Apple is about to take a bite out of email marketing

Industry News
Sep 7
4 min read
Apple’s new Mail Privacy update in iOS 15 consequences for email maketing
Email on screen - Photo by Torsten Dettlaff from Pexels

There has been a lot of talk in the industry lately concerning Apple’s new Mail Privacy update in iOS 15 which is expected to be released in a few short weeks. In what has affectionately come to be known as “Pixelgeddon” this update will have a direct impact on email marketers across the globe. The changes are similar to the app tracking privacy they introduced earlier this year and will affect people using an iPhone, iPad, Mac computers and Apple Watch.

What is Mail Privacy Protection?

After users update to iOS 15, they will be prompted with an option to disable Protect Mail Activity when they open Apple Mail for the first time – this means it will be enabled (by default) for everyone. For people who do not disable this setting (which we expect to be no one), it will effectively block all pixel tracking located within their emails, thus preventing all information about who “opened” the email from being sent back to the sender.

When will this happen?

Historically Apple releases iOS updates in late summer, but people sometimes take time to perform this update. Given it is a default setting and the language they are using around it, experts predict close to 99% adoption by early November. This gives you only a few short weeks to make the necessary changes to your email marketing strategy.

How does pixel tracking work anyway?

An “open” is triggered when the remote server downloads a tiny 1×1 pixel image hidden in the content of the email. Each recipient has a unique URL for these images so ESPs (like Cakemail) can track not only who downloaded the email, but how many times, the exact date/time it was opened, your IP address, location and more..

Unfortunately, tracking “opens” has always been a flawed metric as some receivers block images by default, spam filters can sometimes download these tracking images multiple times, recipients can forward your email without opening it, and now proxy servers are blocking your personal information from returning to the sender.

iPhone Screen with Mail icon - Photo by Torsten Dettlaff from Pexels

How does this affect email marketing?

Well, for starters all email sent to an Apple device will register an “open” and for marketers that rely heavily on email ‘opens’ for automation, to track ROI, business impact, revenue, user engagement and overall list hygiene, they will need to rethink how they monitor their metrics.

Obviously, the impact on the marketer will depend on what portion of their list is using an Apple device, so if you don’t know already, you are best to find out before this all goes away. I caution you, it’s more than you think.

How does this affect the email Industry?

It’s a game changer. Apple will not be the last to do this, but until everyone follows suit ESPs should be able to segment Apple “opens” from real “opens” and coach their users to focus KPIs on conversions and something that really matters – Clicks. After all, you don’t make money on opens, you make money on people that click through to your website. When it comes to List hygiene, should we really be sending to someone that never clicks? Even if they opened? How engaged are they if they never click anything?

Sending content that makes people click will be the new norm and 2x optin forms are more prevalent now than ever. The importance of seed testing to determine Inbox placement will increase and marketers that don’t adapt will be left behind.

How can I measure “opens” moving forward?

It’s important to note that this will only affect people using Apple Mail. Your open rate at other providers will not be affected (unless they are using Apple Mail to check this mailbox). The true method of calculating the success of your email marketing efforts is to track ‘clicks’ and whatever CTA you have in your email program now should be updated to this new normal moving forward (when it comes to tracking Apple Mail users).

Opens Graph

If you have automated emails based on opens, you will need to rethink this approach. The content you are sending must have a clear call-to-action that ends with a “click”, not just an “open” and since ROI with email is typically based on a purchase, you will need to retool these metrics accordingly.

Why is Apple doing this??

Craig Federighi

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering.

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning. Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with.”

What do I think about all this?

I welcome all aspects of Data Privacy and to be quite honest I’m a little surprised it has taken this long. I have been in the Email marketing space since 2006 and if there is one thing I know it’s that Apple is no stranger to innovation. Privacy has been on the forefront of people’s minds for a while and it is only a matter of time before others like Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo follow suit. The irony is not lost however given Apple is essentially trying to stop people profiting from your data, when they themselves are.. profiting.. from.. your data.

One thing I am looking forward to seeing playout in a world focused on “Clicks” is an increase in Deliverability, Reputation and Inbox placement, which (for me) is right up there with Data privacy.

Never a dull moment.


Director of Deliverability & Privacy Operations | Cakemail

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