Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection: What changed for email marketing

Mail Privacy Protection, one of the latest features introduced by Apple to protect the privacy of its users, has had a strong impact on email marketing and on how some performance data are tracked, in particular the open rate (and consequently the CTOR). In this article, we explain what Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is and how it has revolutionized the rules of email marketing.

Privacy has been a very hot topic for some years now. Whether we are talking about third-party cookies or emails, big techs and platforms are moving towards greater user protection, effectively changing the logics that have dominated the digital world so far.

One of the latest companies to introduce an action that has partially changed the rules of email marketing is Apple, through Mail Privacy Protection, a feature that, if activated, makes it impossible to track the opening of a newsletter.

Considering that in the world, in 2020 alone, 230 million iPhones, 71 million iPads and 20 million Mac and MacBook units were sold, it goes without saying that the impact of this new feature cannot be underestimated as it is highly probable that a good percentage of contacts within our mailing list uses Apple products and apps.

But let’s see in detail how Mail Privacy Protection works, what repercussions it had on email marketing and how to best manage this situation.

What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection

The Mail Privacy Protection feature was announced by Apple in June 2021 and allows users who activate it to make it more difficult to obtain information on activities carried out in Mail.

To put it in the words of Apple itself, this feature hides the user’s IP address, so that senders cannot connect it to other activities that the user carries out online or determine their precise location. It also prevents senders from detecting if the user has opened the email that was sent to it.

The impact of Mail Privacy Protection on email marketing

Mail Privacy Protection makes it impossible to tell apart who has enabled this function and therefore determine the real user behaviour. This has given rise to a series of consequences both on a technical and general level, which every person involved in email marketing should know in order to be able to read the data, draw conclusions and adjust the strategy in the most coherent way possible.

1. Opening rates are higher but not reliable

In order to protect the user who activates the Mail Privacy Protection function, Apple systems generate a series of fictitious openings that increase the opening rate. However, this is clearly an increase with no real performance value.

2. Higher open rates decrease the click-to-open-rate

The click-to-open-rate (CTOR) is a metric that indicates how many users who have read our email have clicked at least one link within it (number of unique clicks/number of unique openings).

However, being it a percentage based on the number of openings of the email, CTOR too suffers the consequences of Mail Privacy Protection: not only does the data tend to drop but it is also unreliable since we do not know the actual number of openings.

3. Contact quality, segmentation and automation become more difficult

Every email marketing platform that can be defined as such allows you to access different insights on the contacts in the mailing list, so as to understand if a particular contact is active or not and then plan an action accordingly, as well as keep the database clean and updated.

However, one of the main factors that determines the inactivity of a user is precisely the email opening rate, that is, how many of the newsletters we have sent to that particular user have been opened and how many have not. With Mail Privacy Protection, it may result that a user is active when in reality it’s not, effectively making the data collected about this user unreliable.

This obviously also impacts segmentation, for example between active and inactive users, and the consequent re-engagement actions, as well as A/B tests and automation based on the open rate.

How to deal with Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection

As we have seen, this feature generated repercussions in various areas and complicated the life of marketers.

However, there are some steps we can take to obtain reliable data to draw truthful conclusions about the performance of our email marketing strategies.

1. Rethinking how we determine the success of our emails

Those who do email marketing know that the open rate is just one of the many data to consider. They also probably know that even before Mail Privacy Protection there was a debate on to what extent it was actually indicative of the success of a newsletter.

Surely it can be a very appealing data to write in reports, because it is generally the highest, however it has never been that precise: not only are there anti-spam filters that record openings that never actually occurred but the fact that a user opened a newsletter does not necessarily mean that it found it interesting.

So, in addition to the open rate, let’s also take into consideration the click rate, the unsubscribe rate as well as the delivery rate and the conversion rate: all metrics that act as a gauge not only for the real interest of those who read us but also for the quality of our database.

In addition, some platforms have taken action to try to give users the most accurate picture possible. MailUp, for example, has made available a tool for calculating the percentage of openings under privacy, which indicates who received the message on Apple Mail.

2. Planning the automation on triggers other than the open rate

The open rate has always been one of the favourite triggers for setting up automation or retargeting actions. However, we have seen how it is now unreliable.

This is why it is necessary to set triggers based on a specific user action (for example, the click on a specific CTA), on a specific occurrence (anniversaries, birthdays …) or on a specific time basis (an email every two days/weeks, according to our target and type of communication).

3. Trying to understand what really activates our target

Sometimes, returning to the origins of email marketing and thinking of its best practices can prove to be a useful exercise in countering the changes caused by the advent of new technologies and practices.

Let’s experiment with the object and the pre-header, with a captivating copy and CTAs; let’s personalize the sender, using a name that makes us immediately recognizable and, why not, let’s humanize it, especially if those we are writing to know us personally or have a direct relationship with us. Let’s call the recipient by its name, both in the object and in the body of the newsletter.

To learn about other best practices of email marketing, you can read our dedicated article.

4. Adopting a future-ready approach

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the digital world is moving at great speed towards greater data protection, especially when it comes to privacy and data collection.

We have to adapt to a world without third-party cookies, to a growing number of anti-tracking systems and to greater attention, by users themselves, on how data is collected and processed.

So, today more than ever, a soft skill that every marketer will have to develop will be precisely that of knowing how to adapt strategies to the changes in the digital landscape and expect such changes to happen at any moment.

If you are looking for a reliable partner to support you in tackling future challenges and in creating an effective email marketing strategy, contact us.

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After graduating in Languages at the Università degli Studi di Milano, my interest and curiosity towards the digital world led me to pursue a career in this field and to get a Specializing Master in Digital Marketing. Today, I am responsible for the definition and application of marketing and communication strategies for both EOS and the ipcm® magazines. In my free time I travel, I read a lot and I binge-watch TV series. A place to visit at least once in your life: Oman. Must read: Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini. What you should binge-watch next: Mr. Robot.

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