The iOS Update Vs Email Marketing: The Ultimate FAQ

iOS and email marketing

Still dreading the changes that the iOS update brings to email marketing? I feel your pain. While preparing this article, I’ve read a whole bunch of information on the topic. And I found out there’s hardly a piece of content that contains an opinion of more than one person/brand.

This is exactly why I decided to ask several email marketing experts to give their answers on this hottest topic of the summer (and fall, too). So, drum roll please… meet the experts:

Emily Benson’s and Yanna-Torry Aspraki’s contribution to this article is made possible by the Women of Email Speakers Bureau. We would like to say a special thank you to the Women of Email Association co-founders for giving us this opportunity.

Women of Email is a professional network aimed at promoting leadership among women within the email marketing niche.

The overview

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2021, Apple announced the rollout of new iOS 15 privacy features. It will happen this year between September and November.

This caused quite a stir in the email marketing community worldwide. The changes related to email marketing will include:

  • Mail Privacy Protection. Apple Mail will allow users to opt in to mail privacy features that mask IP addresses and block third parties from tracking email opens or other IP data.
Mail privacy protection
  • Hide My Email. You can now instantly generate unique, random email addresses that forward to your personal inbox — so you don’t have to share your real email address when filling out a form on the web or signing up for a newsletter.
Hide my email feature
An example of the Hide my Email feature in action. Source: Apple.com

The Apple email clients share shows steady growth. In 2020, Litmus annual email client market share data showed that Apple iPhone (iOS Mail), Apple Mail (macOS Mail), and Apple iPad (iPadOS Mail) had over 46% of combined email opens in 2020. It has since grown to 49.7% at the end of July this year.

Email client market share study 2021 by Litmus
Source: Email client market share study 2021 by Litmus

The change is real and it’s coming very soon. Does it all mean the end of email marketing? How do you go about not being able to see what your real open rate is? And, most importantly, what steps do you take now to adapt to “the “new email normal”?

Let’s see what the experts say.

Simply put, what exactly will happen?

I’ve seen lots of complicated explanations for seasoned email marketers. But how do you explain the update to, say, small business owners who do email marketing themselves or have limited resources for this?

Emily Benson
Emily Benson

Freelance email marketing specialist, a member of Women of Email association.

With the launch of Apple’s iOS 15 this fall, users will be given the choice to “Protect Mail Activity.” If a user selects this option, their email will be routed through an external relay prior to hitting their inbox. This relay will mask IP location data and trigger any “hidden” tracking pixels. This means that it will appear any user who receives email through this process has opened the email when, in reality, it has only hit their inbox. This affects open rates, send time optimization, location-based dynamic content, countdown timers (which are usually triggered on opens), A/B testing, and more.

Open rates will be inflated. It will look like anyone who received your email through the native iOS 15 mail app has opened it, whether they did or not, if they’ve chosen “Protect Mail Activity.” This includes not just Apple Mail, but any email client routed through the native app. For example, if someone has set up their Gmail to run through the native mail app, this change will affect how those opens appear. However, other apps (like the separate Gmail app) will remain unaffected, even on a device with the iOS 15 upgrade. The location information is also similarly affected (hidden on the native app, not on separate apps)

Yanna-Torry Aspraki
Yanna-Torry Aspraki

Business Development & deliverability specialist at EmailConsul, a member of Women of Email association

How does email tracking work? Well, a unique invisible image of 1×1 pixel is added to each of the emails being sent out to your subscribers. When your audience opens your campaign, the inbox “downloads” the email in order for them to view it, which includes the content and all images.

With changes of fetching data before a user actually opens your emails, open rates will probably be inflated which will make it virtually impossible for email marketing tools to let you know if your audience actually opened the email or not.

Kennedy
Kennedy

The Email Marketing Show podcast co-founder

When someone opens your emails, your email marketing platform gets told that they’ve opened it. iOS15 will block this signal and that means you won’t know who has opened your emails if they’re using an Apple device. Once the update happens, all the open rates of all your apple users will basically be 100% unreliable, you cannot use them as a metric.

Igor Malchenko
Igor Malchenko

Unisender product manager

It will become impossible to identify how many emails really got opened. When the iOS update comes, we expect 90-95% of Apple users to press the button that will allow their email activity not to be tracked. At this very moment, Apple will start loading email pictures on its servers. So your servers will not be able to identify if an email was opened or not.

The open rate is currently a core metric, it’s trusted 100%. For example, if you got 30 opens, you might get 10 clicks. The update will change it. You might be in the situation when you get 30 clicks, but 10 opens (which shows that your open rate doesn’t show correctly).

Who will be affected the most?

Igor Malchenko
Igor Malchenko

Unisender product manager

Those who have email workflows in which the next email is sent only if the previous one has been opened. For example, online course creators or individual newsletter creators.

Individual newsletter creators will be especially affected. Most of them rely on their open rates to get advertisers. Unlike big projects like Morning Brew, they do not operate referral links statistics when getting news advertisers.

Those businesses that only track how many sales their emails generate, won’t be affected by it, because the open rate is something they anyway do not track.

I asked a question about how and if newsletter creators are preparing for the iOS update in 2 Facebook groups: “The Newsletter Creators” and “The Newsletter Nerds”. I got some unexpected answers.

Facebook answer 1
Facebook answer 2

Are there ways to get around it?

Emily Benson
Emily Benson

Freelance email marketing specialist, a member of Women of Email association

I think we need to be cautious when we talk about how to adapt to this change. As marketers, our first instinct is to figure out how we can still get the stats we feel we need in order to report on our KPIs and prove the value of our programs. We are often beholden to internal stakeholders, so it’s natural to feel like we need to figure out how to “get around” changes to how we’ve been operating. But this is a change that helps protect recipients’ information and puts them more in control of their options. We’re in a period where the public’s hunger for privacy and their desire for more personalized content and experiences are in opposition. Our job is to figure out how to balance those desires, which is going to look different for every business and program.

Yanna-Torry Aspraki
Yanna-Torry Aspraki

Business Development & deliverability specialist at EmailConsul, a member of Women of Email association

There are no ways around getting perfect open rate statistics. We will all have to switch to different data in order to see if our strategies are working correctly or need to be optimized. It is time to start looking at other metrics so that we can compare them after changes happen.

Kennedy
Kennedy

The Email Marketing Show podcast co-founder

Open rate reporting has been massively flawed and never been a good metric to chase anyway. So it’s nice that Apple’s new update is highlighting this. Instead of caring about whether people open your emails, (because who cares?!), look at clicks and sales. You can pay your bills with sales, not with open rates. Look at the metrics that actually matter.

Igor Malchenko
Igor Malchenko

Unisender product manager

There are no special tricks to get around it, but there are ways to make the hit less hard. I recommend segmenting all Apple users from other users before the update happens. This will allow you to have a segment where you can still work with opens. You can potentially keep on segmenting like that even after the update, but it’s not clear if it will be possible to track the type of operating system after the update. This is why I strongly recommend doing it now.

Will iOS update really “kill” email marketing?

I see titles like “ios update will kill email marketing” everywhere. Is it really true? Or is it a start of the new era where engagement matters, not the open rate? Can it be that this update is actually a good thing?

Emily Benson
Emily Benson

Freelance email marketing specialist, a member of Women of Email association

As with any successful email campaign, an open is just the bare minimum. Meaningful interaction is one that indicates interest and intent on the part of your recipient. Are they clicking through to read the rest of your article? Are they sharing it with their social media followers? Are they converting on a purchase opportunity or scheduling a service appointment? Those are the real success metrics. The onus is on us to produce and deliver conversion-oriented content in a compelling, compliant, accessible package.

Yanna-Torry Aspraki
Yanna-Torry Aspraki

Business Development & deliverability specialist at EmailConsul, a member of Women of Email association

Email is a cat with 9 lives and superpowers. It will continue to evolve and remain a big player in the world of communication. Not having an inbox is almost impossible to find. You need an email address to create accounts, communicate and relay information.

The iOS update just made it public that email is something more complex than writing good copy, slapping a pretty design, and pressing on the “Send to Everyone”.

Email marketers and businesses got a wake-up call with this update. Change the way you calculate metrics based on your business or spend the next couple of months catching up.

Kennedy
Kennedy

The Email Marketing Show podcast co-founder

Most email marketing is rubbish anyway, just look at your inbox. How much of what you receive just sucks? The reason? ANYONE can get you to open an email. Just use some clickbait and wham you have opens. The real value of email marketing is to get people to click and buy.

So good news – less clickbait because open rates won’t matter anymore. Instead, you’ll be less clouded by thinking about open rates and more focused on useful metrics like clicks, purchases, and lifetime customer value.

Igor Malchenko
Igor Malchenko

Unisender product manager

No, it won’t kill anything, it’s actually the start of a new era. Nowadays most email marketers optimize opens, thinking that more opens = more clicks. But there is no direct connection here.

It’s easy to conduct subject lines A/B testing. That’s why everybody does it. But this is focusing on the wrong stuff. What we really should be paying attention to is what value your email brings to the reader”

What should you do right now to be fully prepared for the update? Name several steps and explain why they are important.

Emily Benson
Emily Benson

Freelance email marketing specialist, a member of Women of Email association

  • Segment your recipients by open rate now into those who are Most Engaged, Somewhat Engaged, and Less Engaged. This will help you prepare content strategies and workflows unique to these groups.
  • Review your acquisition tactics to make sure you’re capturing only the people who will be most likely to interact with your email in meaningful ways (clicks, conversions, etc.). Make sure you have a healthy, active list.
  • Test and optimize your creativity now to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward when the change comes.
  • Prioritize content creation. Relevant, personalized content that encourages recipients to click, convert, or otherwise actively interact is going to be key to getting the level of insight into campaign success that will be more important as open rates become less reliable.
Yanna-Torry Aspraki
Yanna-Torry Aspraki

Business Development & deliverability specialist at EmailConsul, a member of Women of Email association

Data Collection Analysis. Analyze the current data you are using to make decisions and see if that data is actually useful. Then start collecting data that is actually necessary for your business. If the data you collect is useless or doesn’t provide any useful insight you might be looking to experience hardships as you recalibrate how you view your email marketing program.

Subscriber Preferences. In some industries taking a survey is possible. Take a very quick questionnaire that asks about their preferences (content, frequency of emails, type of information, etc). You could even ask them if they are Apple or Android users! The more data you have the better decisions you can make.

Kennedy
Kennedy

The Email Marketing Show podcast co-founder

  • Give a reason to click in every email. Not only will this train your subscribers to click, you’ll make more sales but also you’ll improve your email deliverability because the email providers will see that your readers find your stuff so valuable that they actually engage with it.
  • Keep your list clean. List cleanliness is key. If subscribers aren’t clicking links in your emails, they simply are not engaged. We advise people to put people into a Revival Campaign if they haven’t engaged in 60 days at most.
  • Email regularly. If you’re emailing less than 3x per week it’s hard for anyone to have a relationship with you. Once a month and they probably don’t remember who you are.

Keeping your email list clean is crucial as it boosts engagement and… saves you money (you don’t want to pay for those who don’t interact with your content). In one of our articles, we wrote in detail about which steps you can take to clean your email list right now.

Igor Malchenko
Igor Malchenko

Unisender product manager

Come up with a subject line that really encourages people to carefully read what’s inside the email. I bet you’ve seen enough subject lines that make you want to open just to understand that there’s actually nothing in the email of what the subject line promised. A good example is a subject line containing the promise of a freebie inside the email. It makes you want to open, read and click — all you ever wanted from your email.

What are the other metrics marketers should focus on after the update happens?

Kennedy
Kennedy

The Email Marketing Show podcast co-founder

The Macro Metric we recommend you focus on is EPSPM Earnings Per Subscriber Per Month. That is how much you earned in the month, divided by how many subscribers you have. The great thing about this is that the number actually means something. It tells you month on month whether your relationship and ability to earn money from your list is improving month on month.

Emily Benson
Emily Benson

Freelance email marketing specialist, a member of Women of Email association

What metrics you prioritize will depend upon your business needs and campaign purpose(s). Open rate has always been most helpful as a signal of list health and for basic testing purposes (like A/B subject line testing). Richer metrics like clicks, conversions, replies, social shares, and even forwards will now carry more weight. Anything selected or directed by the recipient should be what we focus on: List level subscription changes, downloads of content pieces, and clicks that take the recipient on a different content path are all examples of this.

Yanna-Torry Aspraki
Yanna-Torry Aspraki

Business Development & deliverability specialist at EmailConsul, a member of Women of Email association

UTM. When adding links in your emails use UTMs in order to see what people are doing after the email. Are they performing the action you want them to? Or are they dropping off right after they click on a link?

Inboxing (aka deliverability) rates. Doing seed tests in order to see if your emails are actually inboxing is extremely important. If you are worried about getting wrong statistics based on the iOS changes, imagine the surprise when you realize your subscribers are not even receiving most of your emails. Strategy can only work if you are inboxing. If not, you are making decisions with an extra layer of skewed perceptions.

Igor Malchenko
Igor Malchenko

Unisender product manager

Focus more on money-related metrics, like RFM analysis, rather than the metrics that do not have a direct influence on driving your sales.

In their article “Apple’s New Email Privacy: What You Need to Know”, Really Good Emails gave some great advice we couldn’t but share with you. They recommend encouraging clicks, but in a smart way:

Really Good Emails
Really Good Emails

The best way is to make your email interesting and your copy compelling, but you can also try things like ‘share this unique code with friends’ or ‘rate this email’. We envision that some senders will get creative and gamify the click process (much like they have for referrals) so that readers can keep track of points earned by clicking through or earn rewards for doing things to keep them in the “engaged” category.

Should we expect the same change for Android, Windows, etc?

Emily Benson
Emily Benson

Freelance email marketing specialist, a member of Women of Email association

Absolutely. I can’t say for sure who will be the next to institute similar changes (although I’d bet on Gmail), but this is definitely just the first domino to fall in this phase of privacy protection changes. The ability to choose who is tracking what, where, and when is something that the public wants. Email providers will be competing to provide those options. I think we’ll also see some of these changes enshrined in new US federal legislation in the coming years (following the examples of CASL, GDPR, and state-level laws like CCPA).

Igor Malchenko
Igor Malchenko

Unisender product manager

There’s a global user privacy protection trend overall. Apple, as the world’s leading company, is the first to allow users to choose if they want to be tracked. Others will definitely follow. The digital world needs to learn to live with it. I have a great example to give you: you cannot track with UTM tags where your app store page users come from. Digital marketers know it and learned to live with it, sometimes using fingerprinting marketing for tracking (mostly big scale projects). We need to start living in a new era, where open rate is not an engagement indicator.

Device fingerprinting is a way to combine certain attributes of a device — like what operating system it is on, the type and version of web browser being used, the browser’s language setting, and the device’s IP address — to identify it as a unique device. It’s an imperfect method of identification. Unlike the cookie, which is effectively a tracking monitor placed on an individual device, device fingerprinting relies on the probability that a device recognized as having certain attributes on one day is the same device seen with those same attributes on another day.

Source: Digiday.com.

Kennedy
Kennedy

The Email Marketing Show podcast co-founder

Google and Microsoft (and the others) are most likely waiting in the wings watching what happens when Apple rolls this out. And then, if it’s a success they’ll likely follow.

We do have to remember that this is all part of Apple’s current Privacy agenda. Which is essentially about stopping other people from profiting from your data…by Apple profiting from your data. Oh, the irony.

People of the world are being sold on the concept that their privacy is important and it’s at the top of people’s minds. But in reality, turning up your privacy settings and blocking ad tracking and email tracking like this results in one thing…less relevant messaging for all of us.

Since the iOS updates, we’re seeing more completely irrelevant ads than ever”

Things to remember

In conclusion, the coming iOS update, though it sounds scary, is actually a way to more relevant email content, less clickbait in subject lines, and a more honest approach to evaluating email marketing performance. It will all be about making sales, not just sending emails. And here are the key takeaways:

  1. After the iOS update, the open rates from your Apple users will become a metric you cannot trust. As not all of your subscribers use iOS, we recommend separating those who don’t from those who do. In such a way you can still have a certain segment where open rates are still valid.
  2. Instead of looking for ways to “get around” the new update, focus on the metrics that bring sales — EPSPM, clicks, conversions, replies, social shares, and even forwards.
  3. The new iOS update won’t kill email marketing, like many say. It actually will start a new era of more engaged email marketing, where the focus will be on truly relevant content that makes people want to click, share and buy.
  4. If you’re a newsletter creator, it’s time to change the metric that you show to potential advertisers from opens to, for example, referral links stats.
  5. Core steps to take before the iOS update happens:
  • Put the focus on relevant, personalized content that encourages clicks and conversion.
  • Give a reason to click in every email. Not only will this make you more sales but also you’ll improve your email deliverability.
  • Clean your list to boost engagement.
  • Connect your subject lines to the actual content of your email. Do not go after clickbait, opens won’t matter anyway.
  • Get creative when encouraging clicks, use gamification. Try things like “share this unique code with friends” or “rate this email” to see who’s really engaged.

Are your emails ready for the iOS update?

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