With the release of IOS 15 in September 2021, Apple dealt a big blow to email marketers.
The Mail Privacy Protection feature is great news for consumers. It is designed specifically to protect users’ data from third party apps.
Such as… um… email marketing software!
Users can opt in to the MPP to protect their email data from being shared. So, emails opened in the iphone mail app on IOS15 can no longer be guaranteed to send the information email marketers have long relied on.
Information such as
- Open rates – if and when a user opens the email
- The geolocation the user is when they open the email
- The device they are using
Email marketing has long relied on user data to test and optimise email campaigns. So what impact will this new(ish) development have? How can you tell if your emails are hitting the mark if you can’t tell who’s opened them?
How does email open rate tracking work, and what does Mail Privacy Protection do to stop it?
Email tracking software works by placing a 1px image, unique to each subscriber, in the email when it gets sent.
When this image is loaded, it sends a message back to the marketers email software, telling it that the email has been opened, along with other information such as time, geolocation and device.
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature stops that. It causes the image to appear loaded in the email as soon as the email is received by the subscriber. It also blocks location and device information.
So if you have ever, as I have, looked at a flurry of email opens within seconds of your email being sent, and wondered if there was a glitch, this is what was happening. Those subscribers have activated Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature.
How bad is this, really?
Well, at first glance it might seem catastrophic.
How else can you know if your subject lines are working if you can’t trust your open rates?
Well, the truth is, open rates have always been a little sketchy as a metric in your email marketing. Although many marketers view this as an important metric, the truth is, email marketing experts have long warned against an over reliance on open rates.
For starters, just because someone opens an email, doesn’t mean they’re reading it, engaging with it, interested in it or even chose to read it.
I just ‘opened’ 20 emails in less than 20 seconds. Apart from a few that stood out because I know them, I couldn’t tell you what most of them were, who they were from, or what they wanted me to know. I didn’t see the subject line. The only choice I was making was to click the ‘next’ button in my gmail.
And yet all those email marketers would think I opened their email deliberately.
You haven’t always been getting accurate open rate info anyway!
There are a few things that can stop open information from getting to you.
When I worked in organisations that used Outlook, I routinely switched off ‘read receipts’ so that no one in the organisation would know when I’d read their email.
Gmail users, for example, can automatically block images in their emails, which would prevent the tracking image from being downloaded into the email.
This means that unless they specifically choose to see the messages in your emails, that 1px image that your email system sends won’t be loaded. So they might have opened your email, but you wouldn’t know.
They could then choose to display the images in your email, or to always display images from you. But they might not as well!
(And to further prove the point that opening an email doesn’t guarantee engagement, I opened this email reminding me to complete my coach booking…. And forgot to complete my booking!)
Mobile or desktop, it matters
40% of emails are first opened in mobile devices. Images can take up a lot of data, which is an important factor for users. So a lot of email providers, including Gmail automatically blocks images when opening emails on some mobile devices.
When you consider that Gmail has 18% of the email market, 27% of email opens… and 75% of those opens happens on a mobile device, that’s fairly huge news! (ref: TechJury)
Comparing Apples with Apples doesn’t even work
Not every Apple user will be affected by this change. Or at least, not yet. And not all the time.
According to analysis by emailoctopus
- Not all IOS users have upgraded to IOS15 yet
- Not all IOS 15 users will activate the Mail Privacy Protection feature
- MPP only works when the device is plugged in and connected to a power source
Accessibility tools can interfere with your information
Last year I created a re-engagement automation for a client. The automation flagged people who hadn’t opened any emails for a few months, and sent them a couple of emails inviting them to re-engage, or they were unsubscribed. This is basic list management, no one wants to pay for subscribers on their list who ignore all their emails.
I was surprised one day when she received an email from one of her subscribers, explaining that she uses a screen reader, and requesting that she be excluded from that automation, as she very much does enjoy the emails she receives.
I put a tag on her record, and added a step into the automation to exclude her. But how many others are incorrectly added to the automation?
So what’s the big deal with Mail Privacy Protection?
Well, aside from the unreliable open rate data, there are other implications to this new change.
If you’re A/B testing your email subject lines, your data might not be entirely accurate. But given the relatively small number of emails this will impact, it’s still worth doing this. Your tests might not be entirely accurate, but it will give you a feel for what’s happening. Particularly if you also incorporate other metrics such as click-through rates in your assessment of your email campaign.
Automations based on whether a subscriber opens an email won’t work as well as you might expect them to. A subscriber with MPP activated will find themselves in open based automation whether they’ve opened the email or not. But as we’ve seen, an open email doesn’t indicate interest or engagement. I might open your email and promptly delete it.
So maybe ‘if contact opens this email, send them this email next’ was never the best form of behaviour based sequencing anyway.
Also, if Apple aren’t giving you the contact’s location and open time, then you will may not be able to use that data to segment by location, or use AI tools to predict the best time to send, such as Mailchimp’s Send Time Optimisation feature.
Optimise for engagement, not open rates
I’ve opened countless emails and not read a single word of it before deleting it, unsubscribing from it, or moving on to the next one. The fact that I opened it means nothing in terms of how well the email performed. Not really.
I may open an email, read it all, enjoy reading it, and still not ever become a customer of that emailer.
So if you’re interested in using email data to help you increase conversions, you need to track with that in mind. Open rates matter, but they are as much an indicator of buyer potential as a like on your Facebook post!
Use tried and tested subject line formulas
Obviously, you have to get people to open your emails in order for them to engage. No one claims that it’s not important to get the email opened. Just that it can’t be your measure of success.
In a crowded inbox, in an information-saturated world, subject lines are vitally important to get opens. Your email might get opened because someone knows and loves you and ALWAYS opens your emails.
But how many people’s marketing emails do you ALWAYS open, just because it’s from them? Not many, I bet!
So always aim to write subject lines that will engage, intrigue and excite your subscribers.
Track link clicks
Every email you send should contain a call to action. These can be a link to a blog post, social media post, podcast, sales page etc…
Using click-through rates as a key metric of your email marketing is a far more effective measure of the success of your emails. If they open it and don’t take the next step, then was it worth counting the open anyway? Does it matter?
If you make engagement with the email your primary tracking metric, this prompts you to get better with your calls to action, to write copy that leads people to want to take the next step.
And once you get them to take that next step, they’re one step closer to getting their credit card out and becoming a customer. Someone who opens all your emails but doesn’t once click-through is potentially as much of a deadweight subscriber as someone who never opens your emails.
If you incorporate your email click data with Google Analytics, you will be able to build up a clear view of where your website links are coming from.
Segment your list and send relevant information
Emails based on lead behaviour and interest will result in far more relevant communication with your subscribers. If a subscriber knows that your emails are relevant to them, they are more likely to open and engage with them.
As the sale is a short one, they want to maximise engagement and uptake, so they decide to, and target people who have bought in the past, and people who engage regularly with them on Instagram to capitalise on the already great responses they get on this platform.
They will know that people who buy one George Harrison t-shirt often wish they could buy more, so will be glad to know of a sale!
View this post on Instagram
They can tag people who have purchased from them via a link between their online store and their email management system. And a Zap could connect their Instagram engagement with their email subscribers.
They could email the previous customers with a series of emails to inform, and then remind them about the sale. And the Instagram contacts can be guided to a post on Instagram, to encourage engagement and boost the visibility of the post.
(this is an entirely theoretical example, I don’t have knowledge of the inner workings of the business strategy for georgeharrison.com!)
Email, even business email, isn’t simply a broadcast medium.
Yes, there are times when email is used to simply convey information. But when it comes to generating and nurturing leads, it is so important to see it as a conversation.
You are building a relationship with your subscribers.
When you’re getting to know a new friend, you don’t simply talk at them, tell them all about your life and expect them to become your friend.
You get to know a person by asking questions, by listening to them as much as you talk, by sharing stories and inviting them to share theirs.
The same is true of email marketing.
Not all your emails need to be about directing your subscribers to a web page.
What could happen if you asked them a question?
Experiment with your calls to action
Clicks are generated by your calls to action.
So effective calls to action are vital if you want your subscribers to engage with your copy.
But how do you know what is the best sort of call to action?
Joanna Weibe recommends working on call to value rather than action. So instead of ‘Buy Now’ to get people to click through to your course, your subscribers might respond better to ‘Learn the secret to healthy skin today’, or ‘Yes, I want healthy skin today’. Reminding them of the benefits they will get from clicking that button, rather than just telling them what to do…. It works for my 12-year-old son, I’m sure it will work in your emails!
There are a number of tried and tested formulae you can use in your calls to action as in any other type of copy. The secret is to test different ones and see which works best for your audience. Your audience won’t respond the same as mine, so I can’t tell you which one is best for you. A/B testing of different calls to action will tell you that.
Make your emails worth opening
I left this till last. I almost didn’t include it. It seems so obvious. If you want better open rates, make your emails worth opening!
But it’s important to note… There is a balance to be struck.
Your emails are appearing in their life. If you want them to engage with them, with you, you have to give them something worth engaging with.
If all they get from you is sales messaging, whether that’s promoting your products or your latest podcast or blog post, the chances are they will soon lose interest.
Your products, podcasts and blog posts might be just what they need. But if it’s always about you, they won’t engage.
Make sure that you are also giving them value for it’s own sake.
Yes, giving away free content can feel like thankless work sometimes.
But it’s a vital part of your marketing strategy. It’s how you will build authority, build relationships, and show your leads that they can trust you to provide the solution they are looking for.
Not only that, but your value content can give you useful data about your subscribers to help you turn them into customers…
Your subscribers joined your list because they have a problem that you can solve.
The more you can share content that relates to their problem, the more insights you will get into their needs.
Email marketing is not going away, and software providers giving users greater control over their privacy doesn’t need to harm your marketing. It just means that you need to pay attention to the metrics that will actually give you useful data, and write emails that people want to interact with! Open rates aren’t that important in the wider picture. There is plenty more you can track!
Are you sending an email to your subscribers this week?