Email open rates are going away, so what now? Is this the email apocalypse?
Tune in to hear what this update means for your eCommerce business, how to prepare your email account for iOS15 and how this might impact your email marketing strategy moving forward.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I adjusted my podcast schedule to make sure I addressed this issue as soon as possible. That issue is iOS15 and the ability for users to opt out of email tracking.
Before we get into the details, know that this information is still super new. It was only announced a week or so ago. I’m doing my due diligence to get as much information and insight as possible, but know that the information is likely to evolve as developers start testing and more information comes to light.
For now, I’m going off the initial Apple announcement and the coverage I’ve found from other reputable sources in the space, including a community thread of Klaviyo’s website where they will update information as they come to it.
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What is the iOS15 update and what does it mean for eCommerce businesses?
iOS15 is Apple’s next operating system update and as of right now it looks as if it will be released sometime between September and November. So yes, when Q4 rolls around this update will likely already be in place. It’s not the end of the world, we just need to be prepared.
There are a bunch of updates coming for iOS15, but what we’re focusing on right now and what is going to affect our email marketing is the Mail Privacy Protection. When someone updates their app they’ll be presented with a screen asking them if they want to protect their email activity or not, which looks like this.
If a user chooses to protect their mail activity, Apple Mail will strip the tracking code from the email which means the sender won’t be able to see if an email was opened and it will also hide the IP address of the user which we use to understand someone’s general location.
One thing to note here is that these new email privacy protections are specific to the Apple Mail app. If the user is using the Gmail app or another app on their phone, the privacy settings won’t apply, at least not until they decide to do something similar.
Truth be told though, most statistics say that the majority of email users in the US are using the Apple Mail app. In fact, according to Litmus, their annual email client market share data shows Apple iPhone, Apple Mail, and Apple iPad with over 46% of combined email opens in 2020. That’s a pretty big percentage, so it’s safe to say that this is going to have an effect.
How will the iOS15 update change how you manage your email marketing?
First things first, don’t panic. Email is not dead. Remember when GDPR first came out? Everyone panicked and thought this was going to be the end… but it wasn’t. We adjusted and email continues to be a strong source of revenue for eCommerce businesses.
Digital Marketing and the internet have been evolving and will continually evolve, so it’s no use to anyone to just stress out every time a change is coming. We just have to adapt like savvy business owners and marketers do.
How does the iOS15 update affect IP Address tracking and what can we do?
Typically, this is used to understand where your user is and is how you create location based segments based on one’s radius to a zip code. I used this A LOT in my previous job because we had 35+ stores which were spread out all over the country. So if I had a specific store event or promotion, or even when we were opening a new store in a new location, it was fairly easy to figure out who was within driving distance to those stores.
If someone opts out of this, it’s going to be much more difficult to identify those people. The same goes for personalizing content based on weather, which a lot of apparel businesses will do.
If the user’s location is important to you, whether it’s proximity to a specific store or just understanding their local weather, what can we do?
Instead of relying on third-party data for the user’s IP address, we will have to collect first party data on them. Maybe this is a Zip Code, or asking them their city and state, or even just asking which store is closest to them.
If you’re able to get their zip code, there are online tools that will let you find all the zip codes that are in a particular radius to another zip code. There would be a good amount of manual work up front, but it’s doable.
Of course just asking them which stores they want updates for on a manage preferences or sign up form would be the easiest way. And yes, not everyone is going to fill it out, you’ll probably have to ask multiple times, but it’s easy enough to send out a request periodically or even insert a section of your email that asks them to update their info.
What does losing open rate data mean for you?
Some people will say that open rates are a vanity metric and don’t really mean anything anyway… which is true to an extent. But most of us use the opening of an email to say this person is engaged and wants to hear from us.
In fact, lots of email strategists, myself included, will tell you to focus on those who have opened your email in the last 90 days as your engaged group. Now we’re going to have to look at more than just open rate to determine whether or not someone is engaged.
What other metrics can you use to determine subscriber engagement?
Click rate for one. As far as I understand it, click rate will not be affected by this change. My understanding is that while the pixel that is being stripped from the emails in Apple Mail is what records the open, it’s the UTM parameters that will recognize the click.
You’ll also want to look at metrics like how recently they visited your site, when they signed up for your list, and of course their purchase activity.
While it seems limiting at first, the truth is focusing more on these other metrics means you’re actually identifying an even more engaged group of people because people who click your email and visit your website are worth much more to you than people who open your email but don’t take any action after that.
What should you do to prepare for iOS15? Test, test, test
Start testing things NOW while you still have this open data. If you’re not sure when the best day and time to send an email is, start testing now.
If you’re not sure whether your users prefer witty and suggestive subject lines vs. direct and specific ones, test now. Same for emojis vs. no emojis. Get as much data as you can, while you still have access to it and keep track of what you learn.
You’ll also want to test the content you use in your emails. Long vs. short form, heavily visual vs. text-based, etc. Because click is going to be the main metric you have to go off of, take the time to test that now so you will be ready to go by the time iOS15 rolls out. Yes, you’ll still have the data available to you to test when it does, but how great would it be if you already knew what your subscribers respond to.
Stay tuned for an upcoming podcast episode where I dive more into what and how to test your emails.
Get rid of inactive subscribers
If you haven’t cleaned your list in a while, now is a great time to do that. Identify the really unengaged people and get rid of them. Send some last ditch effort breakup emails to see if they want to stay on your list.
Update people’s profiles with the data you do have
Now is also a great time to collect more of that first party data or update people’s profiles with the third-party data you do have. This is especially true if location is really important to you. Create location-based segments and then update their profile with the information you have on a profile property. If you want them to be able to update this later, add it to the main list sign-up form so it will appear on your manage preferences form.
Add SMS to the mix
If you’ve been thinking about adding SMS to your marketing line up, now’s a great time to start if it makes sense for your customer base. Open rates haven’t really been a thing for SMS, it’s always been mostly about clicks. And yes, you will hear people say SMS has open rates of 80+% vs. 20% for email, but you know most of us can’t stand to have that notification alert sitting there, so just because we opened it doesn’t mean we actually read it anyway.
How will you adjust your email marketing once iOS15 is in place?
The biggest difference is going to be how we measure success. Clicks and actual conversion are going to be much more important. So the conditions that you use in your engaged segment should be based on these metrics vs. solely open rate. You can still use open rate as a condition because, as of right now, this will affect data for those using Apple Mail, but it can’t be the only one.
How should you approach resending campaigns?
You always hear me say the power of resending emails to people who haven’t opened them the first time, right? Now, instead of using open as the metric you’ll want to use click instead. But if you’re using click, that means you might end up emailing someone who already opened it and chose not to engage with it.
So in this case you might have to adjust your strategy just a bit. Instead of sending the same exact content, you might have to change it up so it feels like a different message. And if you’re using a platform other than
Monitor your unsubscribe and spam rates
You should do that anyway, but when it comes to the resending based on engagement, it’s going to be even more important. Ideally you want it to be under .3% or less for unsubs and .08% for spam.
Fair warning here though, if you’re in the earlier stages of your business and you have a small list, it’s going to be higher than that because if 3 people unsubscribe from a 500 person list that’s .6%. But don’t stress out about that.
Don’t forget the power of segmentation
Use that first party data you have to create buckets of customers and send them relevant messages. Now as always, I still caution you on getting caught up in the segmentation, because you can spend a lot of time tinkering with this and if you have a small list or a product that appeals to a lot of people, you can limit your reach. If that’s you, focus on where they are in their journey with you and segment them based on that.
What should your next steps be?
Like I said at the beginning, we’re still really early in understanding how this is going to affect things and what the email service providers are going to do in response to it.
So start learning as much as you can and collecting as much first party data as possible between now and then. Read up on as much information as you can. Don’t panic, be a smart marketer and we’ll get through this just like we get through every other hurdle that comes our way.
Really, the goal here is to make sure we use the data we do have and that we collect to understand our customer and what they want to hear from us. It’s going to make us better marketers.
This is NOT the end of email, by any means. So keep learning about your customers and honing your marketing and messaging skills, you’ve totally got this.