iOS 15 changed the game for email marketing

The latest buzz around email marketing has been all about the impending iOS 15 release and how it will impact email marketing. Well speculate no more, because iOS 15 is finally here!
iOS 15 was announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7 and was launched on September 20. There were a lot of new features announced, but the ones that struck fear in the hearts of email marketers were focussed on user privacy. In the 105 days between announcement and launch, email marketers frantically worked to fill the gap new features known as “Mail Privacy Protection”, “Private Relay” and “Hide My Email” were expected to create.

When an Apple user updates their mobile device to iOS 15 and opens their mail app, they will be prompted to opt in to Mail Privacy Protection. Based on the adoption of previous updates that included privacy features, we are expecting a high percentage of Apple users to opt in.

If they do choose to opt in, their emails will be sent to a proxy server that preloads all images including the tracking pixel which registers the email as being opened once it has been loaded. This will lead to artificially inflated email open rates for all email recipients who use Apple Mail and have opted in to Mail Privacy Protection.

Mail Privacy Protection only applies to anyone who has updated their device to iOS 15 and uses the Apple Mail app to manage their emails, regardless of their email address. This means that users who have a Gmail account and use the Apple Mail app to read their emails will be included in these changes, but users who have an iCloud email address and use Outlook to read their emails will not.

You might be thinking: “that’s only one subset of users, why does iOS 15 matter so much?”. In fact the same thought crossed my mind, so I Googled it and fear instantly washed over me as I came to understand the real impact. According to Litmus, in August Apple iPhones accounted for 90.5% of email opens on a mobile device, and Apple Mail accounted for 62.9% of email opens on desktop. In addition to this, 41.6% of emails were opened on a mobile device – so the impact of iOS 15 is expected to be fairly significant.


What is Private Relay?

Private Relay is an option for iOS 15 users who have subscribed to iCloud+ only. It gives Safari users the ability to hide their IP address while browsing, which removes the ability for email marketers to geographically target their audience based on IP address. It appears that country information will still be available, but any data in a more granular form will no longer be available for users that choose to “use broader location” when they update to iOS 15.

What is Hide My Email?

Hide My Email is also an option for iOS 15 users who have subscribed to iCloud+ only. It allows Safari users to create a unique proxy email address for each business that requests an email to subscribe. It’s essentially the email version of a burner phone, allowing the user to generate random email addresses that are linked to their actual email address and can be easily disposed of to anonymise online activity.

This can impact your email marketing campaigns by duplicating contacts. If someone visits your website and subscribes to your mailing list using a proxy email, and then later goes on to complete a purchase using their real email address, two contacts will be created. One contact will contain all of their behavioural data, and the other will have all their purchase data and there is no clear way to tell if they’re the same contact so you can merge them. This causes issues if you send the same email marketing campaigns to your subscribers and your purchasers, because these users will receive multiple copies of the same email.

5 steps you can take now to counteract these changes.

  1. Don’t panic

    Open Rates have never been 100% accurate. If an email user chooses to block images their email will not register as having been opened, which under-reports the open rate. Take a big breath, make a coffee, then get to work on the steps below.

  2. Understand your audience

    What percentage of your contacts used an iPhone, iPad or Apple Mail to open your emails in August? (this can be expanded out to the last 3-6 months depending on how frequently you send emails). Understanding your audience can help you to prepare for the potential impact of iOS 15 on your email marketing strategy.

  3. Optimise your call to action and focus on driving clicks

    Clicks are now more important than ever as we move to replace our reliance on open rates. Any split testing (such as testing the call to action in subject lines) that relied on open rate as a measure of success will no longer be a feasible option, so you need to think about the best way to measure these tests moving forward (hint: it’s clicks).

  4. Review your segments and workflows

    Update any that rely on open rates as a filter or trigger (such as engagement segments, list cleaning workflows and sunset workflows) and replace open rates with other behavioural metrics such as clicks, active on site, viewed product and/or placed order.

  5. Start collecting first-party data

    First-party data is the information you collect directly from your customers. An example of this is location data which can be collected via a form (first-party) instead of relying on the user’s IP address (third-party).

Published by Sherryn McBride

Sherryn McBride and Marketing Talk. Consulting, marketing workshops, industry talks, workplace training and social media.

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