Apple mail privacy protection

What Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Updates Mean to Email Marketers: Experts Weigh In

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection has been on a lot of people’s lips lately. How will the update affect email marketers and other newsletter senders? Some suggest that this spells doom and gloom. Does it, though? We reached out to three experts to get their feedback.

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning,” says Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering.

Last week, at the Worldwide Developer Conference, Federighi announced several changes coming to Apple’s software, including stronger privacy measures. Calling privacy a “fundamental human right,” he talked about the iOS 15 update for iPhones and the macOS 12 Monterey update for Mac computers.

One of the new features Apple will be rolling out is Mail Privacy Protection, which will change the way email marketers gather data about their subscribers.

apple mail update
Apple’s Craig Federighi calls privacy “a fundamental human right.”

What does Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature do?

“In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user,” Apple explains in a recent press release.

The way marketers track email open rates is by using tracking pixels. It’s a very small image – just a single pixel, you wouldn’t notice it. Opening an email causes the image to load from a server and lets the sender know that you opened that message.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will block this data collection method. Thus, as the company explains, “the new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email.”

Furthermore, Apple says the new feature “masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”

apple mail meme

How will Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection affect email open rates?

As email newsletters and campaigns continue to surge in popularity, being concerned about Apple’s new privacy measures is understandable. Companies rely on newsletters and promotional emails to send timely updates, nurture their customers and increase revenue. Also, an increasing number of journalists distribute and monetize their work via email.

Many senders consider their open rates to be a critical metric in determining the success of an email. However, marketing pro Liz Willits points out:

“Email open rates have NEVER been accurate.”

That’s because of the way in which email service providers (ESPs) collect activity data. “Internet service providers – like Gmail and Yahoo! – don’t share open rates with email marketing platforms – like MailChimp, AWeber and ConvertKit.” So, to gather data regarding email opens, ESPs use tracking pixels.

What makes open rates so unreliable, though? Liz Willits, who worked at AWeber and now owns a marketing agency, explains:

  • Some people configure their emails so images don’t load.
  • Others frequently check their emails in a browser or inbox that doesn’t even support images.

“These subscribers may open every single email,” Liz says. “But you won’t know that. It won’t track as an open.”

What do other experts think about Apple’s new feature?

While the purpose of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is to protect the privacy of Apple Mail users, there is speculation about what this means for those who send marketing emails. Some believe that carrying on as usual could negatively affect our email campaigns. Others see it as an opportunity to improve our email strategy.

Three email experts weigh in on the new Apple privacy updates and what they mean for email marketers. Following best practices and email hygiene, not all hope is lost.

Let’s see what these pros say.

email marketing metrics

Ashley Guttuso: “Email metrics can’t tell you what talking to the people regularly can.”

Ashley Guttuso, Director of marketing at Simple Focus, believes that for email marketers, this is a chance to improve their practices.

How do you think Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will affect email marketers? 

It’s going to force us to find other ways to measure engagement. Open rates (even though they’re not spot-on accurate) are such an easy way to know if your audience is interested in what you’re sending.

Email marketers are going to feel a little paralyzed until they figure out how to correlate sends to actions. 

If senders can’t track opens in Apple Mail, lots of Apple users will seem unengaged – although they may be clicking your emails. What’s the best course of action here?

I think we’re all going to need to get better at doing what we should be doing anyway:

  • Setting clear goals for our email marketing and looking past opens and clicks to see what impact it makes.
  • Having real conversations with customers and prospects to understand if what you’re sending resonates. Email metrics can’t tell you what talking to the people regularly can.
  • Mixing editorial and promotional content to stay relevant. Curated was built to support editorial style newsletters, which have higher open rates than purely promotional ones. Across the platform we see an average open rate of over 40%. Editorial content earns B2B marketers the right to be promotional. 
  • Creating surveys and other ways for people to tell us if they’re engaged. 
  • Looking at site traffic to pages used in email campaigns.
  • Being smart enough to understand that just because you can’t measure a thing doesn’t mean it’s not working. 

How are you planning to handle your analytics reports after this update takes place? 

We offer an interesting summary report right now that shows issue performance based on clicks and category performance over time. That means a newsletter can be broken into sections and our users can see if certain categories with links have been more or less popular than others. 

They can also see which stories in each category performed best over time and which links within categories were most popular. It’s content metrics within email.

We’ll look to see if additional analytics can be layered on. But we feel strongly that the key to improving engagement is knowing what your readers find most interesting and steering your content more in that direction.

For now, we’ll continue to point people to that report and suggest that they send reconfirmation messages (which provides engaged users who appear to be unengaged a chance to say they want to keep receiving your emails) to subscribers who haven’t clicked links over a reasonable time period. For many senders, that might be 6 months, but for monthly or quarterly senders, that could be a year, to keep their lists clean

Apple mail privacy protection update

Chad S. White: “It would be a mistake to not make adjustments.”

Chad S. White, Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Consulting, told us that we’ll see many false opens because Apple will be pre-fetching and caching email content.

How do you think this will affect email marketers? 

Apple’s new Mail Privacy Protection features will undoubtedly affect everything from email analytics to deliverability to email design in a significant way.

However, while the new features will change how marketers execute many tactics and strategies, as well as how effective those are, it won’t relegate any of them to the trash heap.

If senders can’t track opens in Apple Mail, lots of Apple users will seem unengaged – although they may be clicking your emails. What’s the best course of action here?

Rather than blocking email opens, once this update takes effect, Apple email clients will generate tons of false opens. That’s because Apple will be pre-fetching and caching email content. When it does that, marketers will no longer be able to tell if their subscribers using these email clients opened their emails or not, because every email will appear to be opened. The time of open will also be unreliable. 

So, rather than having the problem of lots more subscribers appearing to be inactive, marketers will have the problem of some inactive subscribers appearing to be active – which is thankfully the easier problem to deal with. 

Would it be a mistake for email marketers to carry on as normal, given these impending changes?

Yes, it would be a mistake to not make adjustments based on what Apple is doing. Marketers will need to make changes to their analytics, adjust the triggers and the messaging of their reengagement campaigns, and closely monitor their deliverability in the months ahead, among other things. 

Opens have been a major part of mailbox providers’ spam filtering algorithms for over a decade now, so it’s unclear how mailbox providers will respond to Apple sending all of these false opens. Short-term it could improve marketers’ inbox placement, but long-term it seems likely to hurt it.

email open rates

Christopher Penn: “Give users a reason to turn on images.”

Christopher Penn, Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist of Trust Insights, Inc., encourages marketers to use more engaging visual content in their emails.

How do you think this will affect email marketers? 

Apple Mail is almost 50% of the mail client market, so in that sense, it’s a big deal. Here’s the thing: if all you’re doing is embedding tracking pixels in your email, then yes, the mail privacy thing is going to hurt. 

If senders can’t track opens in Apple Mail, lots of Apple users will seem unengaged – although they may be clicking your emails. What’s the best course of action here?

You’ve got to give users a reason to turn on images, which should override the privacy setting in the same way it functions in Thunderbird and even Gmail. 

Here’s an example of our workaround

You can see we put lots of useful graphics and charts in our emails. What does this do? It gets people to turn images on.

This isn’t substantially different from other email clients blocking remote content loads. It’s not a big deal if you’re already good at providing valuable content to your customers and prospects. For those who aren’t, now would be the time to start.

More on Apple’s updates

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will launch in September, with a public beta available in July. You can find about more about it – and the other coming changes – in this piece David Nield wrote for Wired.