Apple’s Privacy Announcement and The Future of Email MarketinG

I’m getting 2016 GDPR vibes from Apple’s pixel announcement in early June.  #pixelgeddon

Here’s what happened.

According to The Verge, Apple announced Mail Privacy Protection, which will limit the amount of data that people who send you emails can collect about you. Here’s how the company describes it:

In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

This takes effect in the fall.

And now people are freaking out. Here’s why you don’t need to break that much of a sweat.

1. This ONLY applies to Apple mail app users.

Mobile phones accounted for 42% of all email opens in 2019.

According to Litmus, almost 85% of all mobile email opens happen on iPhones.

If we’re staying up to date with the math, we’re now at 85% of 42% of all opens.

That’s much less than half of all opens.

Yes, that’s still a significant amount, but let’s not assume your entire list is on Apple Mail.

Also, it assumes that everyone will immediately opt-out. Most people don’t know or understand how they’re being tracked or what those implications are.

2. How Email Opens Are Tracked

Email opens were never perfect to begin with.

Ever wonder how an open is tracked?

There’s a tiny pixel that Email Service Providers inject into the code of an email when it’s sent out from their platform.

That pixel is loaded like an image at the bottom of the email.

It won’t load if two things are happening:

  1. If images are not enabled in an email client, it won’t load. Some people have their email accounts set up to manually load images in an email. If they never flip that on, the pixel doesn’t load. That means no open tracked.
  2. If Gmail clips your email because it’s too large, that pixel won’t load. This explains one of the reasons why open rates tend to be lower in Gmail. That, and the promotions tab (which is a whole other thing).

3. Why Email Open Rates Aren’t a Great Metric

People love to refer to email opens as a vanity metric. (aka a surface-level metric that doesn’t tell you much).

But here’s the problem. Most people don’t have great data about their email campaigns.

Most Email Service Providers only provide you with surface-level data like opens, clicks, and unsubscribes.

Unless you have the resources to collect and centralize your data so you can get deeper insights into your subscribers behavior, you’re kind of stuck with those metrics.

And in terms of resources, I’m not talking about just having the right tools. Google Analytics is awesome and free, but you still need to have someone on your team who knows how to use it and is given dedicated time to dig into it.

Not everyone has that.

The most common thing I hear about email opens that turn into a slippery slide is this: an email open leads to a conversion.

Let’s take a step back even further here. What’s typically behind this myth is an assumption that more opens mean more sales.

Let me put this one to bed. Higher open rates do not equal higher conversions.

This idea leads people to use all sorts of clever tactics to get an open.

  • Misleading subject lines
  • One word subject lines
  • Teasers and sensational promises

Guess what? If the content of your email doesn’t deliver on the promise of your subject line, you’re gonna piss off some folks.

And what do annoyed people do with annoying emails? They unsubscribe.

4. Which Email Metrics To Look At Instead of Opens

The baseline for measuring any digital campaign is engagement. But what does engagement look like?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to this. You have to determine what your goals are for your email campaigns.

Then, you need to figure out which digital signals you can pick up that take people from point a to point b to point c to whatever point your goal is.

That means getting more strategic and digging into what data you have.

If you don’t have all of the data you need, then it’s time to get some help.

Until then, you can look at your email-related site traffic and how many conversions you have that have email as a traffic source.

You also have to come at your analytics from a perspective that they will never be perfect. In order for your digital analytics to be perfect, you need someone on your team to make sure that all data they are collecting is 100% accurate. 

That, my friend, is at least one full-time position.

Digital analytics still require a human to contextualize and validate. They were never perfect, and won’t be for awhile. Give yourself some grace and the caveat that you can always do better.

Until then, engage with your audience. Talk to them and treat them like people. That builds and retains relationships at scale period.

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