iOS 15’s Impact on Open Rates (And Email Marketing)

By Jeff Cracolici

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Marketing Manager & Digital Expert

On September 14th, Apple announced the new device lineup and upcoming software changes. The latter has been of great interest for email marketers since the latest iPhone operating system, iOS 15, was released for early preview in July.

Apple is stepping up its privacy on the email front, adopting new measures that will greatly impact how we’ve been gauging email success for the last 20+ years.

Here’s what you need to know.

At A High-Level, What is Changing?

Apple iOS’s latest privacy measures will inflate open rates.

When an email hits Apple Mail, it will automatically download the images and save them internally. This step will inadvertently trigger any tracking pixels embedded within an email; thus, virtually every email sent to an Apple device that uses Apple mail will be “opened,” even though the consumer might never look at the email’s contents.

Additional email privacy features in the iOS15 preview could impact other email metrics, but we are waiting to see what is offered free and what gets rolled into Apple’s new premium privacy plan.

Let’s Dive a Little Deeper

Within an email, every image must be hosted on a web server. Whenever a user opens an email, their email platform (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) sends the server a request to send back the image data.

Email Service Providers (ESPs) use this transaction to trace opens using a tracking pixel, a tiny invisible image hosted on the ESP’s server. These pixels are embedded into marketing emails automatically by the ESP.

Each time a consumer views an email, their email platform sends a request to the ESP’s server for the data behind each image, including the tracking pixel. This request gives the ESP’s server insight into several data points, which may include who is tied to the specific pixel being requested, the date/time, the browser or platform used, location, etc.

The critical part of the above is that the request is triggered once the email is opened, providing marketers with related metrics.

Instead of waiting for the user to open an email to request image data, Apple will request the image data the instant an email is received so they can cache those images within their infrastructure. Since the request for image data is being done automatically by Apple and not by the user when they view the email, virtually every email sent to Apple Mail will be “opened.” Thus, open rates on Apple iOS devices will appear to be close to 100%.

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What’s Going to Be Impacted?

Any metric pointing at email opens will be inflated. By how much? It ultimately depends on the percentage of individuals in your email file that use Apple iOS devices.

Litmus, which had a great write-up about this topic, said that Apple devices combined for 46% of email opens in 2020, and “their share of email opens has since grown to 49.8% at the end of August this year.”

In addition to open rates, any triggers or workflows based on an opened email will no longer be reliable. For example, many marketers resend campaigns to consumers who did not open the first time around.

Location-based email targeting depending on IP address will no longer be reliable. However, this could be easily overcome if you provide mailing address data from your customer file and segment based on actual location.

Finally, it’s worth noting that “countdown” clock widgets for emails will probably not function properly. Make sure you test on iOS 15 devices once the update is made public.

What Metrics Should I Now Lean On?

While the above sounds bleak, the email open metric is not completely meaningless. For A/B testing subject lines, for example, you should be able to still determine a winner even though your open rates will be higher than past campaigns.

Regarding determining email success, you should be looking at clicks. Make sure every email you send out is actionable, and you’re able to track activity once a consumer lands on your website.

For retailers, you must have the capacity to attribute email campaigns back to orders and revenue. Google Analytics can help with this insight if you set it up to track conversions.

LiftEngine also offers Response Analysis Reporting, which matches transactions across channels back to your original email campaign audiences. Request a Sample Report to find out more!

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Published on Sep. 22, 2021, Last Updated on Nov. 08, 2023