Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) is here, and so are some major updates that email marketers should be aware of. Perhaps you’ve heard people saying, “The email open rate is dead!” or that Apple Mail Privacy will forever change the landscape of email marketing. And now you’re looking to see what all the fuss is about.

Well, first of all, two pieces of good news:

  1. You’ve come to the right place
  2. Fundamentally, nothing has changed about what makes email the most effective form of marketing

Hopefully, we’ve at least set your mind at ease a little. The truth is, there’s no need to worry. But there are some changes to the world of email marketing that arrived with Apple’s Privacy updates for iOS 15 and their popular Mail app as of September 20th, 2021. These changes aren’t specific to any email marketing provider and impact you no matter which platform you’re using, so it’s worth taking some time to get familiar with them.

Read on for a breakdown of Apple’s recent privacy changes, how Mail Privacy Protection affects email marketing, what hasn’t changed about email, and some simple steps you can take to make sure your emails continue to drive valuable results.

What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection?

The short answer is that Mail Privacy Protection gives users of Apple’s Mail app the option of hiding if and when they open marketing emails.

Here’s the full story:

Mail Privacy Protection is an Apple Mail feature announced in June of 2021 that prevents email marketers from using invisible pixels to collect information from recipients. The feature is now available for users of Apple’s Mail app for iPhone, iPad, Mac computers, and Apple Watch, allowing them to mask information such as when and where they open an email, what device they used, and any other online activity linked to that device.

In the past, data from an email was loaded only when the recipient opened the email and downloaded the email’s images, which happened automatically in most cases. This data included a pixel, which allowed your email provider to detect that the email was opened, what device was used, and sometimes where the subscriber was located when they opened the email. With Mail Privacy Protection, Apple Mail preloads images and content of emails you send — including the tracking pixel — regardless of if the recipient actually opened the email or not. 

This makes data from these pixels unreliable as a performance metric.

Apple Mail privacy protection for iOS 15
Apple’s iOS 15 update allows users to protect their mail activity by hiding their IP address and loading content privately.

Why Mail Privacy Protection matters for email marketing

Apple Mail is one of the most popular email clients in use today, largely because it’s the default email application for users of all Apple devices. In 2021, Apple devices accounted for approximately 52 percent of all email opens, according to Litmus.

Mail Privacy Protection is now offered as an option to all Apple Mail users who have upgraded to iOS 15. It’s still unclear how many users will opt-in to this feature, but people using email marketing tools should be prepared to rely less on email open data. Generally, when users are given the opportunity to opt out of data tracking, they take it. We expect these new privacy features to be as popular as previously released iOS features, like opting out of app data tracking.

Mail privacy protection screenshot for email marketing activity
Here’s the Mail Privacy Protection message displayed prominently to Apple Mail users on their first open of the app after they upgrade to iOS 15.

Email data is limited, and therefore so is some of the features powered by that data

Besides not knowing if, when, and how a subscriber opened your email, certain email marketing features that rely on this data, such as auto-sending a follow-up email to non-openers, are no longer as reliable. Read on for more info about how this affects email marketing and some steps you can take to ensure you’re marketing effectively.

When did Mail Privacy Protection go into effect?

Mail Privacy Protection was be released on September 20, 2021 on all Apple devices alongside the release of iOS 15, and is available by default on Apple’s latest line of iPhones and iPad. While it will take some time for users to upgrade their iOS and adopt the feature, it’s best to assume that some of your subscribers are already using Apple Mail Privacy Protection and that more subscribers will follow suit in the coming months.

How many people on my email list will use Mail Privacy Protection?

While no two email lists are exactly the same, let’s make an educated guess of how many contacts may use Apple’s newest privacy features.

Assuming 52 percent of your list is using an Apple email client to read your emails (based on the average for all email opens in 2021), and that 96% of them will opt-in to additional privacy protection (as was the case with the app tracking feature for iOS 14.5), we’ll estimate that about 50 percent of your subscribers will likely use Mail Privacy Protection eventually.

UPDATE: October 18, 2021

It’s important to note that the estimate above is just a rough calculation at the moment, and adoption of iOS 15 and Mail Privacy Protection will take time. MPP just became available in September of 2021 and as of October 18, 2021, it’s estimated that only about 29 percent of iPhone users have upgraded to iOS 15 so far. As more people upgrade their iOS in the coming months, more will activate Apple’s new privacy protection features, but we can’t say for sure exactly how many will do so. We’ll keep this post updated as we get a better idea of the overall aption rate for Mail Privacy Protection.

5 Ways Mail Privacy Protection impacts email marketing

While not much has changed in terms of how to use email marketing successfully, there are some things you should be aware of. It’s important to note that these changes aren’t specific to any email marketing provider, but impact the world of email as a whole, no matter what platform you’re using for your email marketing.

Below, we’ve listed some of the top changes resulting from Apple’s new privacy features that you should be aware of. Then in the next section, we’ll go over some specific steps you can take to maximize your email marketing success, even with the new privacy changes.

Here’s what’s changing in the world of email marketing as a result of Apple’s privacy updates:

1. Open rates are likely increasing, but are no longer reliable

Since Apple now pre-loads email data regardless of whether a user actually opened an email, email open rates are unreliable. You might see your email open rates skyrocket as a result of these changes, but those likely aren’t actual email opens.

2. Click-to-open rates are likely decreasing, but are also unreliable

A click-to-open rate (CTOR) is the number of unique clicks your email receives divided by the number of unique opens. In the past, this was a favored metric for email marketers to measure how effective their content was at motivating their audience to click. However, since CTOR is a function of your email opens, Apple’s new privacy changes cause your CTOR to plummet downwards artificially. That makes CTOR an unreliable metric going forward. 

But there is some good news! Mail Privacy Protection does not have an impact on your total clicks. Clicks remains a reliable way to measure the success of your email because it simply shows the total number of email recipients who clicked a link in your email. Comparing total clicks across email campaigns with a similar number of recipients is a good way to assess which campaigns are most engaging.

3. Open rate-powered email features have become less reliable

Some email marketing features that rely on email opens and other pixel data are now less reliable, as that data might not be available from half of your email recipients.

Here’s how some popular email marketing features will be impacted:

Contact insights and engagement

When viewing your contact insights and email reporting, since open rates could be artificially high for about half of your subscribers, you’ll likely see an unusually large number of contacts with high engagement, as contact engagement has typically been based on how often a contact opens your emails.

Email list segmentation

Some email marketers use email open data to segment email lists into “most engaged” or “least engaged” subscribers, based on how often they open emails. Since open rates are unreliable, they are no longer an effective way to determine who your most engaged subscribers are for list segmentation.

Luckily, other forms of email segmentation that don’t rely on open data — like click segmentation or manually created segments — aren’t impacted by Apple’s privacy changes and are still useful.

Resend to non-openers

This feature normally allows you to automatically resend an email to anyone who hasn’t opened it after a specified period of time. Since your subscribers who use Apple Mail will now show as having opened every email, those people will no longer receive the automatic resend.

Automated email series

Some automated email series are set up to trigger based on if and when a subscriber opens a previous email. This is no longer an effective way to set up your email series since Apple Mail reports an artificial open for some of your subscribers and triggers the next email, whether someone read your previous email or not. Instead, consider using an email click as a trigger in your automated email series (more on that and other recommendations in the next section).

It’s worth noting that many automated emails aren’t affected by this change. For example, automated welcome email series are often set up to send each email after a specific number of days, using time-based triggers rather than open-based triggers. Those automated series xN continue to function as before.

A/B subject line testing

A/B subject line testing typically involves sending out two versions of your email with two different subject lines to a small portion of your email list. Then, the subject line that generates a higher open rate is chosen as the winner and the rest of your list receives an email with the winning open rate automatically. Unreliable open rates make the results of A/B testing for subject lines generally unreliable.

4. Individual user data (like location, time opened, etc.) from Apple Mail users with MPP enabled are no longer available to email marketers

Since Apple is working to protect Apple Mail users’ individualized data as they beef up their Intelligent Tracking Prevention, it’s likely that marketers will have access to less and less information about an individual subscriber’s online activity.

Here’s some of the individualized subscriber data we expect to become less accessible for all marketers:

  • Time an email was opened
  • Device used to open an email
  • Location from which an email was opened

5. Personalization isn’t going away, but it has changed a little

Most forms of email personalization — like including names in email subject lines, or personalizing content based on what a subscriber has clicked on — remain unaffected. The types of personalization you’ll need to be careful about are based on — you guessed it — email opens.

As I previously mentioned, personalizing by creating segments for “most engaged subscribers” based on how often they open your emails is no longer recommended. Instead, you’ll want to identify your most- and least-engaged subscribers by how often they click links within your emails.

What hasn’t changed about email marketing

More good news: Email still has the highest return on investment (ROI) of all forms of marketing and is even more likely to drive sales than other channels like social media marketing.

And many of our recommended email marketing best practices stay the same. When it comes to email marketing, your focus is still on driving real results, like increasing sales, reaching new customers, and engaging existing customers. The ultimate goal has never been to get the highest possible open rate.

That said, there are some things you should check up on to make sure you’re getting the best possible results from your email marketing. Read on for some things you can do now to secure your success in the future.

6 ways to ensure effective email marketing in the age of Mail Privacy Protection

If you’re already optimizing your email marketing to drive real results, fortunately, there aren’t many changes you need to make to your email marketing plan. However, this is a good time to do a quick checkup and ensure you’re using the most effective email marketing tactics that will work for you regardless of the coming changes to email privacy.

Here are six things you can do to ensure success with email marketing now and in the future.

1. Reconsider the way you measure the success of your email marketing

It’s important to reflect on the email marketing metrics you focus on — namely, going beyond just opens and clicks. Even though email clicks are still reliable, they shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all metric you go to when determining if your efforts have been successful. After all, it’s unlikely that your primary business goal is getting a bunch of people to click a link in your email.

Luckily, savvy small businesses are already measuring success with more valuable metrics than open rate. According to Constant Contact’s Small Business Now Report, which surveyed 1,000 small businesses, open rate isn’t a top-five metric for evaluating the success of their campaigns for email marketing. Instead, small businesses are focused on these top five metrics:

  1. Conversion Rate – The percentage of email recipients who take a specific action, like making a purchase
  2. List Growth Rate – How fast you’re adding new email subscribers versus losing people clicking “unsubscribe”
  3. Overall ROI – The amount of revenue you generate for every dollar you invest in email marketing
  4. Click Rate – The percentage of your email recipients who click a link in your email
  5. Forwarding/Email Sharing – How often your subscribers forward and share your emails with their own contacts, expanding the reach of your email campaign

Think about your business goals and how you’re using email marketing to reach them. Then, make sure that the metrics you’re paying the most attention to map directly to those goals.

2. For automation, use clicks and time-based triggers rather than open-based triggers

For any automated emails or email drip campaigns you have set up, make sure you’re avoiding triggers related to opens. Instead, use the following as triggers for email automation:

3. Familiarize yourself with best practices that get more people to open your emails

While you’ll have less clear visibility into how many people are opening your emails, it’s still super important that your emails are opened! After all, how will you engage subscribers and get them to take valuable action if they don’t read your emails in the first place?

So make sure to familiarize yourself with our tips for how to create good email subject lines. But remember, subject lines aren’t the only thing your subscribers see in their inbox. 

You’ll also want to pay attention to your email’s “from” name — make sure it’s something that your subscribers will recognize and trust. You’ll also want to customize your email’s preheader — this is the text that shows up in the preview of your email in many popular email clients.

Email subject line, preheader, and from name
In the email subject line example above, the subject line is the bold text that says “John, it’s your time to start roller skating!”, the from name is “RINK Skate Center” and the preheader is the gray text that says “Get a discount on skating lessons when you enroll before May 1st.”

4. Make sure your email content motivates people to click

In this article, we’ve talked a lot about click rate as your new go-to metric for measuring engagement. So make sure you’re optimizing your emails to motivate your subscribers to click.

Specifically, that means not including your most valuable content directly within the email. Instead, include a teaser with each piece of content, then a button for readers to click to continue reading. This button can link to the full piece of content on your blog, website, or landing page. Or if you don’t have any content from your own website or social media to share, you can link to another website or blog that you think your contacts will love.

Take this example from our recent newsletter:

Example of how to get more email clicks after Apple Mail Privacy Protection
In our newsletter, we motivated readers to click by teasing the content — a social media image size guide — then included a “Check it out” button that they could click to see the guide.

5. Take advantage of interactive email features like polls and surveys

Another great way to engage with your subscribers (and to track that engagement) is by using interactive email components like polls and surveys. When you send a poll or a survey, clickable buttons are automatically created. Plus, you won’t just get generic click data. With a survey, you’ll get meaningful answers and opinions from your readers (as long as you’re asking the right survey questions, of course).

Here’s what an email survey created in Constant Contact looks like:

6. Anticipate more changes — knowing that we’ll be here to support you!

These privacy changes to Apple Mail are almost certainly not the last, and it’s likely that other tech companies could follow Apple’s lead in further protecting consumer data. It’s best to embrace this change now as an opportunity to assess what matters most to you when it comes to email marketing, and to focus on those goals. 

Maybe you want to sell more online, motivate customers to come to your store or restaurant, generate more online donations, or simply get people to visit your website. No matter your goals and the changes that come to the world of email marketing, we’ve got your back. When in doubt, you can always speak directly with one of our Marketing Advisors.

If you’re a marketing agency professional looking for powerful tools and support to help your clients drive results (and prove your impact), check out our Agency Partner Program. We’ll help you navigate the changes coming with iOS 15 and make sure you and your clients are set up for success.

Let us help you drive results through email marketing, even with Apple’s privacy changes

As a leader in email marketing for 26 years, Constant Contact is here to provide you with all the support and marketing expertise you need to succeed. We work hard to make sure you’re set up for success no matter what changes come to email marketing.

Our email deliverability is among the best of all the marketing providers out there, which means your emails actually reach your subscribers and stay out of the spam folder. And we offer personalized one-on-one marketing support to make sure you’re confident in how to use our tools. So if you aren’t already using Constant Contact for email marketing, try it free for 60 days and let us help you drive real results for your business or nonprofit.

If you are already using Constant Contact, check out our Knowledge Base article for tips on how to respond to Apple Mail Privacy in Constant Contact.