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Email open rates in Apple Mail - what's happening, and what you can do instead

Later today, Apple will add new privacy settings to iOS 15 for iPhone and iPad, and will later roll them out to MacOS Monterey for desktops and laptops. These changes will start coming into effect as users download the latest updates over the coming weeks, and will affect customers who use Apple Mail. That’s expected to be around 35% of email recipients across all sectors, but our data suggest it could be as high as 50-80% of theatre and cultural event attendees.

 

What is it?

Mail Privacy Protection will give Apple Mail users the option to receive emails without activating the hidden pixels which tell email marketing platforms, such as dotdigital, that those emails have been opened. This means that - regardless of what email marketing platform you’re using - open rates in your email delivery reports will  include every Apple Mail user who’s activated Privacy Protection.

  • Email open rates recorded in dotdigital and other mail platforms are likely to increase dramatically as people update their software and apply new privacy settings.
  • Open rate metrics will no longer accurately represent engagement for Apple Mail users, which is likely to include a significant proportion of your audience.

The vast majority of Apple Mail users are expected to activate this privacy setting. This means that open rates will no longer be a useful metric for measuring the success of email campaigns.

This will impact your analytics. We’ve got some suggestions below about how you might use other metrics to better analyse success.

It won’t affect email performance - the settings impact metrics, but not deliverability.

It may affect email automation programs, if you’re using opens as a metric to trigger other actions.

 

What does it mean?

This may sound daunting. Communications teams everywhere have become used to using open rates as an easy benchmark for email performance.

However, in reality, opens aren’t a particularly useful measure of performance. One recipient may open an email, skim the first line and delete it, whilst another reads the content word-for-word. Both of those behaviours would be recorded as opens, but in reality they’re very different. A more useful measure is to focus on the actions each of those recipients takes - the first might unsubscribe from future communications, whereas the second might click a link, complete a form, visit your website or make a purchase.

 

What you need to do

Wherever you're using Open Rates, use Clicks or Conversions instead

Nothing’s going to break if you don’t act straight away, but if you currently rely on open rates for your analytics or automations, you’ll find they aren’t as useful as they once were. We’ll gradually update guidance across our Support Centre and other resources - but here are a few tips to get started.

You may see tips and tools circulating online which offer ways to ‘get around’ the new privacy settings. Don’t be tempted to spend time or money avoiding this change - Apple will almost certainly stay ahead of any workarounds, and other email providers are likely to follow.

Revisit your last few campaigns and check how open rates compare to clicks, web traffic, unsubscribes and ticket purchases. Use this record to benchmark engagement and set new target metrics for your next round of communications.

  • Clicks: In dotdigital, measure clicks using Campaign Reports
  • Unsubscribes: In dotdigital, measure unsubscribes using Campaign Reports
  • Web traffic: Use the Acquisitions tab in Google Analytics to measure the number of visits to site pages from your emails. 
  • Conversions: With Spektrix, you can report on ticket revenue from people who were sent a specific email. This is the most reliable measure of all, as it measures email performance against your ultimate goal and takes into account both people who book directly via your email, and those who need time to firm up their plans before making a purchase online or in person. To measure the impact on sales, set Target Event/s in Spektrix for each email you send, and use the ROI report to track ticket income from email recipients.

If you’re using automated emails, check the rules that trigger each step in the program. If any of them rely on open rates, consider what you’re trying to measure and which of the alternative metrics - clicks, unsubscribes or conversions - could work instead. If you don’t have chance to do this before the change comes into effect, your automations will continue to work - but Apple Mail users who don’t engage with your content may receive unwanted messages, which increases the risk that they’ll unsubscribe.

Revisit your email templates and imagine how readers will engage with them. If you’re using clicks as a primary measure, make sure the language and positioning of your calls to action is clear and inviting; if you’re using conversions to analyse impact, make sure you’ve identified your target events or other goals before you start building a new campaign.  Here’s some great advice on calls to action (CTAs) and goal setting from our friends at Supercool.

 

The good news

We’re sure this isn’t what you want to hear, just as you begin to recover from the impact of Covid-19. So let’s finish off with some good news:

  • Other tools for email tracking - such as clicks, unsubscribes and conversions - all rely on first-party cookies rather than permissions set by the mail provider. That means it would be very difficult for external companies to prevent access to those metrics in the future.
  • You’ve already survived spam filters, ‘primary inbox’ settings and GDPR. Just as those changes ultimately allowed you to focus your communications efforts on the people who are most interested in your work, perhaps this is a way to force the focus away from transient open rates and onto the metrics that really matter.
  • There may be a small, genuine increase in the number of people receiving your beautifully crafted rich-text emails. People can already opt out of open rate analytics in Apple, but only by choosing to receive emails as plain text. Now they’ll get the full benefit of your design work whilst also protecting their privacy.

 

Questions?

The update to Apple Mail sits outside Spektrix, which means we can’t directly influence the changes we’ve described. However, we're always here to help you put the right tools in place to track conversions, giving you new and more impactful ways to monitor email performance.

If you're a Spektrix user, contact our Support, Training and Consultancy team on support@spektrix.com

If you're not currently using Spektrix, contact hello@spektrix.com for advice on making the most of campaign analytics and ROI reporting.