Apple’s announcement of its plans to introduce Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) has sent reverberations around the world of email marketing. Changes to the Mail app will limit the use of tracking pixels while also masking the users’ IP address, meaning the open tracking and location tracking of these users will be severely impacted.
Apple’s changes to protect mail privacy are evolutionary, not revolutionary
While this announcement may come as a shock to email practitioners, it’s actually just another step in the ongoing journey towards greater respect for consumer privacy. As long ago as 2012, Google had already introduced privacy tools allowing users to opt out of tracking. More recently in Europe, GDPR now considers tracking pixels to be a form of cookie – a Q4 2019 judgement by the European Court of Justice confirmed this meant proactive consent should be obtained for their use.
Since then, email senders have become more proactive when it comes to notifying their subscribers about the use of tracking technology. The DMA’s Marketer Email Tracker report shows 41% of senders now have language for this in their signup processes, while 43% include text about tracking in their emails. Marketers have benefitted from this greater transparency – GDPR wrote many established best practices into law, and this “halo effect” has seen a large majority of programs reporting clear improvements in deliverability, engagement, and revenue. US senders should expect similar benefits as new regulations like CCPA provide consumers with greater visibility of personal data collection, and the rights to access their data, or have it deleted.
The signal accuracy provided by pixel-based open tracking has also degraded over time. Verizon Media’s Marcel Becker spoke at Validity’s Summit event last year and talked about how open rates, when compared with what he knows to be the truth as a mailbox provider (MBP), tend to over-report by up to 3X. Reasons include the use of techniques like image caching, image pre-fetching, and automatic image enablement/disablement, which all create bias.
Email marketers have been responding for some time already. As the DMA report shows, only ¼ of senders use open rates to measure program relevance, with clicks used twice as widely. Sending platforms like Campaign Monitor and Sensorpro have already introduced functionality that lets senders suppress pixel tracking on demand at campaign level, and many individual programs are currently developing the ability to enable/disable pixel tracking at individual subscriber level.
The loss of pixel tracking worsens the subscriber experience
However, we shouldn’t readily dismiss the value of pixel tracking data. It provides useful insights around levels of subscriber engagement that inform tactics like personalization, dynamic content, and triggered messaging. Used responsibly, this data creates increased relevance and value, and its absence will create the very real risk of a degraded subscriber experience for these users.
There are also potential implications for engagement-based email deliverability. In their best practice guidelines, major MBPs like Microsoft, Gmail, and Yahoo all encourage only sending email to engaged users. The latter specifically advises to “send mail only to users who choose to get and read your messages . . . consider unsubscribing users who don’t read your messages.” Even Apple advises the periodic suppression of inactive or disengaged subscribers!
Senders should adjust their approach to optimizing email results
Of course, Apple is a significant player in the email market and Everest’s Mailbox Provider Health reporting shows their mail clients form is ± 30% of a typical email list. Less-informed email marketers could be tempted to move to a more “spray and pray” approach, but this would be a mistake. So, now what? How should senders respond to ensure they continue achieving optimized performance for their Apple users?
- Keep practicing good deliverability habits. For Apple, important factors include maintaining a good sender reputation, full email authentication, use of active opt-in permissioning, consistent use of IP addresses and sending domains, and the prompt removal of opt-outs and unknown users. Validity customers can obtain further detailed guidance from their help center.
- Find new data points. Senders will need new data points they can use to connect the dots directly between deliverability and clicks. As shown above, full visibility of sender reputation and inbox placement provides a strong starting point. Accurate measurement of data quality, use of a universal feedback loop, and comprehensive DMARC reporting will further move the performance needle. For senders who want to be on the front foot as they respond to this new challenge, having all this functionality within a single email intelligence platform like Everest will be a big differentiator.
- Stay educated. There is still plenty to learn about precisely how Apple will implement this new functionality. If selection of the “Don’t protect” option means pixel tracking remains in operation for these subscribers, senders have a major window of opportunity. It will mean a far more transparent approach, educating their customers about their responsible use of tracking, and clearly articulating the more relevant communications and genuine two-way exchange of value that it enables. In this way, when Apple subscribers are presented with their MPP options, they may opt for continued tracking, confident they will benefit from doing so.
At Validity, we are strong advocates for ethical marketing and support initiatives that promote consumer privacy. Balanced with this is a core philosophy of having our customers’ backs, and our engineering team is already testing these new features from Apple so we can provide the most up-to-date and actionable guidance. We’re the global leader when it comes to providing email intelligence, and our customers will also be global leaders as they use that intelligence to continue delivering the best-in-class performances that are their benchmark.
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