Helping you understand the new Apple Mail privacy update.

September 10, 2021 // Content Marketing

Apple Mail currently holds the biggest market share in email opens, accounting for 49 percent of email opens when combining data from iPhones, Macs and iPads. This means most businesses can say that a significant portion of their email audience is using Apple Mail apps.

Why is this important? Apple is introducing a new data privacy protection feature for Apple Mail in an upcoming operating system update for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey and watchOS 8. And with Google’s announcement to phase out third-party cookies tracking by 2023 followed by Apple’s launch of App Tracking Transparency, the move toward email data privacy is no surprise. According to Apple, this new data privacy protection feature will prevent senders from being able to see when recipients open an email. It will also mask their IP addresses so their activity cannot be tracked.

The release date of iOS 15 has not been announced yet but is expected to take effect sometime in September 2021. Until then, let’s talk about what you can anticipate.

How does the new Apple Mail Privacy Protection feature work?

Once the update hits, a user will be given the option to “Protect mail activity” or “Don’t protect mail activity” when they open their Apple Mail app. And while this is not a privacy feature that will automatically switch on for all Apple Mail users, most are expected to opt in to have their activity protected.

According to Litmus, when someone protects their mail activity, Apple will route emails through a proxy server to pre-load and cache the content — which includes tracking pixels — before serving it to the recipient. But for this to work, a person needs to have their device connected to Wi-Fi with their mail app running in the background. This change also applies to any email opened through the Apple Mail app regardless of the email service used (e.g., Gmail, Outlook or a work account). However, other email apps installed and used on an Apple device will be unaffected.

How will this affect email marketing?

Because Apple Mail first sends an email to a proxy server to load and cache the email content, your email analytics will count it as an open before it ever hits the recipient’s inbox. It’s predicted that 75 percent of emails sent to Apple Mail clients will be tracked as opened. This number is not 100 percent due to some cases where the email fails to cache.

Considering how prevalent the usage of Apple Mail is, it’s highly likely that your open rates are going to become inflated and not be a true reflection of the email’s performance. This means current industry average email open rates are dead, so be on the lookout for a higher open rate benchmark after this update. Additionally, engagement metrics won’t be the only thing affected. Some campaign strategies and tactics may need to shift as well.

Many marketers use open rates to determine the winner of A/B subject line tests in emails or to determine the next email a recipient will receive in a nurture series. For example, some campaigns are programmed to re-send an email with a new subject line to recipients who didn’t open it the first time around. This will no longer be a reliable method to test and determine email journeys because there’s no way of knowing for sure if the recipient truly opened the email or if the “open” is simply attributed to the proxy server’s actions. On top of that, you will no longer be able to rely on opens as a way to identify active leads within your audience list.

In regard to the masking of recipients’ IP addresses so their activity cannot be tracked, it might become more difficult to connect IPs with specific email addresses — which will affect marketing automation tracking. This change could also affect your ability to access historical web data on new leads.

What you can measure instead of email open rates.

Not all is lost, though. After this update, you will still be able to measure open rates — you’ll just have a new benchmark to gauge performance off of. Plus, there are still a lot of other ways to measure email performance without an open rate. Clicks are unaffected by this new policy, so you can still see how many recipients clicked something in your email and, more specifically, what they clicked on. Plus, clicks are the best way to measure how engaged your audience is with your content — which will help you determine if your message is hitting the mark as well as help you develop more personalized content based on their preferences.

If you’re looking for additional engagement metrics to include, you can also utilize other methods such as the quality score formula — (unsubscribes / responders) — which was shared by Airbnb’s email marketing specialist. Anything over 80 percent is considered good.

If your email is meant to be driving an action (e.g., pointing recipients to a form), you can measure the conversion rate. You can also keep track of your list’s growth rate. In other words, how many people have been added versus lost to unsubscribes.

If you have questions about how the new Apple Mail Privacy Protection feature will affect your email marketing campaigns and initiatives, send us a note. Our team can answer questions and help you develop a tracking strategy to ensure your email program’s success. 

This article was published before January 2024 and does not reflect the consolidation of Performance Marketing, Vector Haus, and Blue Traffic into Anthologic.