Apple iOS 15 Kills Email Open Rates. Now what?


Apple’s recent iOS 15 software update has a standard feature called Mail Privacy Protection that stops tracking the pixel tracking that email marketers use to see email open rates.

They will update more information as I write this, and Apple might not disclose some things. So please bear with me and give me the benefit of the doubt before pointing out my inaccuracies.

As of today, here’s the official statement by Apple on their press release page: “In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent 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.”

What does this Apple iOS 15 change for your email open rates?

This new iOS 15 software update means that they will mask your subscriber activity and report false behaviour and email open rates to your email marketing platform.

In a sense, it will make email open rates mostly useless for your email marketing management. What it seems that Apple will perform is like a mix of the Yahoo! prefetching images in the background before the users even get the chance to open the emails (which will create false positives) or Gmail’s approach, which is to use a proxy. It isn’t clear just yet.

In other words, email opens tracking is messy. I’ve been saying this for years, that the open rate wasn’t a credible metric since most people were using image or tracking blockers in the first place.

Or you are going to have massive open rates since services will prefetch images to deliver when someone opens an email even if they don’t (counts as an open when it wasn’t), or you’re going to have a decline in opens when people actually read your email.

The bottom line is: don’t trust your email open tracking data.

It was messy before the new iOS 15 privacy email open rates tracking, and it will be worse now.

What should we do instead of measuring email open rates?

What’s your goal with your email marketing? Why did you start an email marketing tactic for your brand in the first place? Answering that will bring you more enlightenment about what you should measure next.

We expect Email marketing to increase your return of investment in the future, not decrease it. The DMA UK reports having an ROI of 45,48€* per each 1€ invested.

*currency converted from British pounds to euros on June 8th 2021.

iOS prevents email open rates
Message produced by the iOS as of June 8th 2021
iOS prevents email open rates 2
Message produced by the iOS as of June 8th 2021

It won’t slow down due to this restriction in tracking email opens rates. In fact, what you need to do as a marketer is what marketers do all the time. Read the market, understand what and how they want to consume your brand’s content and deliver it to them.

The focus should be on other metrics that can provide more credible data, like clicks, unsubscribes, spam complaints, deliverability reports, to name a few.

But that’s not all. If you think that email marketing is just a direct marketing conversion tool… well, you’re right in a sense. However, it’s not ONLY a high conversion channel. It can have a massive role in what’s called the influence of the buyer decision path.

Most of the email marketing we do at sendXmail(s) for our internal marketing doesn’t have a high CTR (Clickthrough Rate). It’s not meant to be. The purpose of our newsletter is not to convert subscribers into clients —at the first approach. The goal is to inform you of the best practices on email marketing and marketing automation.

Only afterwards do we have some CTA (Call to Actions) to bring our audience to engage with our content and deeper insights.

Email activity tracking should be opt-in.

We shouldn’t need a new regulation to do the right thing.

The GDPR is here to give more privacy and respect for each individual’s privacy and data. On the other hand, marketers always try to find loopholes to get their way into our lives, even when not inviting them.

That’s why the market makes a move and demands it.

A few months ago, SensorPro‘s Christopher J Byrne launched the challenge to the all email marketing community to NOT track subscribers without their explicit permission at the InboxExpo conference.

Unfortunately, just a few have taken the necessary steps to change how they do email tracking. It’s hard to change, and people are used to the old metrics standards.

What happens when you don’t change on your own? The market changes it for you. And this is what’s happening.

Implications of the iOS 15 email privacy feature in Marketing Automation?

Marketing Automation flows triggered by open emails might be one of the most affected tactics of your email marketing arsenal.

But if that’s the case, you were not tightening your marketing automation flows the right way. Because, as mentioned above, email open rates trackings were the most unreliable metric of them all.

That means that a fallible trigger already handicapped your marketing automation flow even before Apple changed a thing.

You might argue that Apple users are still a segment of your list, but that’s not seeing the greater picture. Most of the ESP (Email Service Providers) like Gmail or Outlook, to name a few, already blocked images by default.

A professional email service like Hey already provided their users as a standard feature. In fact, it was one of their selling propositions.

As you see, it was not Apple who destroyed your email marketing open rates. It was the fact that you didn’t respect your subscribers enough to protect their privacy and move on to other performance indicators in your email marketing.

If you have marketing automation flows that use email opens as triggers, you might want to review them all, though. It’s about time. 😅

The faux approach of permission per App

My only issue about this opt-in approach per each application on our devices is that it encloses all email senders in one binary option. Accept ALL email trackings or refuses all trackings.

That makes the active permission each subscriber can make while subscribing to a brand completely omissive because it will be blocked the same when it reaches a device with tracking off.

In my perspective —and it’s my personal opinion, even though I’m publishing on my company’s site— this is a disservice to each individual’s power to control which service or feature to allow or not.

Having said that, I also understand how tedious and unpractical it would be to allow permission per sender in each subscriber’s inbox. So, it’s completely understandable.

I’ll be publishing more updates about this in the future. So, keep in touch and eventually subscribe to our newsletter? It can track or not track your email activity according to your wishes.

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