How iOS 15 Privacy Changes Impact Your Email Marketing

Apple’s iOS operating system is incredibly popular, with most usage studies showing it accounts for nearly 50 percent of mobile web traffic. New iOS 15 privacy changes are here, and while they are focused on user privacy and limiting some information that has traditionally been available to email marketers, we believe you don’t have to worry as much as you might think.

Read our previous insights about how iOS 14 privacy changes impact your Facebook marketing.

What’s Changed?

There are three primary privacy changes in iOS 15. These features must be opted into, however if recent data proves true, you can again expect a nearly ubiquitous usage rate. iOS users will also need to have a network connection to take advantage of these features, although with mobile, that is of course highly likely.

Mail privacy via open rates

The Mail app in iOS will preload pixels into a cache when an email is received, effectively killing the ability to accurately track opens (as a received email is not an opened email).

Private Relay to block IP addresses

Private Relay will add layers of encryption and obfuscation to the user’s browser and device, effectively masking their IP address from websites and services. An example of this impact is the ability to look up a user’s location automatically based on their IP address. With Private Relay enabled, you are effectively hiding your true location.

To quote Apple directly, “Private Relay is a new internet privacy service that’s built right into iCloud, allowing users to connect to and browse the web in a more secure and private way. When browsing with Safari, Private Relay ensures all traffic leaving a user’s device is encrypted, so no one between the user and the website they are visiting can access and read it, not even Apple or the user’s network provider. […] This separation of information protects the user’s privacy because no single entity can identify both who a user is and which sites they visit.”

Hide My Email

Hide My Email allows users to share unique random email addresses with sites that they do not want to know their true email. Emails sent to these addresses will still be delivered to the user’s inbox, but the sender will not know that user’s real email address.

What’s the Impact?

You will lose the ability to accurately track open rates on emails sent to Apple devices using the native iOS Mail app, and the loss of reliable location data via user IP address lookup. With nearly 39 percent of people reporting that they use Apple mobile devices to read email, this is not a blip on the radar.

But Maybe That’s Not So Bad

At Madden, we see open rates as somewhat of a false positive to begin with. They are best equated to Google’s Analytic bounce rate. Too often, website owners hang their hat on bounce rate, when it is a somewhat misleading and inaccurate statistic. Just like a bounce is not necessarily always a bad thing, an email open does not always mean much. Many email clients offer split pane views that show message lists on the left and the messages themselves on the right. If a user is mindlessly hitting the down arrow through their inbox and your email opens, did it matter? Probably not. Even if they do open it, what does it mean if they don’t act on it?

What about Hidden Emails?

The Hide My Email feature does not create an email that you cannot use; rather, it is an email that the user has likely created for either your website or a set of sites to help keep their privacy. Sending to that email will result in an email being delivered to the user just as if you have their real address. This is a feature that sites such as Craigslist.org have used for years to help keep user’s information private.

What Really Matters: Click-Through Rates (CTR)

Rather than just knowing if a user (accidentally or otherwise) just opened your email, you should be caring if they actually interacted and clicked on a Call to Action (CTA) in your email. That engagement shows genuine interest, and you can still easily add UTM tags to know when a user came to you via an email. An interested user will be more likely to spend more time on your site and also provide personal information so that you can market more directly and accurately to them.

How Does This Affect DMOs?

Shifting What You Report On

If you use email marketing as a tactic to generate interest in your destination on any platform, you will have to stop telling everybody what your open rates are. But that’s ok – it’s time to put aside the open rate paper tiger anyway. Click-throughs are the new “it metric”!

Geolocation-Based Personalization

If a user has enabled the Private Relay, you will no longer reliably know where they are visiting you from if you try to look up their IP address against a known database of locations. While you can use JavaScript libraries to ask the user where they are when they visit your page, they must opt-in to that.

How Should DMOs Respond?

Adjust Your Thinking

As mentioned early, recent privacy changes made available by Apple resulted in 90 percent+ adoption rates. While this doesn’t mean that the majority is hyper-focused on privacy, it does mean that they have weighed being tracked vs. not and figured that the latter is better. If that is what your site visitors want, find ways to honor and support that.

Opt-In Gives Visitors the Power

By shifting to an opt-in model with clear (and honored) privacy policies outlining what you do with their data, you will still find plenty of visitors willing to share their information with you. After all, you are the best vacation destination in the world, right? Believe in what you offer, be open and transparent with your visitors, and let them agree to work with you as much as possible as a first step.

In Conclusion

Transparently, it’s hard to say what Apple is up to with these changes. Do they truly value their user’s privacy, or are they using their platform as a giant hammer to swing at other industry giants like Google and Facebook? Or both? Either way, these privacy measures will impact how we market and track iOS users, and we all need to respond.

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