How Apple's iOS 15 Could Impact Email Marketers

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Pamela Bump
Pamela Bump


As one of the HubSpot Blog's email marketers, one of the key metrics I use to measure email success is open rate.

A person opens an email after opting in to Apple IOS 15 privacy features.

When an open rate is high, it hints that your subject line did its job to pull readers, you're sending emails at the most engaging time of day, or your subscribers are eagerly waiting to get your content in their inbox. When it's low, it signals that your email subscribers might not even be reading your content.

But, now, the way email marketers leverage open rates could change as soon as this month with Apple's incoming iOS 15 privacy features.

At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the company announced a rollout of a handful of new iOS 15 privacy features that will include:

  • Mail Privacy Protection (Free): According to reports from Litmus, those with early access to iOS 15, and other tech journalists, Apple Mail will allow users to opt in to mail privacy features that mask IP addresses and block third parties from tracking email opens or other IP data.
  • iCloud+ (Subscription): An iCloud subscription with additional privacy features including a VPN-like Private Relay feature, which prevents sites from tracking Safari users who opt-in and allows users to see which websites they're sending information to.
  • Hide My Email (within iCloud+): An email address-cloaking feature that enables users to give sites a "fake" email address. While promotional emails sent from the brand to the fake address will still go to someone's inbox and shouldn't impact important communication, brands will not be able to see the person's real address unless the contact shares it.

While the paid features might not create a huge impact for marketers because they require users to buy a service, the free Apple Mail privacy feature has already caused a stir in the marketing community.

So far, all Apple has said about this feature is, "In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location."

Although Apple hasn’t explicitly said whether Mail Privacy Protection will be an opt-in or automatic feature, some iOS testers have shared images showing the Mail app prompts them to turn Mail Privacy Protection on when they enter the app:

apple ios email permission page

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At this point, marketing experts say this feature could specifically impact the tracking of open rates and email-based A/B testing.

Although this move might seem scary, it isn't surprising as it follows a trend of internet privacy rollouts from tech giants. Most recently, Apple's iOS 14.5 update limited mobile app tracking by requiring users to opt into sharing information when they opened an app after downloading it. Meanwhile, Google has been building out its Privacy Sandbox while preparing advertisers and marketers for Chrome's phase-out of third-party cookies in 2022.

When it comes to Apple's iOS 15 pivots specifically, marketers aren't only unsurprised, but many -- including members of the HubSpot team -- believe this will be a positive change for user experience.

“From its inception, HubSpot has been relentlessly focused on helping businesses match the way they market and sell to the way people want to shop and buy. Our founders developed the philosophy of inbound marketing in the early 2000s,  and Apple's moves only serve to reinforce these trends," says Will DeKrey, HubSpot's Group Product Manager of Campaigns.

"Buyers get to be in charge of the data they share; not sellers. And big corporations shouldn't get to create markets for tracking and selling personal data, giving them an information advantage over smaller businesses," DeKrey says.

“This means that each individual company, large or small, will need to get better and better at building trusted relationships with their audience, earning the right to learn who they are and what they're interested in.”

“What's true about people today is that they want BOTH privacy AND personalization. They still want content that is targeted and messaging that speaks to their interests. Given Apple's changes, email marketers will likely need to focus even more on creating remarkably relevant content that drives their audiences to take action, versus experimenting with headlines just to see if they can get a click,” DeKrey explains.

“Personalization isn't going away. Conversion optimization isn't going away. A/B testing isn't going away. But each of these will need to be more focused on building deeper relationships and more meaningful actions,” concludes DeKrey

Although Apple's recent open tracking pivot could be great for iOS users who'd like to feel more secure, we know that email marketers still have a lot of questions.

To help email marketers navigate the potential changes that could happen, here are a few tips and strategies teams can consider as the iOS 15 rollout gets closer.

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How Email Marketers Can Navigate Apple's Open Privacy Changes

1. Continue following updates from Apple.

Although Apple's iOS 15 features are starting to roll out, there's still a lot that we're still learning about how it could impact the ways we work with email.

As the feature continues to roll out, HubSpot's own email product team will be looking into the change and considering solutions if there will be a major open rate impact.

“On the HubSpot email product team, we're going to take time to consider what the next best steps are for our customers. In this ever-evolving email landscape, our priority will be to support our marketers in continuing to create highly impactful emails and get the most value from our email tool,” said Shane Janssens, Email Product Manager at HubSpot, this summer.

As we know more about these new features and how they could impact HubSpot email analytics, we'll continue to update this post with more information and links to helpful resources to keep you in the know.

2. Remember, this change won't impact all email readers.

Although Apple Mail and Apple mobile devices make up over 35% of the email provider market share globally, Google, Outlook, and other email providers haven't announced similar privacy moves, which means their open and IP data could still provide solid tracking information for email marketers.

While you should be wary that other companies, like Google or Microsoft, could follow suit on email privacy, it's important to remember that you'll still get open data from them for the time being and can still make some judgments on the success of opens from these email providers.

3. Consider adjusting open-rate goals.

Although open rates aren't going away any time soon, a large chunk of email audiences might become untrackable. Because of this, you might need to lower or pivot your open rate goals to determine what your new low, average, and high open rates are.

If your goals are set by a manager above you, it will be important to audit and communicate how many opens you usually get from iOS users to help your manager and your team estimate how they could change after the rollout. You might also want to consider tracking your email open rates for a month or so after the rollout to see what new averages look like based on hard data.

4. Leverage other email marketing data.

While open rate is a key email marketing KPI at many companies, it's certainly not the only data you can use to determine if your email content is successful. In fact, when sending HubSpot Blog emails, the open rate is just one of many metrics I look at. Here are a few others that I plan to continue to zone in on, even if open rates are impacted:

  • Clicks and click-through rates: If you share links to content, such as blogs, product pages, and offers in email, the number of clicks and your click-through rates give you insights on how many or how often email readers engaged with and clicked on your content. High clicks or click-throughs can hint that your content was very engaging while lower clicks or click-throughs could hint that readers were less interested or skimming through your email.
  • Traffic to your site: With software like HubSpot, or the use of tracking URLs, you can determine how much traffic came to your website from one single email -- or which pieces of content sent the most visitors to your site. Ultimately, if you're trying to build your audiences, get people to make purchases, or aiming to increase offer downloads, you'll need to send people to your website. Good email traffic hints that you're successfully getting visitors where they need to go with your content.
  • Clickmaps: Many email providers, like HubSpot, allow you to see which content people clicked most or least in the email. This can help you see which content within your email was most and least clickable,
  • Unsubscribe rates: While these usually don't vary much, a spiked unsubscribe rate could indicate that an aspect of your email strategy (such as the content you sent or the frequency of emails) caused you to lose more audience members than usual. Meanwhile, a consistently low unsubscribe rate hints that you're continuing to retain or even gain subscribers.
  • Survey or email persona research: Aside from metrics you can gain from your email marketing platform, you can also leverage other strategies, like surveys or polls to learn more about your subscribers' interests, what they'd like to see more of, and where you can improve your content.

On top of leveraging KPIs that are less impacted by Apple's change, you can also use email tools or benchmark reports to see how your email rates compare to that of other brands in your industry.

For example, HubSpot users can leverage HubSpot's Email Health Tool to compare your open, click-through, unsubscribe, and bounce rates against our benchmarks.

Evolving Your Content for a More Private World

Apple's announcement is not the only privacy pivot that's impacted digital marketers -- and in 2021 -- it certainly won't be the last.

Although the world might be changing in a way that poses some challenges for digital and email marketers, that doesn't mean you can't continue to innovate your strategy to meet prospects or audiences where they are.

While open rates are certainly important, there are many other ways to get to know your email subscribers, learn from KPIs, and continue to create great content for them.

Looking for more information on how email could change, or the HubSpot Email tools? Check out this HubSpot Community post

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