Blog post

What iOS 15 Privacy Controls and the Loss of Open Rates Mean for Email Marketers

By Matt Moorut | August 13, 2021 | 1 Comment

MarketingCustomer Acquisition and RetentionDigital Marketing Strategy and ExecutionMarketing OperationsMarketing Technology and Emerging Trends

Disruption on the way for email marketers

Apple officially unveiled iOS 15 during its WWDC keynote in June 2021, highlighting a series of feature updates. Among them, changes to privacy controls will have serious implications for email marketers:

  • Apple Mail will block tracking pixels from reporting back when an email is opened.
  • Mail Privacy Protection will allow users to mask their IP address. This prevents marketers from seeing openers’ locations or linking online behaviour to the email.
  • Hide My Mail, another feature for both iOS 15 and MacOS, also allows users to sign up for marketing messages with an untraceable ‘burner’ email address.

This only applies to Apple Mail but given that this accounts for roughly 46% of emails opened (across iOS Mail, MacOS Mail and iPadOS Mail)1, it marks a significant step closer to the grave for open-rate analytics or optimisation based on this.

How useful is the open rate metric anyway?

Open rates have been a fairly unreliable metric to report on for years, due to discrepancies in how it’s actually measured. Does an open mean someone has actually read your email? Or does it mean it’s just appeared in an inbox that was opened? Does someone have to actually download the images for it to count?

Given the inaccuracy of the datapoint, you’d think marketing leaders would stop looking at it. So why has it stuck around?

At the most basic level, email marketers are aiming to do two things:

  1. Deliver a campaign message that piques an audience’s interests enough to read
  2. Design an email body that encourages the audience to take a next step

For the former, open rates facilitated optimisation best. After all, while it might not be a precise measurement, open rates are still directionally useful.

Using this metric, marketers could optimise campaigns’ subject lines, send times and more to increase the likelihood that messages would be read. Beyond this, tracking where an email was opened allows marketers to better pinpoint messaging for geo-targeted campaigns to specific audiences.

So how serious is this?

While iOS 15 only affects Apple users, the loss of open rates is a real blow to email marketers who were reliant on campaign optimisation based on it (which is the vast majority).

Propensity models often incorporate open rates into their algorithms to judge the next best action and these will become less accurate as well.

At the same time, open rates aren’t the most important KPI to report on, since they only really highlight one piece of the puzzle. More valuable are click through rates, traffic to sites or apps from email and ultimately, conversion rates.

What should do marketers do?

Dashboards need to be updated and expectations need to be reset, as any business leaders looking at open rates over time will see an unexpected jump in their figures.

Email marketers can (and should) analyse open-rate data to ascertain audiences’ preferences until iOS 15 is released in late 2021. A/B test as much as possible wherever open rates are the KPI. This will give the best chance of success for future campaigns.

Plan a re-engagement campaign in advance of the release of iOS 15 to avoid missing lapsed contacts. After that point, they’ll look like openers even if they aren’t.

Email marketers might also have to change any automated programs based on opens, since Apple Mail will report any email as opened, regardless of whether it has been or not.

And finally, deepen your understanding of the business value of your emails, by looking at click through rates, conversion rates, shopping recency and frequency. In doing so, you’ll not only be able to optimise further over time – but actually ensure your emails are really driving business value.


1 Litmus

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Leave a Comment

1 Comment

  • thanks for help me that me use email market