September 23, 2021

The Death of Open Rate Metrics: The iOS 15 Impact

A year ago, Apple teased the launch of a new operating system for all their devices — iOS 14. Rich with privacy protections like App Tracking Transparency, iOS 14’s release felt like Chicken Little’s “the sky is falling” moment for digital marketers. But here we are, performing better, faster, and stronger than ever, continuing to grow and optimize our campaigns. While we’d love to write a blog about the resiliency of digital marketers through an ever-changing landscape, this is not that blog.

In the aftermath of iOS 14, one of the big takeaways was a focus on first-party data collection. Between single-digit percentages of users greenlighting apps to continue tracking them and the writing on the wall of the death of the third party cookie in a few years, your owned information seemed far more valuable. That is, until Apple decided you may not have that either, and here comes the iOS 15 update.

Rewriting the Rules

While iOS 14 focused on how your apps like Facebook, Amazon, or Google interact and share your information, iOS 15 tackles your inbox privacy. The biggest change comes with their Mail Privacy Protection. Designed for iDevices’ native Mail app — that syncs most mail accounts into one place and is great for on-the-go use — Mail Privacy Protection lets Mail app users hide their IP address and third party information about their email opening habits and other IP-related data. 

These invisible email tracker pixels will now be muted to know whether or not you’ve opened an email. Instead, the Mail app will preload the images and content within the emails you receive regardless if you open the email or not. This preloaded data will include the hidden tracking pixels and indicates that open rate data will inaccurately skyrocket.  In addition to knowing whether an email is opened, Mail Privacy Protection hinders accuracy in projecting a user’s location when they open an email, the device they used to open the email, and even which email service they used.

Not only is email opening data in jeopardy, but so is the collection of emails itself. To complement Mail Privacy Protection, Apple is also rolling out a “Hide My Email” feature available with their new iCloud+ (the new name for paid iCloud plans). Exactly as it sounds, this feature scrambles your email address with each send while still allowing for you to receive every email in your personal inbox. This infinite creation and deletion of email addresses present a challenge for the collection of first-party data like email addresses for marketing purposes.

Is Email Marketing Dead?

In short, no. It’s just time to be agile again! The changes may sound daunting, but there are a few key areas you can start tackling in your email marketing to limit the effects of iOS 15’s rollout.

Check Your KPIs

In digital marketing, your key performance indicators (KPIs) are vital for you to talk the talk and walk the walk. If you’re email marketing-focused and have KPIs centered around open rates or even click rates, take some time to evaluate these goals.

All of these KPIs are vital to check on, but in doing so, be sure to finish with a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART) goal.

Fall Cleaning

Don’t wait for spring to come around for your cleaning! Related to your new subscriber’s KPIs, it’s strategic to conduct a cleanup of your subscribers so that you have an accurate depiction of your target audience. While the open rate of an Apple Mail user may be skewed, not everyone has an Apple device or uses the Mail app. For a control group of open rate data, make a separate list of known email subscribers who do not use an iDevice or Mail app.  This group may be a way to get a better picture of open rates in the future but in a smaller setting.

Despite the skewed open metrics for Mail app users, all signs point to still being able to monitor if a Mail app user is active in their app and email use. This is a great signal to clean up your list of already disengaged and uninterested email subscribers. Steps may include removing emails from your send list if they haven’t opened an email in over a year or even sending them one brief note asking them to click or respond if they’d like to continue receiving emails. With this more tailored list of recipients moving forward, you help your metrics and save money by sending to a smaller email batch! 

Trimming down your list can sound daunting, but clear questions help you address your cleanup efforts. Are emails bouncing? Are they not engaged? Are there duplicate emails? For more help cleaning up your email list, follow these helpful tips.

Get Ready to Get Creative

As email marketers, you always have to get creative, and the rollout of iOS 15 is no different! From subject lines to calls to action, you always look to offer the best ideas for your audience. It’s no different with iOS 15, but there are other areas of your email marketing that may be impacted by skewed open rate data. Some of these areas may include:

The Sky Is Not Falling

While the changes brought by Apple’s iOS 15 update may sound drastic for email marketing, it’s vital to use it as an opportunity to innovate and grow your brand and business in smart ways. As privacy becomes increasingly important to consumers across the digital landscape, it’s equally important that brands honor and adapt to these calls for privacy. The ones that do will gain the trust —and business — of the consumer. One change from Apple isn’t going to eliminate the habits of the 4 billion daily email users or the multi-billion dollar email marketing industry, but it will certainly change the ways in which we get our worthwhile messages into inboxes.

Whether your email lists or dated email campaign structures need freshening up, PHOS’s team of digital marketers is ready to help you and your brand navigate the new iOS 15 space.

Caleb Knight

Caleb Knight

Caleb focuses on providing clients with exceptional results through strategy, content, and data. With a vast skillset and experience across digital marketing and public relations, he focuses on developing and implementing strategies to bring our client’s efforts to life while simultaneously building relationships with them.

Outside of PHOS, Caleb can be found exploring all of the great outdoors that Florida has to offer, admiring the night sky, curating his assortment of Spotify playlists, and playing/following a variety of sports.