A handy guide for email marketers after Apple’s iOS 15 update

The recording of e-mail openings is now made significantly more difficult. If Apple’s own e-mail client is used, it will in future download e-mails in the background. The tracking of the opening rates has so far been based on uploaded images, a so-called tracking pixel, even at Apple. The messages are downloaded in the background without any action on the part of the user, which means that openings are counted that are actually not at all. In addition, the user’s IP address is hidden so that no conclusions can be drawn about the location and any other information linked to the IP address. Since Apple Mail has a market share of around ten percent, these effects should not be underestimated.

Major new features include Hide My E-Mail and iCloud Private Relay, which efficiently prevent the collection of previously used data. Hide My E-Mail allows the use of random e-mail addresses that are forwarded by Apple to the actual e-mail address. Since the e-mail address is usually used by marketers to identify the user across various devices and communication channels, difficulties arise when merging data. The iCloud Private Relay, which is deactivated by default and is currently marked as “Beta” by Apple, allows parts of the Internet traffic to be redirected via a kind of middleman – Apple-managed servers that stand between the end user and the service provider for personal Disguise information such as IP address and location. The way a VPN works is similar.

A less obvious innovation, but one that will have a big impact on marketers, is Apple’s already well-known Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP). In the past, this has made it difficult to collect data using the classic tracking pixel in many ways. With iOS 15, ITP prevents another trick for which the iCloud Private Relay technology already outlined is used: The IP address is hidden from the trackers. It is therefore no longer used as an identifier for the consolidation of data and for determining the location.

The opening rate and other KPIs such as the click-to-open rate, number of active users, reactivation measures or dynamically triggered content have so far been based on email open tracking for Apple Mail as well. This enabled marketers to record and evaluate campaign success with little effort. But with the implementation of the new data protection features, this procedure is no longer precise enough to analyze important campaign KPIs and measure your own success, because the opening rate for Apple Mail users is distorted by the innovations described above. However, with the right approach, these obstacles can be overcome. There are alternatives.

Even if there are benchmarks for iOS and especially Apple Mail users, a historical user data analysis is useful to get a better understanding of individual device usage. These insights can vary between the different cohorts, but also between email recipient lists. Marketers are therefore well advised to analyze the email openings that occur per operating system and email client. This should then be put in relation to the overall distributor. This makes it possible to record the percentage of all openings that are potentially affected by the effects of the iOS update. On this basis, advertisers can customize campaigns specifically for iOS user groups and segment future analyzes accordingly.

It is imperative to track the percentage of users who regularly use their email via Apple Mail as marketers can no longer rely on email open tracking for that particular group of users. The higher this proportion of users, the more distorted the KPI evaluations, such as the number of active users or the number of e-mails actually opened. In the next step, your own e-mail subscriber lists should be updated.

Many marketers refer to a user’s recent activity to personalize their campaigns and keep their email subscriber lists clean. For example, users who have not interacted with an e-mail campaign for three or six months are often sorted out or no longer addressed after targeted reactivation measures. After the iOS 15 update, marketers with conventional tracking will no longer be able to tell whether an email that was opened with Apple Mail was actually opened. So it is important to find a different approach. The simplest method is the regular placement of specific calls to action (“Call to Action”) to encourage users to interact with the content. Confirmation emails are also a valid method to initiate engagement. With both measures, companies are able to recognize whether the user is still interested in the information sent. On the one hand, this allows it to reduce the size of its recipient list and, on the other hand, ensures good deliverability.

At the same time, the Apple update also offers the option of replacing the email open rates with an alternative KPI framework. So it is advisable to focus more on clicks, conversions and website behavior. E-mail is the first-touch tool par excellence, but the real thing is usually only done on the website.

Even if Apple is turning the e-mail marketing world upside down with its iOS 15 update, calm is required. Apple may be the first major vendor to restrict the collection of email user interactions, but other email clients are likely to follow suit. The Gmail app has been hiding IP addresses for some time. The marketers are therefore well advised to check their current e-mail metrics and develop them further in the direction of interaction. A holistic approach that collects and uses data across channels is recommended. In order to minimize manual overhead, marketing tools help to collect, bundle and analyze data.

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