Earlier this month Apple announced iOS 15 and with it a whole range of features and updates that will soon land on people’s iPhones and iPads.
And as you may have already heard, some of these changes are going to have massive implications for email marketing.
But despite how significant these changes are, it can be hard to wrap your head around exactly what’s going to happen. Especially if you don’t have a technical background.
So in this post we’ll take you through exactly what these changes are, how they will affect your email marketing, and provide you with some practical advice you can implement now to prepare.
What exactly will change with iOS 15?
The new feature Apple announced that is causing a stir in the email marketing community is what they’re calling “Mail Privacy Protection.”
Essentially, the main implications of this feature are that it will prevent the following:
- Being able to track if and when a customer opens an email
- Being able to determine a customer’s location through their IP address
Let’s go through these two major changes one by one to get a better understanding of what’s actually happening and how it affects your email marketing.
Open rates will be a thing of the past
The change that’s going to have the biggest impact on not just yours and everybody else’s email marketing is how Mail Privacy Protection will prevent us from knowing if and when someone opens an email.
We can currently tell this information as SmartrMail, like other email service providers, includes a small, invisible 1×1 pixel image in every email our users send. When a customer opens your email, this pixel (along with any other images in the email) has to be downloaded from our servers to be displayed in the email.
As we can tell if and when a particular customer’s inbox requests these images, we also know if and when they’ve opened your email.
Mail Privacy Protection, however, will circumvent this by automatically requesting and downloading images from every email when they are delivered, instead of when they are opened.
This means it will appear that customers who use Apple Mail (which has a market share of over 50%, so likely the majority of your customers) are opening every email you send. Even though they might not be opening your email at all.
While obviously not everyone uses Apple Mail, the fact the majority of people do use it and we cannot tell whether a particular customer does or does not use it means email services providers will no longer be able to report accurate open rates, rendering them useless
No longer being able to tell where a customer is located
When an email inbox requests these tracking pixels email service providers including SmartrMail are also able to determine a customer’s location through their Internet Protocol (IP) address.
However, in addition to Apple Mail now loading these images as soon as an email is delivered, they are also going to load them through multiple proxy servers. This means that Apple will randomly assign an IP address that only indicates the broad region the customer is in.
The implication of this is that precise location segmenting (such as by city, zip code, and potentially even state) will no longer be reliable as customers using Apple Mail may or may not be included in the right segment.
One more change
The other new feature Apple is also implementing in iOS 15 is the ability for users to hide their email address when signing up to a new email list.
Instead, users will be able to use Apple’s “Hide My Email” feature to automatically create a random iCloud email address so that others cannot see their actual email address.
As Apple will potentially keep track of what email lists these addresses are signed up for, it’ll be more important than ever not to email customers across multiple stores you may own.
When will these changes arrive?
In addition to knowing what the changes are, you also probably want to know when they’ll arrive.
While Apple has not given an exact date yet for when iOS 15 will be made available to the public, they have said it’ll arrive in fall 2021. Based on past updates to iOS, we can narrow this down to most likely being in September.
How you can start preparing for these changes now
Now that you have a good understanding of what the changes are and how they’ll impact your email marketing, let’s look at some practical things you can do now to prepare for when iOS 15 is released to the public.
While we’ll share more updates on changes we’re making to SmartrMail later on, below are 5 suggestions of what you can do now.
1) A/B test to see what improves open rates now
If you aren’t already, it’s a good idea to start A/B testing your subject lines to see what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to improving your open rate while you still can.
We have a whole list of A/B test ideas that you can try out between now and when iOS 15 drops in September. Some quick ideas however include testing emojis in your subject line, phrasing your subject lines as questions, and personalizing them with your customers’ names.
Whatever you decide to test however, the goal is to have a good understanding of what kind of subject lines get your customers to open your emails.
For more tips, check out our guide on A/B testing subject lines here.
2) Start focusing more on click-through rates
The thing we’re most certain about for when iOS 15 is released to the public is that open rates will not be what they used to be.
While whether they go away completely or are just under a significant change is yet to be seen, you will want to start focusing more on other key email engagement metrics like click-through rate.
The changes Apple is implementing do not affect our ability to tell which links people are clicking in an email, so click-through rates will still work just as they used to.
And the good news is that click-through rates give an excellent indication of how well your email content resonates with your audience.
So now’s the time to look at your click-through rates to establish a baseline so you can tell whether you’re improving your email marketing game over time.
3) Expand your engagement-based segments so they’re not based on open rates
As open rates will become a significantly less reliable indicator of someone’s engagement with your email campaigns.
That’s why it’s going to be important to expand how you determine who’s engaged or not beyond just opens.
Click-through rates are going to be an important metric here as are other segmentation metrics like purchase activity and whether a customer has visited your online store.
Check whether you’ve got automations set up based on opens
If you’ve already got automations set up to send to particular segments based on whether or not they’ve opened a particular email, now’s also the time to revisit them.
You’ll want to update the targeting for these campaigns to move beyond opens and to the metrics we’ve already talked about such as sales and clicks.
4) Clean your email list of disengaged subscribers now
One of the most popular ways merchants make use of open data is to determine which customers are engaged with their email marketing and which are disengaged.
Obviously, this won’t be possible to do anymore once iOS 15 is released to the public.
So before September, it’ll be a good idea to ensure you have a clean and healthy email list of engaged customers by using open data to clean it while you still can.
You can find instructions on how to clean your email list in SmartrMail here.
5) Focus on delivering value
Lastly, it’s important to remember that these changes do not fundamentally change email marketing.
Email will still remain the best marketing channel for reaching your customers directly and delivering relevant and timely content that improves the customer experience.
While we may soon no longer be able to see exactly how many people are opening our email campaigns, we still know that sending engaging content that resonates with your audience is the fundamental key to successful email marketing.
And remember, every email marketer is in the same boat here.
Apple’s upcoming iOS 15 update represents a massive change in the email marketing landscape.
The biggest change being that open rates, at least as you know them, will become a thing of the past.
But while this will undoubtedly frustrate many email marketers and make it harder to tell just how well customers are engaging with your email campaigns, it’s not the end of the world.
By preparing for the change now by following the tips we’ve mentioned, you’ll be in a good position once the changes are released in September.
Until then, make the most of your open rate data while you still can!