How to manage email performance after iOS 15.
In fall of 2021, Apple added a new default Privacy Protection setting for Apple Mail users — much to the chagrin of email marketers around the globe.
The feature is an understandable attempt to stymie the ability for any marketing automation platform (MAP) to track interactions among subscribers. iOS does this by pre-fetching email content that MAPs now recognize as user activity.
This false signal impacts email marketers’ ability to accurately assess open rates. MAPs rely on the loading of a 1×1 pixel within each delivered email to signal that the email has been opened. iOS 15 now automatically loads those pixels upon receipt.
With open rate — at least temporarily — becoming an unreliable metric at face value, there’s a creeping consensus among email marketers to just abandon the pre-click stat altogether. Bader Rutter disagrees.
While the goal posts have shifted a bit for any organization’s open-rate benchmarks, the interaction is still one that demands optimization. Email content tests for artwork or CTA messaging can’t be conclusive if you haven’t identified a ceiling for open-rate performance.
Here are three ways you can keep relying on these new unreliable open rates:
1.) Take a breath. Remember: Open rates were never perfect.
Marketers don’t like to talk about this dirty little secret, but engagement measurement — be it pre-click or post-click — has never been a perfect science.
Email reporting accuracy has long been contingent on a confluence of subscriber settings well before the release of iOS 15. In the B2B space, Microsoft Outlook’s default blocking of image downloads has always been a known hindrance on open-rate measurement.
Similarly, email spam filters commonly used by large businesses have a known tendency to send false click-through signals to MAPs as well. None of this makes the benchmarks useless, and as long as marketers continue to identify the known areas of impact, it makes use of these benchmarks primarily directional.
2.) Define a new directional approach.
Even though the floor for open rates has been elevated, it doesn’t change the fact that open rates can still be directionally tracked. What’s important is to minimize the role of iOS 15 as a variable.
At Bader Rutter, we didn’t see an overnight impact from iOS 15. The artificial inflation happened gradually as more and more users updated their devices through the fall. Since we often analyze subscribers based on mail client usage, we were able to notice when our iOS user growth stabilized in Q1. From there, we used that iOS user growth to calculate an open-rate variable for each subscriber group, which now gives us a “worst case” open rate alongside the inflated directional rate we still receive from the MAP itself.
3.) Focus on the post-click data.
Yes, pre-click optimization is important to maximizing referral traffic, but when it comes to actual prospect and customer conversion, email metrics have never been and should never be the primary criteria for success.
In the wake of iOS 15, it’s more important than ever to have established benchmarks for post-click channel performance. Paid referrals — especially from awareness channels like display or video — typically have higher bounce rates and lower time on page since the audience is often less targeted. The bar should be much higher for email referrals.
If your marketing team doesn’t have the capacity or ability to conduct ongoing email testing or pre-click analysis in the wake of iOS 15, a downward shift in post-click engagement from email would be an easily noticeable signal that your email approach may need to be reconsidered.
It’s important to remember that, in these instances, open rates and click-through rates are still directionally useful. It’s helpful to know why your open rates are increasing, but as long as they ARE increasing alongside stable post-click performance, iOS 15 shouldn’t grind your email performance tracking to a halt.
About the Author
Andy Penkalski is Marketing Automation Lead at Bader Rutter. He and his team help Bader Rutter clients hone their first-party media and data acquisition strategies that in turn allow them to maximize the impact and personalization of these owned channels and destinations. Prior to joining Bader Rutter, Andy spent much of the last decade in the Software as a Solution (SaaS) space, working as both user and promoter of essential B2B MarTech platforms. While Andy and his team love finding new ways to enhance the personalization, timeliness and relevancy of all email and SMS marketing efforts we support, they are equally passionate about helping our clients manage and track the progress and outcomes of their ever-evolving customer journeys.