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Apple’s email privacy features and how open rate metrics and more are impacted

Apple's release of email privacy features will impact your email marketing metrics. Learn more about what is changing and the opportunity to focus on meaningful conversion metrics.

How do email open rates work? They start with an invisible, single pixel image. When this tracking pixel loads, Mailchimp and other other email platforms track it. The image load translates to the email being "Opened". At the same time, tracking pixels also help gain insight on the location and technologies of the email recipient.

Apple's new privacy feature for Apple Mail mucks with this tracking pixel. It hides the recipient's internet address (IP address) and prevents the active loading of tracking pixels. This feature was rolled out as part of Apple's iOS 15 (iPhones), iPadOS 15 (iPad), watchOS 8 (Apple Watch), and macOS Monterey releases. Your subscribers that use Apple Mail on these platforms will be prompted with a screen similar to the one below. You should expect that many Apple users will opt in.

Apple Mail privacy prompt with option to protect mail activity or not

Apple Mail's privacy prompt will show up when opening Apple Mail so you to opt in/out of their Mail Privacy Protection feature.

What is going to happen to your email marketing metrics?

Good news, a lot won't change. Your emails will still be delivered and you will still be able to track clicks. Your open rates and some related data will change though. The following is from Mailchimp's FAQ.

"If a contact enables Apple Mail Privacy Protection, Apple Mail will preload pixels, even if your contact hasn’t opened the email, resulting in unreliable open metrics. We will not be able to accurately count opens, estimate location, or determine device type or email client for these contacts. With Apple Mail Privacy Protection enabled, it is likely that all email present in Apple Mail will be reported as "opened" regardless of the contact's activity, resulting in inflated and inaccurate open rates."

Any other features such as A/B testing or journeys based on open rates will also be affected.

Time to focus on other engagement metrics

An open rate has always been a good foundational indicator of a relationship with a subscriber. It helps share a bit about subscriber interest level -- their curiosity about what you have to say. An open could be a positive reflection of your subject line or the value of your brand. But, "open" doesn't tell us if the subscriber read the email. It doesn't tell us if they immediately deleted it. It doesn't mean that they found the content valuable.

Focus on tracking clicks. These are the calls to action your email content wants to inspire.

For the organizations we work with, emails intend to inspire so much more than a simple open. They want a click to read an article, to register for an event, or to start a donation.

Apple's privacy feature doesn't impact click tracking. The Mailchimp's of the world send links with their own technology that when clicked allows them to track it. So amidst the efforts to respect privacy, there is opportunity to focus on deeper engagement metrics.

How will this trend towards privacy continue from here?

Apple is not the first and will likely not be the last technology provider to offer privacy features that impact metrics. We as marketers and communications folk need to adjust. To move towards thinking about the conversions we want to inspire and to track those.

I am curious to watch and see how Apple's features will be adopted by users and the impact on marketing they may have. How will other company's respond? Will others offer something similar? What about email marketing tools?

Currently, services like Mailchimp have put a lot of focus on the open metric. These tools will need to evolve. In the meantime, we'll be in limbo for a while as the dashboards and reports the services we use might not be as helpful as they once were. We will have to look at our data a little different to assess success. I believe this is a good thing.

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