Apple Blocks Email Open Rate Tracking
Apple - Mail Privacy Protection
As both an Apple iPhone user and Email Marketer I am at odds with Apple’s announcement during their Worldwide Developers Conference keynote on Monday 7th June that stops senders (me) from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user (me). For those not in the know, here is a little background for you.
Why is it useful?
Since the beginning of time marketers have used email to communicate with their audience, or so it may seem. There was a World before email when direct mail ruled the seas and even fax machines belted out sheet after sheet of marketing material but then along came email. Over a very short period of time email conquered, I remember selling email marketing services back in the late 90’s early noughties to clients like the British Museum, Pharmacy2u, Virgin Media and The Science Museum, in my conversations with them I explained how much more effective email would be for their marketing strategy.
Emails were delivered instantly or in minutes rather than days, emails were less expensive to send, email could link to specific websites to allow a more in-depth customer journey and of course emails could be tracked – in short, we could see who was opening the email and who was clicking through.
This last bit was important for creative marketers because after the campaign had run it’s course they could then look at who had opened their email, but not clicked through and retarget them with a more relevant message. For instance, if I sent you a 20% offer on museum tickets then we would have a number of people open the email and of those that opened the email, a number of them would click through, and of them a number would convert on the website.
Marketers could then review the campaign after a few days and identify all those that had opened the email, but not clicked through and send them a 25% offer, this would drive more clicks and the marketer could repeat this strategy as often as they wished.
How does it work?
To track emails, email marketing platforms include a 1×1 pixel in your email that is linked to your email address, think of a 1×1 pixel as a dot on your screen, indeed it is the smallest possible dot that your screen can display. Now change the colour of that dot to transparent and it becomes invisible. Now consider that when you open your email, your email application automatically displays all the images within the email, by asking image servers to serve them up.
When this happens, this dot is served up too, like the other images in your email, from a computer in the cloud and when it is served, that cloud computer relays which pixels have been served back to the email marketing platform. In turn the email marketing platform then reports who has opened the email.
Think of the pixel as the bread on the table during a meal in a restaurant. When the bread is served, the kitchen knows the guests have arrived and are seated at their table reviewing the menu. It’s crucial information and helps a busy kitchen know what is happening in the restaurant.
So, what is Apple doing?
In short, Apple announced recently that when iOS 15 is released, in the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection would be stopping senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. In short, it will prevent email marketers from knowing who has opened their email, and who hasn’t. It will also mask their IP address so it can’t be LinkedIn to other online activity or used to determine their location.
Why is Apple doing this?
Well, as I see it there could be a few reasons.
- With the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (Data Protection Act) in May 2018 the focus on data privacy and protection was taken to a whole new level however it was considered complex and difficult for small businesses to adopt. It was therefore considered by many that it would be easier if the technology companies could take care of the privacy issue instead. This could be why Apple is focusing on Privacy.
- In the same vein as above, it could be that Apple is focusing on Privacy to improve the user journey. After all, no one likes the avalanche of compliance popups that cover the entire screen and in short destroy the first impression a user has when visiting a website for the first time. Maybe with this in mind Apple have focused on Privacy, maybe a bit of both.
- It could also be a strategic play by one the of the World’s leading technology companies to take more control over their own users. In short, ringfence them ahead of a product launch. Many companies rely on ad revenues to survive, after all the internet is free right? To do this, these companies need to know as much as possible about their users and this means they track us. They then monetise this data via ad revenues. If they can’t do this then their business model is at risk. It is widely rumoured that Apple will be extending their own advertising business (currently they allow advertising on their app store) and what better time to do this than just after that moment in time when companies with traditional ad models have been told they can’t collect data on Apple users any longer.
I might be being sceptical with that last one but from a business perspective it does make sense and is a genius move.
So, what can email marketers do?
In short, if you deliver email campaigns to large lists in order to drive traffic to a landing page that promotes a strong offer with simple call to action then you may not need to change anything at all. This model should still work as you did not rely on open rates.
If however, you went a step further and retargeted people based on whether or not they opened your first email then you will need to change this part of your strategy because when iOS 15 is launched, your strategy won’t be effective on users that have upgraded (and most will). People will be offered the option to use Mail Privacy Protection and apparently it won’t be selected on by default but it is widely anticipated that most users will choose to hide IP addresses and privately load all remote content.
Options to consider:
- Ignore the changes and continue as normal – whilst Apple is making changes, Android and other platforms have not yet made any announcements, your strategy will therefore continue to work although it won’t be as effective because it won’t include users of iOS 15. Expect other platforms to copy Apple eventually.
- Stop sending the 2nd email to just those that opened the 1st email but did not click through and just send to everyone albeit with the content changed – in short, assume everyone opened it but no one clicked through.
- Refocus on clickers – I can’t see how Apple could stop email marketers being able to track if a person has clicked through or not. Links are tracked differently than opens and would be more difficult for Apple to block unless they changed the links in all the emails and even if they did how would they know what part of the link to change whilst keeping the structure of the link correct? Whilst the IP address of the person might be masked, the information that helps you identify who clicked should still be available and therefore, the information that helps you identify who didn’t click should also be available. Instead of focusing on openers, paddle downstream and focus on clickers.
- Consider changing your strategy to reply rather than click through. In January 2021, Emailmovers launched a new 1-2-1 email service designed to generate email replies rather than clicks to a website. I would love to say that this was because we anticipated Apple’s move towards privacy and whilst it was not entirely unexpected, we didn’t expect anything like this. No, we created this product instead because of the heightened demand for relationship or conversational marketing during lockdown when parts of the market turned away from clicking through to hitting reply instead.
- If you regularly remove people who do not open your emails in order to maintain a healthy list then you need to act today – send to your email list one final time before this update rolls out, time is running out on this strategy.
Like G.D.P.R. and the D.P.A. and the other laws associated with data privacy and protection, in my opinion the changes that Apple are making are not a bad thing. Your business is unlikely to falter, you just need to work out a slightly different strategic approach.
I often think of my parents when I consider how changes like this will impact people, they are elderly and can get confused online. They have an Apple iPhone and will likely update to iOS 15 when it is available and will likely use the new privacy features to protect their mail activity, not because they understand it but because it is likely going to be the highlighted option when they open up Mail for the first time after their update, and at the end of the day this will likely make them less vulnerable to those that intend to do them harm, and that’s just fine by me.
If you’re feeling a little lost, I can’t exactly blame you – email is becoming an increasing complex landscape as the Tech Giants and Government Legislators do battle. If you need help with your email marketing strategy schedule a call with a member of our friendly and supportive team of experts. To book a call click on the link below or why not call us directly on 08452267181 or email us here or use our contact form.
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