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How Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Will Affect Your Email Marketing

One of the biggest changes coming out of the iOS 15 update for email marketing is the Mail Privacy Protection, but what is it and what does it mean for email marketing?

What is Apple Mail Privacy Protection?

  • Apple Mail Privacy Protection is due to be rolled out to the Mail app on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey devices between September and November this year.
  • It has been in ‘beta’ for the last few months so we’ve got some understanding of how it works. However, until it is fully released we won’t be able to say definitively what the impact will be.
  • Apple says “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.”

How it works

These notes are taken from our ESP partner – Pure360. We’ll be working with them to monitor the effects of this change.

Upon first opening of the Apple Mail app with the iOS 15 update, users get the option to protect or don’t protect mail activity. Protecting mail activity will turn on Apple Mail Privacy Protection.

When turned on, emails are first sent through a proxy server to pre-load message content, including tracking pixels, before pushing to the device. Even if users don’t actually open those emails.

  1. When the user’s Apple Mail app starts up, it triggers a download of the email to their device from the sender’s web host or email service provider (ESP).
  2. At that time Apple caches all of the images in the email, creating a copy of the images to a new location on the Apple Privacy Cache with an IP address assigned to the general region of the subscriber instead of their specific geolocation. 
  3. In this process Apple caches the images from the ESP server, including the open tracking pixel, tricking the ESP into thinking the email has been opened.
  4. If the user actually opens the email, a request is triggered to download and display the email’s images, but instead of coming from the sender’s web host or ESP server, they’re coming from the Apple Cache.

This affects any email opened from the Apple Mail app on any device—no matter which email service is used such as Gmail or a work account. However, this shouldn’t affect other email apps used on Apple devices like the Gmail app on an iPhone.

Courtesy of Pure360
Courtesy of Pure360

What are the impacts?

  • Open rates will go up resulting in opens not being a reliable metric for email performance.
  • You will not be able to tell who opened your emails, when, and where via Apple Mail.
  • If you use click to open (CTO) rate reporting, you will see a reduction in this rate as open counts go up.
  • The accuracy of device reporting will degrade following the launch
  • The ‘last open date’ will no longer be a good indicator that a user is engaged if they use Apple Mail. Segments/filters that use ‘last open date’ to drive campaigns will not be accurate.
  • With the change of IP address after Apple has cached the email, the geolocation functionality of ESPs will be inaccurate. Similar to the Google changes a few years ago that had the same impact on device reporting.
  • Automations/journeys that use ‘last opened date’ or ‘opened email’ will be impacted.
  • If your email provider uses opens to drive subject line testing to pick the winning subject line then this will be impacted.
  • Live email content such as countdown timers and live weather that updates when the user opens an email will be impacted as the image is cached at the time the user opens the Apple Mail app.

What you need to do now

  • Find out how many of your users use Apple Mail to read emails. If the group isn’t that big then you should see little impact.
  • Do a clean up of your list using ‘last open date’ before Apple Mail Privacy Protection.
  • Review all automations and use ‘clicked’ instead of ‘opened’ as a trigger in customer journeys
  • Start tracking click-through rate now so that you have a baseline report for campaigns moving forward.
  • If possible, create a segment for Apple users to monitor impact on those users alone.

What you need to do next

  • Clicks will be the new ‘opens’, try changing your content design to engage and encourage more clicks
  • Look at using additional performance metrics like clicks and conversions instead of just opens. Make sure your campaigns are tracking properly in Google Analytics to measure traffic, revenue and other metrics.
  • Consider adding SMS to your marketing mix. SMS open rates are extremely high.
  • Focus on collecting zero party data – data that a customer freely and proactively shares with you. Things like billing address for orders, this will bypass the need for geolocation filters using IP addresses.
  • Informational emails which do not look for clicks or conversions may require some form of CTA moving forward to measure success over open rates.
  • Review any emails that utilise live content and how it could impact the user experience if it’s displaying incorrectly.

What are Colewood doing?

We’ll continue to keep a close eye on open and click rates for our email clients as the iOS 15 update rolls out this week. We’ll be monitoring this across a range of ESPs and how it impacts each one.

Pure360 are currently reviewing a number of changes in the platform to help users understand the impacts of Apple Mail Privacy Protection. These include reporting improvements, new conversion tracking metrics and A/B testing.

If you’re interested in email marketing could work for your business, contact us today for more information.

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