Inflated Open Rates? Here’s One Explanation 

Open rate is one of the most important metrics you have in email marketing. It’s how you gauge metrics like which emails most interest your audience and what subject lines work best. According to HubSpot, a healthy email open rate was between 20–30% in 2020, depending on your industry. 

But that was 2020. In 2022, email stats look a little different. 

Open your email service provider (ESP) and look at your average open rate. (Seriously! Go check.) What does your latest open rate look like? We’re willing to bet it’s over 30%.

Does this mean you’re an above-average email marketer? Do you write incredible subject lines perfectly tailored to your audience’s interests? Are the people on your carefully crafted email list extra engaged in your content?

Maybe. But there’s something else affecting your email stats, no matter how good your subject lines are.

In September 2021, Apple released iOS 15, an update that changed the landscape of email marketing. Today’s blog post is all about this update, what it means for your marketing strategy, and how you can adapt. 

What Changed in iOS 15?

iOS 15 included an update to Apple Mail called “Mail Privacy Protection” (MPP). This feature prevents email senders from gathering data about the user’s Apple Mail activity. 

MPP isn’t the default setting for Apple Mail, so users have to opt in to it. If users were not prompted to turn on MPP in the Apple Mail app, they can do so in their phone settings.

MPP sends all incoming emails to a proxy server. The proxy server loads the message content, including tracking pixels, before sending the emails back to Apple Mail users. Your ESP considers the email “opened” because of the proxy server, even if the recipient never opens it. 

Keep in mind that this only affects recipients who use the Apple Mail app. For instance, if someone uses the Outlook app on their iPhone, iOS 15 does not protect their information. MPP only protects people who use Apple Mail, not third-party apps like Gmail and Outlook. 

What iOS 15 Means for Marketing

So what does that mean for someone like you trying to promote their business through email?

It means your email open rate isn’t accurate. 

The portion of your audience using Apple Mail is inflating your email stats. Assuming your audience has opted into MPP, all emails that go through Apple Mail appear as “opened.”

There is no way to be sure how many people have activated MPP. Litmus reports that Apple Mail accounts for about 50% of all email users across iPhones, Macs, and iPads. Not all of these users will activate MPP, but it’s safe to assume that many of them will.

There is no way to tell the difference between an Apple Mail user with MPP who opens your email and one who does not. Both appear as “opens” in your ESP.

iOS 15 affects other aspects of email marketing, too. Your click-through rate (CTR), which is based on your open rate, will decrease because MPP opens your emails without clicking through to your site. 

Some of the old ways of segmenting your audience are no longer effective. Classifying users as “most engaged” or “least engaged” based on how recently they’ve opened your emails won’t work. An Apple Mail user with MPP will appear very engaged, even though they may not read your emails. 

MPP also prevents you from accurately knowing when and where your emails are opened. If you’re trying to strategize about the most popular open times for your emails, you cannot rely on data from Apple Mail users.

How You Can Respond

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to counteract the effects of iOS 15. You cannot access the data of Apple Mail users with MPP. 

This may sound like terrible news, but don’t panic. iOS 15 is not the end of the world for email marketing, or even email open rates. In fact, a HubSpot survey found that only 29% of marketers considered the update a negative influence on their strategy.

Open rate may be important for email marketers, but it’s not the only measurement of success. Here are some steps you can take to adapt to the changes brought on by iOS 15:

  • Segment your Apple Mail users into a different list. Depending on your ESP, you may be able to separate Apple Mail users from everyone else. Your open rate for subscribers who don’t use Apple Mail should be accurate.
  • Shift your focus from open rate to CTR and conversions. Open rate isn’t the only KPI for email. CTR, site activity, unsubscribe rates, and sales are all useful metrics.
  • Branch out to other forms of marketing. Email is not the only effective channel for digital marketing. You can still market to Apple Mail users through social media, paid ads, and SMS, just to name a few.
  • Send out a survey. Ask your audience what kinds of email content they do and don’t like receiving from you. Your open rate may not be perfectly accurate, but you can still learn what email content performs well.
  • Redefine how you segment your “engaged” and “least engaged” audience. Try basing engagement on clicks or sales so you can re-engage your lapsed audience.

iOS 15 may be frustrating for marketers, but it’s ultimately a good update. Forbes calls it “brilliant.” It gives Apple Mail users more control over their email experience. In a world where digital privacy is increasingly difficult to come by, iOS 15 is a refreshing step in the right direction. Marketers like us must simply adapt to the “new normal.” 

Email marketing is a complicated, ever-changing landscape, and iOS 15 is only one facet. If you’re struggling to keep up with all the email client updates, metrics, and privacy laws, you don’t have to go it alone. Schedule a call with Sigl Creative, and we’ll navigate the landscape for you, helping you implement an email marketing strategy that connects your brand with an interested, eager audience. 

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