What Apple’s Email Privacy Rules Mean for Marketers

Recent mail privacy protection changes in Apple’s new iOS 15 have put the crosshairs on email open rates, possibly ending that metric’s usefulness to marketing teams.

Don’t worry about it.

Yes, open rate has been a long-touted measure for email marketing campaigns, but it’s also a flawed statistic, according to Kevin Hopkinson, deliverability manager at ZoomInfo.

“There are absolutely better barometers, and even absent Apple making this change, I would still say open rates should not be your rudder,” Hopkinson says.

Instead, look at more reliable email-based metrics and focus on providing useful content to prospects.

What Changed for Email Open Rate?

Plenty has been written about Apple’s privacy changes in iOS 15, which affects iPhones iPads, and similar changes for its Mac operating system. In brief, the company introduced limits in its Mail app on tracking pixels, which are inserted into marketing emails to monitor recipient behavior, such as open rate.

“In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user,” Apple states. “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.”

According to data from Litmus, an email analysis company, Apple’s Mail app accounted for nearly 50 percent of email opens as of August 2021. 

“For marketers who rely on email open rate — particularly B2C marketers or those who drive business from email newsletters — Apple’s changes will have immediate impact,” Hopkinson says.

It’s the latest example of a tech giant altering the way it allows digital tracking. Google previously announced that by late 2023, it would phase out third-party cookies

All of this means that marketers must find other methods to track users’ online behavior if they want to continue presenting relevant messages to them. 

However, the true usefulness of open rate faded years ago when it became clear that nemeses like email bots were opening everything sent to them, which distorts the true open rate. Email preview features are also an obstacle for tracking legitimate open rate. 

“That counts as an open when I hit my email preview, even though someone isn’t really reading the message,” Hopkinson says. “That’s another way that it’s getting skewed.”

Better Email Metrics to Use

Instead of email open rate, B2B marketers should look at other data to measure the success of their campaigns, such as click-through rate or conversion rate.

Conversion Rate

Conversion rate numbers are the most reliable metric for marketers because they represent the end goal you had when sending the email. That objective might be for a prospect to download a piece of useful content or sign up for a product demo, among other actions.

“You want to focus on conversions,” Hopkinson says. “That’s going to tell you exactly how well things are working.”

Two related tactics can improve conversion rates:

  • Use emails to promote relevant, personalized content that resonates with prospects. 
  • Set up effective email campaign cadences that move interested prospects progressively through the marketing funnel, while also removing uninterested parties from the campaign.

Click-Through Rate

Click-through rates measure when a recipient clicks a link in an email. They indicate to marketers that a prospect took desired steps within the email and didn’t simply open the message to glance at it. 

However, use caution when interpreting click-through rate, because it can also be skewed, similar to open rate. For example, some email platforms use filters that poke around a sent message in such a way that it could falsely appear that the recipient clicked a bunch of links.

“Sometimes, a filter immediately opens and scans the entire email,” Hopkinson says. “In part of that scanning, it also clicks on links. There are ways to identify those [scans].”

One solution is to use software that will automatically remove any recipients from a campaign’s click-through rate who appear to have selected every link in an email, a pattern that suggests an automated filter has been used. What are the odds that every single link in an email clicked 10 seconds after it was received?  That’s not human behavior.

Apple’s Impact on Facebook Ads

Meanwhile, privacy changes Apple made earlier this year have put a dent on the effectiveness of Facebook ads.

The App Tracker Transparency feature allows users to block apps from tracking their online activity. The move has been particularly hard on Facebook advertisers, Bloomberg News reported. 

Ad buyers are contemplating tough decisions on whether to continue to spend as much on Facebook and other popular apps, given that users of those apps can now block tracking.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Update is Not the End of Email Campaigns

Apple, most likely, won’t be the only email app to institute changes in response to the privacy wishes of users. But don’t give up on email marketing campaigns just yet. 

“Is email marketing dead? No, it’s not” Hopkinson says. “Only a dinosaur would think otherwise.”

Apple’s changes should serve as notice to B2B marketers to use the best metrics to judge email campaign success. Click-through rate and especially conversion rate are more useful in measuring the power of a campaign — and high-value content can drive those rates.By the way, if you want more details on ZoomInfo’s data privacy measures, check out how we source our business information.