Earlier this week in their annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) event, Apple announced a set of new privacy features for the upcoming iOS 15. Perhaps the most controversial (at least according to Marketing Twitter) is called Mail Privacy Protection. Apple asserts that MPP is designed to prevent “third parties” from accessing tracking data in email, primarily through tracking pixels placed in the message code. Apple says the new feature will “prevent senders from knowing when [users] open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”
Understandably, email marketers and ESPs are shook.
Why it matters
Apple isn’t the first provider to express concern with email tracking. Hey.com is one very vocal mailbox provider for whom “no tracking pixels” is a primary selling point. Representatives from at least two of the ‘big three’ mailbox providers have stated their disdain for tracking pixels in public or semi-public forums. Some news outlets have begun spreading stories of how “invasive tracking pixels” can provide senders with all kinds of information about the person reading an email. General sentiment seems to be trending towards the eventual decline of tracking pixels altogether.
Despite their flaws, open pixels and the resulting metrics are used by nearly every email marketer in some capacity. Revenue-generating organizations often use the data in conjunction with stats like conversions and site visits, while those senders who don’t directly contribute to revenue combine it with clicks to get an idea of the engagement their mail is generating. Tracking pixels are a reliable and (almost) universally-compatible way to measure engagement, and their demise would certainly create a few headaches for many marketers.
Open rates also provide an invaluable tool for ESPs and deliverability personnel to monitor recipient engagement. By identifying trends in these rates, compliance teams and consultants can spot potential abuse or list hygiene issues that should be addressed. When deliverability issues occur, ESPs can also point to open rates as an indicator of which recipients are disinterested and should potentially be culled or reconfirmed. The absence of open rates will remove a key tool for identifying abuse or infrastructure issues and has the potential to cause regression in the industry.
Why we’re not worried (yet)
The complete removal of a sender’s ability to track opens has the potential to be very disruptive for the email industry — but we’re convinced that’s not going to happen just yet. Details on the technical methodology of MPP are scant, although some evidence suggests Apple will “pre-fetch” images via proxy servers, similar to practices already in place at Gmail and Yahoo. And while those behaviors have made open rate somewhat less reliable, they didn’t break the internet for email marketers.
Apple’s MPP and similar offerings from other providers are likely to continue to erode the value of open rates for marketers, making it more important than ever to take a more holistic view of your campaign performance. Clicks, conversions, site visits, landing page views, purchases, and other recipient-level metrics can still provide a picture of engagement to facilitate segmentation, targeting, and list management. Whether or not you subscribe to the adage that open rates are a “vanity metric,” we can say with certainty that they’re not the only metric for tracking engagement.