. Review all automations and segment creation logic currently running to identify any based on open. Amend as required.
  6. Ensure you are using click through rates (traffic source) and data from Google Analytics to measure conversions. A link between emails sent and web analytics means you can track all assisted sales, even if they are not from an email click, as well as web traffic from email (as open rate will no longer be a measure of engagement or attribution). 
  7. Change database 'engagement' criteria to include clicks, data of last purchase/booking or download (when doing re-engagement campaigns) rather than opens and set up first party data connections if not already in place. Where possible ensure that all these actions can be linked to an individual in your email data. Allowing future email engagement segments to be based on all touchpoints with the brand. This can take a little time to scope and implement, so starting on this now is highly recommended.
  8. Ask your customers what they want from your emails, send out email satisfaction surveys and get that preference centre in place so you ensure your readers are getting the emails they want to receive. Opens have traditionally been used as a measure of engagement - high opens means happy readers. This will not be possible in the future, so ask readers what they think of your emails now so that you can amend, adapt and improve your emails for the future, without having to rely on open as a measure of success.
  9. Clean lists now - remove un-engaged data and run re-engagement campaigns now. For past non openers, be proactive and offer to remove them from your send list. You won't be able to rely on opens (or non-opens) to drive your engagement segments. This could impact on deliverability in the future as it will be harder to remove non openers from your regular send list. Cleansing your data now and allowing readers to opt out will ensure your list is optimised for reader engagement, improving your reputation with the Email Service Providers and give you a better chance of hitting the inbox rather than spam.

This is a significant change to the email marketing landscape but one, we believe, in the same vein as GDPR, has the potential to benefit everybody. It will force senders to prioritise email content that drives engagement which, naturally, then benefits the reader. Everyone wins.

If you're already one of our clients, we'll be going through all of this with you. Or, if you're new to Jarrang, and would like some support, advice or guidance, we're here to help - you can get in touch with us below.

Update 15/09/2021

Apple has now confirmed that iOS15 is set to be released on Monday 20 September.

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