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5 Things Email Marketers Should Know About Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Feature

Posted by Andrew Wiltz on August 12, 2021

When it comes to email marketing, you could have the cleanest list... the most pristine copy... the most eye-catching design. But success can often come down to metrics. With the advent of tracking pixels and custom tracking URLs, metrics like open rate and click-through rate have been easy to collect.

Until now. 

Apple is expected to release iOS 15 this Fall. And one key feature in this update is Mail Privacy Protection 

What is Mail Privacy Protection? 

In Apple’s own words: “Mail Privacy Protection helps protect your privacy by preventing email senders, including Apple, from learning information about your Mail activity. When you receive an email in the Mail app, rather than downloading remote content when you open an email, Mail Privacy Protection downloads remote content in the background by default - regardless of how you do or don't engage with the email. 

In other words, for your recipients who use Apple Mail, you may not be able to track their open rates. 

You may be asking yourself, “Just how significant is this? How much will this impact my email marketing campaign metrics? How should I prepare for this change?” 

Here are 5 things to keep in mind: 

1. Mail Privacy Protection is voluntary... but adoption is expected to be high 

 This feature will not be enabled by default for users who install the iOS 15 update. But many users may take advantage of it. The customer base clearly values privacy based on past features... Only 4% of Apple customers opted in to ad tracking (a feature which started in April 2021). So if customers can easily avoid tracking, many will likely opt in.  

2. In 2020, 48% of all emails were opened in Apple Mail (source)

The Apple Mail market share has grown year over year. And you can expect it to keep on growing. If Mail Privacy Protection has similar adoption to ad tracking mentioned above, you could see a significant reduction in open rates. Basically, you won’t be able to tell if your recipients who use Apple Mail opened your email or not.  

3. This only affects your ability to track opens rates.

You will still be able to track clicks, conversions and other email metrics that don’t depend on open rates. 

4. You may be able to roughly infer open rates using historical click-to-open rate (CTOR). 

For example, let's say your email campaigns have a 25% CTOR on average. That means that for every 4 unique email opens, you get one unique click. If your email campaign results in 250 clicks, you could infer 1,000 opens as a ballpark estimate. This is imperfect, but perhaps better than nothing. 

5. Some of your email campaigns may need a refresh 

You may need to rethink your triggered email setup that relies on email opens, like automated nurture flows and real-time personalization.  

Here’s an example: a re-engagement email campaign that send users a different email if they are showing low levels of engagement. If you have an automated “We miss you” re-engagement email triggered when people don’t open emails, it may not be appropriate anymore. You don’t want to accidentally send this to someone who IS engaged with the email stream... but has Mail Protection Privacy on. 

Another detail to note: Send-time optimization (STO) may not be as reliable anymore. If you are using Acoustic or similar marketing tools to A/B test subject lines and send to the winner based on open rates, this may no longer work as intended. 

What can you do to prepare?

  • Understand your audience. Does your list actually use Apple Mail? How much of a difference will this make for your specific audience? Before you go changing your strategy, make sure it’s actually something to worry about.  
  • Test, test, test. You’ll have to continue to try new creative, subject lines and strategies... and evaluate the results based on the metrics available. Even if you can’t get the full picture you’re used to, you shouldn’t be guessing. Email marketing is a science and an art.
  • Start tracking click-through rate to set a new baseline for success in the future. 
  • Get cleaning. List hygiene, lead quality and sender reputation are more important than ever with this change. You may not be able to rely on open rates to alert you to a problem with emails going through. 
  • Segment your audience based on email platform. Chop up your recipients into segments (one segment where you can glean open data, one where you can’t) to understand your metrics better. 

At J&C, our expertise lies in our mastery of the art and science of customer engagement. Contact J&C today if you need help creating an email strategy for the changing marketing landscape ahead. 


Topics: Email Marketing, Marketing Data

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