Apple iOS impact on email open rates

3 minute read
Apple iOS impact on email open rates

Are you seeing a higher email open rate on emails that haven’t been opened?

Unfortunately a lot has changed in the past several years with regards to email metrics. And one of the most impacted metrics is email open rates. unfortunately email open rates are just not as reliable as they used to be.

How email open tracking works

Email marketing platforms use a small image embedded in the email they send you. Also known as a pixel, it is small enough that you’ll never notice it in your message.

When this image is loaded it “loads” the image from a URL hosted by your email marketing platform, such as DailyStory.

This URL contains information that let’s us know that the email was opened. And, then let’s us show open counts in your email reports.

What has changed with email open tracking

Up until Apple’s release of iOS15, this type of open tracking was relatively accurate. A handful of email clients and other network appliances would occasionally cause a false positive when scanning for phishing or other malicious intents.

They would load the emails and pull down all the images embedded in the emails. This caused a false positive as it would report the email as opened when it was not in fact opened.

However, for the most part, prior to Apple iOS15, the data for open tracking was relatively stable, understood, and reliable.

Email open rate was never the best metric

The reality is email open rates were never a great metric. Someone can open and email and immediately delete it – or even accidentally open it. It isn’t a great indicator of engagement. Compared to email click rate, which is a high engagement signal.

How does iOS 15 impact email open rates?

On Sept 20, 2021, Apple released iOS 15. It introduced new email privacy features that impacted email platform reporting. Specifically, Apple prompts users with the option to “Protect Mail Activity” the first time they access the Mail app.

This change by Apple artificially increases both unique and overall open rates. Because when enabled Apple automatically pre-fetches all emails and loads all images within the email.

Because of this it is  impossible to differentiate between a genuine open and an image pre-fetch carried out by Apple.

How does this impact my email reporting?

Unfortunately we expect this pre-fetching trend to continue. Gmail also has indicated that it will pre-fetch emails in a similar manner to Apple. This would further reduce the reliability of open rate tracking.

With Apple representing upwards of 25% of the email client market, you should expect to see a corresponding increase in open reporting.

Should I still use email open rate tracking?

Absolutely – while we can all agree email open rates are not the best metric, it is a piece of the picture. Just understand that email open rates aren’t a reflection of engagement.

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