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ICYMI: The Impact of Email Privacy Rules and Tips for Adapting

By now, you’ve probably heard of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature, which went into effect in September 2021. But ICYMI…

By now, you’ve probably heard of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature, which went into effect in September 2021. To recap: The Apple Mail app (Apple’s default email client on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch) now has a feature designed to give users the choice and control over being tracked. It effectively stops email senders like you from knowing when anyone using MPP opens email messages. 

HTML emails use a 1×1 (invisible) tracking pixel to track whether emails are opened or not. When an email is opened, the tiny pixel “image” is downloaded from the sender’s web servers and the email is tracked as opened. For anyone who has enabled MPP, Apple preloads and caches all images in a message when it is delivered to that user’s device – messages then track as opened at the time of delivery, even if the recipient hasn’t actually opened the message. 

Have you been considering all the impacts of this change? 

  • Open rates: Your open rates will be artificially inflated, since messages received by recipients using Apple Mail may be tracking as having opened, whether or not the recipient actually opens the message.  
  • Mobile open rates: Your mobile open rates will be lower. Because Apple Mail is automatically downloading and caching images upon receiving each email, that initial download is registering as an overall open. After Apple initially caches the images in the message, any subsequent opens by the recipient download that image from Apple’s cache instead of the sender’s server – meaning if a user actually opens the message, whether on mobile or desktop, we can’t tell and it’s not counting toward mobile opens because it already counted as a non-mobile open.
  • Click rates: Your click rates will be artificially low if they are calculated as a percentage of opens (because open rates are artificially inflated). You may want to keep a closer eye on your number of clicks when comparing your click performance in 2021 and 2022 to previous years (although the percentage of clicks may go down because open rates have gone up artificially, you’ll likely maintain a similar number of clickers). 
  • Timing of opens: You will see messages sent to affected Apple devices track as opened near the time of delivery, as Apple downloads and caches the images. 
  • Geolocation and demographic information: Since the actual user is not downloading the images, your geolocation and demographic information for many recipients will not be completely accurate, – if the user has enabled both features of MPP, their IP address may or may not be hidden. 
  • A/B testing: Testing provides an opportunity to experiment with sending different parts of your email messages and campaigns to a small test list before you actually send the message to your entire list. One configuration in A/B testing is selecting the winning content based on opens. Due to the new Apple Mail Privacy Protection, this may cause the A/B test to be based on proxy opens instead of actual user opens and could skew your test results. 
  • Campaign flows: Review the triggers you have set up for your existing automated campaigns – those set up based on opens since your open tracking may no longer be entirely accurate. Some of these include: 
    • Engaged/Disengaged campaigns that tag a user as engaged if they have opened a message or not in the past XX amount of days. 
    • Automated nurture campaigns that follow messaging or notifications based on opens. 
    • Automated email segmentation that funnels users into email segments or target groups due to opens/non-opens. 
    • Send time optimization that, based on historical opens, sends messages according to an individual’s best time.  
  • Deliverability: The Higher Logic Deliverability team encourages users to monitor their delivery rates at domains and lists for signs of SPAM filters blocking messages. One example of SPAM filtering is identifying domains without opens. 
  • Automatic resend: You’ll likely see fewer of your recipients sent the message intended for non-openers because anyone with MPP enabled will track as opened. 
  • Device information reporting: If you’re tracking which devices contacts are using to read your emails, this may be skewed and could influence how you’re designing emails and templates. 
  • Inferring impacted recipients: In-depth reporting can help you get a sense of how many of your recipients might be using Apple mail. Check your email client tracking. Review timing of opens to see which recipients seem to show as opening messages within moments of receiving the message. 
How can you adapt? 

If these impacts make you feel nervous, you’re not alone – many marketers have spent the last year and a half since MPP’s launch discussing ways to adapt their tracking, analysis, strategies, and automation triggers. In case you missed the recommendations from our post pre-launch, here are a few steps you can take now: 

Change the way you think about open ratesThe biggest impact of MPP is on open tracking, so if you haven’t already, you should no longer consider mere opens as a sign of success. If you know your open rates may not be entirely accurate (and let’s be honest, were they ever?) you can analyze your data with that in mind and make conscious decisions. Make sure you’re considering open rates in context. Are you seeing click rates keep pace with increasing open rates? Are your recipients taking the action you called for in the message? (e.g. if you send out a webinar promotion, are you also seeing webinar registrations?) You may also want to switch automated campaigns from tracking or triggering certain actions based on opens, to using another measure like clicks. 

Implement web trackingFor those who have Higher Logic’s marketing automation software, it can be helpful to implement web tracking. Once your users click through an email at least once, they become known users and you can track their behavior on your website in addition to their opens and clicks. Web tracking gives you another set of behavior metrics to quantify engagement. 

Turn on community integrationFor those customers who have a Higher Logic community alongside Higher Logic marketing automation software, turning on the integration between the community and your marketing automation is critical. This integration allows you to bring a whole new level of engagement measurements to your marketing automation software. 

Use deeper reportingGet in a habit of considering metrics in a wholistic way and don’t just limit to email reporting. What tracking does your organization have access to via different tools? (e.g. email tracking, web tracking, registration/purchase history). The metrics you gather across platforms can help you collect a more complete story of your users’ and members’ behavior. Watch your user’s journey from email opens to clicking a link in the email, visiting the webpage, and taking converting actions like completing forms – and how many of those individuals were members.

In general, you’re looking for trends – both in your own data and across the industry. This helps you understand the impacts of actions you’ve taken, as well impacts from  broader changes like MPP, because you can compare your current data to former baselines and explore why things might have changed.   

Focus on engagementNow more than ever, engaging people with relevant content is critical. Emails should be hallways, not exhibit halls. Short descriptions with strong calls to action will help increase engagement with your email and let you know who is truly reading, and what they’re interested in. Take a look at our blog post about other email engagement metrics to consider.  

Looking to the futureThough nothing is confirmed, it’s possible other email clients will follow on and implement their own privacy protection measures. Additionally, digital privacy regulations – like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and the Colorado Privacy Act (CPA) which goes into effect in 2024 – all impact what email marketers can and can’t do.  

While changing features and regulations can complicate your email campaigns and tracking, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind – when you remember your end-goal (engagement, registrations, etc.) rather than getting hung up on opens and clicks, you’re in a better position to consider your metrics in a wholistic way using the data you have across several platforms and measuring against your own past data and industry metrics too. This makes you less reliant on any one piece of shaky data and gives you a more complete idea of your users’ and members’ behavior over time. You’ve got this!  




Stefani Read