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Introduction

Well, here we go again.

Every few years or so in the digital marketing world, a tech company or a governing body will announce an update or law that seems so seismic in scale that it threatens to upend the entire world that digital marketers know.

And yet, we’re all still here — not just learning and adapting, but thriving while finding new ways to do what we do.

This time around, Apple had the honor of introducing the next big change in the digital marketing landscape. 

In June, at their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple made their expected announcements for changes to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. But there’s one announcement that was particularly notable for the email and marketing world that we wanted to break down, and that’s the announcement of Mail Privacy Protection (MPP).

Shortly after the announcement, our team at Campaign Monitor got access to the beta to learn everything that we could. And, now that iOS 15 is available to the public, we’re continuing to test this new feature and share our findings with you.

That said, here’s what you can expect from this guide:

  • Learn what, exactly, Mail Privacy Protection is
  • How Mail Privacy Protection will affect email sending
  • Changes to make in light of iOS 15
  • Why we’re confident email will be as effective of a marketing medium as ever

Note: Keep in mind that this is an ongoing conversation. We’ll keep this guide up-to-date as we continue learning, and as this feature becomes more widely adopted now that it’s been fully released.

And before we get too deep into the finer details of MPP, we want to start by saying: breathe baby, breathe. You’ve got this.

Now, let’s dive in.

Chapter 1

Apple Mail Privacy Protection overview

In June, while unveiling iOS15, Apple announced Mail Privacy Protection — an opt-in feature for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS that gives users more control over their data when it comes to their inbox. Per Apple:

“Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. [It prevents] senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”

With that, we see two major implications for email marketing:

  1. MPP effectively disables open tracking
  2. MPP obscures the user’s IP address, removing email marketer’s ability to know their location

…that’s not so bad, right? As far as seismic changes go, things could have been much more, well, seismic.

How does it work?

When a user opts-in to Mail Privacy Protection, they’re allowing Apple to pre-fetch (or download), emails and email images to their device. This takes place with or without the user deciding to open and read the email message. Email image pixels, which indicate opens and open rates, are included in this pre-loading. This means an email may be marked as open even though the user did not open or read it.

Opt-in screen for Mail Privacy Protection

 

These images will also be loaded through a proxy, which means that the direct IP address of the subscriber is not going to be available to the email service provider (ESP).

Additionally, the user agent, which is what an ESP uses to determine what kind of email client is being used to open the device, is no longer going to be specific enough to identify the device.

Who is affected by MPP?

Any subscriber who’s using the native Apple Mail application to read their email, be it on an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac, is able to turn these features on. Subscribers who use those devices but instead read their mail through Gmail or through an Outlook application or on their respective web views are not impacted.

Initial surveys show that this may be 30% to 40% of your subscriber list, but the percentage of people who are affected will depend greatly depending on your specific audience.

When is iOS15 expected to be released?

iOS 15 was released to the public on September 20, 2021. You can expect the majority of users to adopt the feature around early 2022.

Chapter 2

How will Mail Privacy Protection affect the email marketing landscape?

Mail Privacy Protection is going to obscure a lot of the information that email marketers are used to working with. Some information — like open rates and click to open rates (CTOR) — may seem obvious, but there are other functionalities within your email tools that will be affected too.

Open rates will become less accurate

Like we mentioned above, open rates will become less accurate as a result of this feature. Since ESPs measure opens by counting the number of times that an image is loaded, and the Apple Mail privacy change will download all images when an email is opened by a device, your open rates will likely go up. 

This doesn’t just mean that you won’t be able to use open rates or CTOR as reliable metrics for reporting. Automation and segmentation are affected by this as well.

If you have an automation step set up in a campaign that is based on whether or not a subscriber opens an email, that step becomes less reliable as a result of MPP.

Audience segmentation is affected here as well. You’ll no longer reliably be able to segment audiences based on a user opening your email, which makes building an engaged subscriber segment, for example, a lot trickier.

Geographic targeting and segmentation will become less reliable

With Apple Mail masking each user’s IP address, geographic targeting features in your email service provider will also be less dependable over time. It’s still not clear how wide-ranging this change is, but we’ll know more once the feature is publicly available.

This makes localizing your email sends tricky. If you have a campaign that you want to send to an audience based on where they’re located, you won’t be able to rely on data you gather from their IP address anymore.

This makes features like time-zone sending or send time optimization less reliable. So if those are features you rely on, you’ll need to find ways to work around that (don’t worry, we’ll get to that part!).

Device and client segmentation will be less accurate

Given that Mail Privacy Protection blocks our ability to see what kind of device or operating system a user is on, building lists or segments based on those criteria will be less accurate as well.

Chapter 3

What can you do to prepare for Mail Privacy Protection’s release?

Just because iOS 15 is now available to the public doesn’t mean it’s too late to make changes. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can change your email strategy, and your reporting strategy, in light of changes from iOS 15.

Consider goals beyond open rates

As users adopt MPP, open rate and CTOR are going to become increasingly unreliable metrics. That means it’s time to start looking beyond open rates as a way to measure the performance of your email strategy. Think about your business goals and how you’re using email marketing to reach them. Then, make sure that the metrics you’re paying the most attention to map directly to those goals.

Email marketers often refer to single mass sends as campaigns. Ironically, these sends are just a moment in a series of customer experiences. The aggregate of those experiences is what matters.

The reality is that a campaign is a series of actions leading toward a goal or multiple goals. What are those business goals, and how can you create with them in mind, rather than open or click rates?

It’s time to stop optimizing email solely for metrics, and think about the experience you’re providing your subscribers in its entirety.

Find other ways to monitor engagement

All that said, it’s certainly still helpful to monitor how much of your audience is engaging with your emails, and how much of it has become unengaged. And without open rates or CTOR, we need to get a little bit more creative with how we define engagement.

But it’s not impossible. Here are a few creative tricks for measuring engagement in a post-MPP world.

Update your definition of subscriber engagement

Swapping out open rates and CTOR with click rate and delivery rate should help give you good vital signs for engagement. Click rate will remain unaffected by this change, and will give you the raw data for how many people are clicking on your emails. And delivery rate will ensure that your emails are still making it into their inboxes.

Email reporting dashboard

Update campaigns with surveys or CTAs to initiate clicks where users may otherwise just browse

Making it best practice to include some kind of clickable element in all of your emails increases your chances of getting a click, which helps you get an idea of engagement.

If you decide to do this, though, make sure to do it tastefully. If your CTA’s don’t add value to the reader and are clearly for your own benefit, your subscribers will be able to see through it. Don’t sacrifice subscriber experience for engagement metrics.

Look at Google Analytics or other tools

If you have access to analytics tools on your website, look at how many people are coming to your site from your campaigns, and what activity they’re taking from there, and start incorporating those insights into your reporting.

For more help with elevating your email engagement, check out our comprehensive guide!

Audit your audience segments

Like we mentioned earlier, some of your audience segments will be affected by MPP. That said, you’ll want to take a look at your lists and segments to make sure that nothing is out of place.

We alluded to this with reporting as well, but if you’re building audience segments based on which subscribers are engaging with your content the most, consider using click rate instead of open rate. Otherwise, your segment will get much larger due to artificially inflated opens.

Segment creation in Campaign Monitor

Start explicitly asking for first-party data

With MPP masking IP addresses, geographic and device data will become far less reliable. In a lot of cases, marketers can live without that data, but if it’s a really important part of your campaigns, consider asking for that data directly.

For new subscribers, that could look like including a location field in the signup form on your website. That way, subscribers have to include it to sign up. Or, for existing subscribers, you could send a re-engagement email prompting them to give you that information.

Example sign up form

Getting this information will allow you to create audience segments based on location, giving you a lot of the abilities you thought you might be missing.

This may seem counterintuitive to the entire privacy wave. After all, if privacy is becoming such an issue, why would subscribers want to give me more information about themselves? But, in a lot of cases, this move is less about companies having the information, and more about users previously not having the choice to share or not.

Often, when given the option, users are happy to share information when it’s relevant. In fact, 83% of people will share their information if it means a more personalized customer experience. 

The key is being transparent, and letting users know why you’re collecting this data.

Screenshot of CM sign up form builder

Let users know what’s in it for them, and they’ll be much more likely to update their information.

Make sure your automation steps are in order

We mentioned MPP’s effects on segmentation earlier, and similarly, the same goes for some of your automation steps. If you know you use “opened” as a trigger in any of your automation steps, they will be subject to MPP’s inflated open rates.

welcome-email

Auditing your existing journeys is a good place to start, to see how many of them will be affected. Then, we’d recommend switching the automation rule from “opened” to “clicked,” as that will be the more reliable engagement metric moving forward.

Pro-tip: Sometimes, clicks can take longer to register and sync, so be a little bit more generous with your timeframes and triggers.

Take credit where credit’s due

Across all verticals, digital marketers need to start taking credit for more consumer activity. We’ve existed far too long in an explicit attribution model, while peers in other marketing channels like display, direct mail, or events are able to take credit through more implicit and less conservative methods of attribution.

Maybe a product review happens within 7 days of receiving a post-purchase automation series. Let’s take credit for that. 

If a user clicks on a smiley face or a thumbs up in your long-form, self-contained newsletter, at least once a week, take credit for it. 

When a user attends an in-store or on-site event or webinar, attribute that back to the most recent automation or mass send as a met goal. 

Own that success and create a new baseline for active engagement. 

Stakeholders and executives are already comfortable with implicit attribution in other areas — it’s time that the same model is applied to email and digital marketing as well.

Chapter 4

Apple Mail Privacy Protection Q&A

We’ve covered a lot of information in this guide, so to refresh, let’s run through some of the most commonly asked question about MPP.

Q: Will this cause open rates to go up or down?

A: Apple MPP pre-fetches images ahead of the user opening the email message, regardless of whether or not they open it or delete it. This will result in increased open rates among users using Apple Mail across Apple devices (phones, tablets, desktops).

 

Q: Will this interrupt my click tracking?

A: Clicks will still be tracked as they happen. Our testing shows no indication that Apple will fetch links in advance of a user clicking or opening an email.

 

Q: Will this affect my use of on-site analytics or tracking (i.e Google Analytics)?

A: Industry research and CM group testing show no indication of “query-string parameters” being removed from URLs.

 

Q: Can I segment out my Apple users?

A: Campaign Monitor doesn’t currently offer this segmentation feature. But, regardless of which ESP you use and if this feature becomes available, it isn’t advisable and will not be easy to identify with new customers.

 

Q: How does Mail Privacy Protection impact A/B testing?

A: Most ESPs allow you to do A/B testing based on open rate, total unique clicks or total clicks on a selected link. Following these updates, we recommend that you stop using open rate, and switch to unique clicks or total clicks, as those will be the more reliable data points.

That said, it probably wouldn’t have a huge impact if you would still use open rates because you would expect the open rates to be proportionate, regardless of whether or not they open your email on an Apple product. So test it out, and if you’re really worried about it, use the clicks as options for your A/B testing.

 

Q: What do you suggest for keeping lists clean and full of engaged subscribers?

A: We’re encouraging people to look at strategies to increase click rates. Look for opportunities to add calls to action in your emails, or add surveys to drive clicks. Anything that helps you know that people are engaging.

Just remember not to overload your emails with clickable elements. Focus on the experience first, then the metrics.

Chapter 5

Wrap up

To other industries, a huge change like this may feel like the sky is falling. But for digital marketers, it’s just another day. We’ve been through big changes like this before, and we’ll do it again — coming out smarter and more resourceful than ever.

We’ll continue to keep you updated as we learn more about Mail Privacy Protection, and at Campaign Monitor, we look forward to growing through these changes with you.

For more on MPP and the ever-evolving privacy landscape, watch CM Group leadership cover it all in this webinar recording!

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