iOS 15 Email Privacy Changes: What They Mean for Your Email Marketing Strategy

Mike Arsenault
September 14, 2021
minute read

iOS 15 is set for release this September. And, based on data from the iOS 14 update, it will take about six weeks to achieve widespread adoption.

Given that Apple Mail owns over 50% of the email market share, this will have major impacts on your email marketing, just in time for the holiday season.

But this is a bump in the road, not the end of the road. You can make the best of these privacy changes, continue marketing efficiently, and even create a stronger email marketing program within the new email privacy landscape.

The iOS 15 privacy changes will have a significant impact on key performance metrics. But the big picture goal remains the same: send emails that people want to open and interact with.

If your emails surprise, delight, and entertain, your email marketing will be impressively resilient against Apple’s changing privacy policies (and future shifts in how email works).

Of course, the changes will require strategic and tactical adjustments. Good data collection, reporting, and proactive segmentation are going to become even more important. And some tried and true techniques may lose their reliability.

Here’s what we know about Apple’s privacy update, how it will impact your email program, and—most importantly—what you can do to carry on, regardless of how this changes email.

How email privacy will change in iOS 15

These are the technical privacy changes that Apple is rolling out with iOS 15:

  • Emails might be marked as opened, even if the recipient does not actually open the email.
  • Email open times can no longer be accurately tracked.
  • IP addresses, including geo location data, will no longer be trackable.
  • Tracking pixels will get opened by default.
  • Recipient device types will be invisible to email senders.
  • Tracking desktop vs mobile opens will become even more difficult (other email clients have already made this challenging).
  • Users can use fake email addresses to sign up for newsletters and to sign in to certain services.
  • Detailed email headers will no longer be visible.

As of right now, these changes only affect the Apple Mail app. Other email apps running on Apple devices will be unaffected. But this could change.

How these changes impact your email marketing

There are plenty of details to dig through. However, broadly speaking, all these changes boil down to two key pieces of email marketing data: open rates and IP addresses.

The new privacy policies will make it nearly impossible to accurately track these two metrics.

Obviously, these are incredibly important data points. These are the activities that will be limited by Apple’s privacy changes:

List segmentation based on geographic location.

Since IP addresses will not be available in Apple Mail, it will be impossible to detect the recipient’s location. This makes it difficult to create email cohorts based on their geographic location.

That means it will be challenging to send emails with geographically relevant content. Any automated email flows based on geo location will need to be reworked to rely on other information.

Pruning inactive subscribers from your lists.

Most of the time, inactive subscribers are identified because they haven’t opened an email for a long time. However, when Apple Mail starts showing all emails as opened, you’re going to get a lot more false positives when you attempt to clean inactive subscribers from your lists.

So many, in fact, that it may become useless to rely on opens to identify inactive subscribers. This could also make it difficult to spot spam traps on your lists.

This will create a unique challenge. Emailing inactive subscribers—and especially emailing spam traps—hurts your deliverability. And you could easily end up in a downward deliverability spiral if you repeatedly email inactive subscribers and spam traps because you can’t purge them from your lists.

Automatically resending emails based on opens.

Some email flows call for sending another email if the recipient didn’t open the first email or suppressing a second email if the recipient opened the first email.

These types of email flows will be incredibly difficult to execute with all the false opens from Apple Mail.

Automated branching based on opens.

It’s also common for email flows to call for one email to be sent if a subscriber opened the previous email and a different email to be sent if the recipient didn’t open the previous email.

Without reliable data on which emails are being opened, there’s no way to automatically branch subscribers off into different flows based on email open data.

All of this might sound catastrophically bad. Eventually, technical workarounds might be discovered. But, until then, there are things you can do to keep your email program strong.

How to survive the iOS 15 privacy changes

For a long time, we’ve been beating the drum here at Rejoiner about building a relationship with your email subscribers. You have to give subscribers something they enjoy, appreciate, and—most of all—want to get more of.

Apple’s privacy changes are going to make that subscriber relationship even more important.

Building a relationship with your subscribers takes time, though. Here are some tactics that you can use right now to get ready for the iOS update.

Focus on clicks

Without accurate email open data, clicks are going to become even more important than they already were.

First, if somebody clicks on your email, they must have opened it. So clicks work as a proxy for opens.

Clicks aren’t a perfect replacement for opens. But they’re related. And you can cross reference your click rates with your open rates to get an approximate real open rate. Again, not perfect, but better than nothing.

Additionally, clicks are a strong indicator of how engaged your subscribers are and the strength of your relationship with subscribers.

Now is the time to evaluate your email marketing strategy. Look for opportunities to shift the focus from getting opens to getting clicks to drive more subscriber engagement.

Leverage replies

Beyond open rates, the iOS update will make it challenging to gather certain subscriber data automatically. Most notably, geographic location is off the table for Apple Mail users. And identifying inactive subscribers is going to get tricky.

That means that you may need to ask subscribers for information more often.

First, replies are an incredibly strong email engagement metric. Subscribers who reply are your biggest fans.

But, having a two-way conversation is the best way to build a relationship with subscribers. And prompting email recipients to reply with a certain word that triggers an automated response—similar to SMS text messaging—may be the way forward in maintaining certain email automations.

Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, there’s no downside to getting more replies from your email subscribers. You’ll get valuable information from them and send great subscriber engagement signals to email providers.

Take a holistic approach to email deliverability

Fortunately, email deliverability is not solely determined by open rates. Inbox providers actually evaluate a lot of different metrics to determine email deliverability.

Email sender reputation.

It’s going to be even more important to reduce your reliance on open rates, and make sure that you have all the other aspects of deliverability squared away (replies are really good for your sender reputation, by the way).

Make sure your email authentication protocols are correctly configured. Check your lists for invalid email addresses and remove any email addresses that hard bounce. Find creative ways to get more clicks and replies.

This will save you from getting hit with a double whammy if and when open rates become unreliable.

Keep tracking opens

Just because the iOS 15 update may cause serious accuracy issues for open rates, that doesn’t mean you should dump it. Open rates will still have some value.

We already mentioned using click rates and open rates to get a more accurate idea of your true open rate, even with Apple Mail throwing false opens into the mix.

However, you may be able to continue using open rates for things like A/B testing subject lines.

Right now, the privacy changes only affect recipients who use Apple Mail.

So, even though the open rates will be inflated, you’ll still get a signal about which subject line works better from your subscribers who do not use Apple Mail. It’s not as precise. But it’s still workable.

You probably already use seed lists for testing emails. You might also be able to create a list for running A/B tests that minimizes the impact of Apple Mail on your open rates.

Create a list that has all the,, and emails removed. This won’t remove all the Apple Mail users. But it will help remove some of the noise from your A/B tests for testing subject lines.

Regardless of how you adjust your use of open rates, they’re still worth tracking.

Keep calm, carry on

These changes are pretty serious. And they’re coming at an inopportune time for ecommerce and retail businesses.

But that’s even more reason to keep a cool head and make strategic adjustments to your email marketing program. Step back, evaluate how the changes will impact your email program. Then adjust course accordingly.

The email landscape is about to change in a big way….and it’s going to continue to change. Don’t forget, reliance on fundamentals and a steady hand have always been a marketer’s best friend. You’ve got this.

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Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth. He's also the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing platform built for ecommerce businesses.

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