Email marketers have been debating a huge question since Apple’s announcement in June that, because of changes made through its Mail Privacy Protection, the Mail app will no longer track opens.
Just how big of a deal is this really going to be, we’ve wondered.
Some email strategists are saying “good riddance,” while others are concerned that a key metric will no longer be available. Whatever your feelings are on open rates, here are some key points to help you untangle the implications of Apple’s announcement:
This will impact a lot of people.
The exact percentage of such users on any given list is basically unknowable, but the global share of Apple Mail users has been estimated at 40 percent of all email clients. Your list includes at least a few of them. Technically, Apple Mail users will be able to opt out of these changes, but almost none of them actually will. When Apple gave iPhone users the ability to let app developers track their usage, only 6 percent of users opted in. The experience here should be similar.
So while users of non-Apple platforms won’t be affected, enough users will be affected to make your overall open rate numbers next to meaningless. Based on what we know about this change under the hood, it seems that there will be a ton of false positive opens.
The impact will go beyond vanity metrics.
Do I really care about opens? Don’t more productive, deeper engagement metrics like clicks and conversions mean more? It’s true that an open probably isn’t particularly valuable to you in its own right. But think of everything that touches opens.
Without opens, you won’t know your click thru rate (clicks ÷ opens), unsubscribe rate (unsubscribes ÷ opens), et cetera. Metrics like these have been invaluable over the years for determining how your content impacts the people who actually engaged with it. Without opens, you won’t be able to tell when more clicks meant your content was better—or just that more people opened the email to see it.
Without opens, you won’t be able to reliably see that, say, Microsoft names have stopped opening and you must therefore have a deliverability problem. If you do still find a deliverability problem, you won’t be able to segment out inactive names that haven’t opened in however many months in order to mitigate it.
You won’t even be able to re-send a successful email to non-openers. So, many things we take for granted today will go away.
Other key metrics aren’t going away.
You’ll still be able to track clicks, actions, unsubscribes, abuse complaints, and bounces exactly as before. Those have always been some of the most important metrics, and having them at your disposal will still give you a lot of signal to guide strategic decisions in your email program.
If this all sounds like you’re in for a big adjustment, you’re almost certainly right. But at least you have a few months (likely September) to prepare.
And you never know, losing meaningful info about opens might even force some senders who have overrelied on A-B testing subject lines to look for testing approaches that give them deeper, more long-term insight into their programs. And that would be great. Likewise, if this move helps shore up consumer trust in and enthusiasm for email as a platform, the performance benefit could ultimately outweigh the cost of lost insight.
Will Bunnett is a principal at Clarify Agency working with Democratic and progressive political and advocacy clients on email, content strategy, digital advertising, and more.