Hide My Email elevates risks of temporary email addresses in email marketing

September 23, 2021 | 10 minute read
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Marketing Consulting
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Email marketing is a great way to build long-term relationships, but marketers have always wrestled with accepting low-value email addresses from would-be subscribers. B2C brands wonder if a subscriber has provided their primary email account or a secondary address they check far less frequently. And B2B marketers debate accepting freemail addresses or only corporate email addresses, which make lead scoring easier. While businesses can make a “something is better than nothing” argument for accepting secondary email addresses and freemail addresses, it’s harder to say the same when it comes to disposable or temporary email addresses.

That’s because you can’t build a relationship with someone who uses an email address that’s typically designed to expire within hours. Beyond cluttering up your CRM database with dead end contact data (the biggest risk), there’s also a small risk your sender reputation will be impacted since any email sent to a disposable email address after it expires hard bounces. When accepting a temporary email address, you’re banking entirely on the value of being able to deliver what’s generally a one-time transactional email, signup incentive, or content download to that person.

How Apple’s Hide My Email works in email marketing

The impact of temporary email addresses is now more pressing because of newly released updates to Hide My Email, a privacy feature Apple is promoting alongside Mail Privacy Protection

Hide My Email allows users to easily input a unique, randomly generated icloud.com email address into the email field of any form—be it a checkout form, promotional email signup form, or lead-gen form. That email address can only be used for the specific app or website for which the user created it. Any email sent to that address is redirected to the email account of the user’s choosing. 

These relay addresses differ from temporary email addresses in that they don’t automatically expire after a certain amount of time or after a number of uses. However, the user can turn off a relay address at any time, causing any emails sent to that address to hard bounce.

Since each relay address is unique, it will never be associated with another of your customers or prospects, and it will never be associated again with the person who shared it with you. If the person provides his or her email address again using Hide My Email, your company will receive an entirely new relay address (unless they go out of their way to share the same one).

The latest version of Hide My Email poses potential risks to email marketers’ data quality, lead-generation and relationship-building efforts, email deliverability, and customer security. We discuss those risks along with recommended solutions below, as well as in this on-demand webinar.

Potential risks of Hide My Email for email marketers

The danger for email marketers is that Hide My Email offers considerably more convenience than temporary email address services. Users don’t have to navigate to a temporary email service website to generate a temporary email address. They also don’t have to use that service’s website to check their email, since Hide My Email automatically forwards emails.

However, there are impediments to widespread usage.

  1. Apple users have to have a paid iCloud+ account to get access to Hide My Email. That will severely limit adoption. For instance, approximately 20% of iCloud users, or around 170 million people, had paid accounts in 2018, according to Barclays. While the number of iCloud users has surely grown since then, the percentage of paid users probably hasn’t changed dramatically.
     
  2. To use Hide My Email in a web form, account holders must use the Safari internet browser. Currently, a little more than 18% of people worldwide use Safari as their browser, according to StatCounter. That said, it’s safe to assume that usage is considerably higher among people with iCloud+ accounts since they’re clearly heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem. Users can also create unique relay addresses in the Hide My Email menu and then copy and paste them into forms or messages, but this method reduces its ease of use.
     
  3. As simple as Apple is making Hide My Email to use—and again it’s much easier than traditional temporary email address services—it is still complex for many users, says Nick Cantu, Senior Art Director for Creative Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. 

“Whenever I talk to people about something as simple as the importance of using a password manager for keeping their online accounts safe, they look at me with the blankest of stares and couldn’t care less,” he says. “So, I’m expecting underwhelming adoption of Hide My Email. The people who are the most likely to use it are already using other third-party services to help solve a similar need.” 

These issues will limit the impact of Hide My Email on companies’ email marketing programs. However, it may not restrict it enough, especially if adoption takes off or other inbox providers follow Apple’s lead and launch similar services.

How to determine if Hide My Email is impacting your email marketing program

Some companies will feel compelled to take action based solely on the data quality risks. Others may decide that disposable email addresses represent a security risk for their customers, says Cristal Foster, Head of List Growth & Demand Generation Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting.

“In particular, financial services companies need to be extremely cautious when sending account confirmation to disposable email addresses, as hackers have been using them to gain access to banking and investment accounts,” she says. “Marketers in all industries can protect their customers by suppressing obviously invalid email addresses, implementing two-factor authentication, and reviewing transactional email processes.”

However, even companies not compelled to act because of those two risks may reconsider if temporary email addresses and Apple’s relay addresses contribute to overly high hard bounce rates. That would be an indicator of both a deliverability risk well as a sign of lost opportunities and the accumulation of bad contact data.

To determine your best course of action, we recommend you start by examining your hard bounce rate. It’s best to keep it under 2% a month to avoid deliverability problems. If your company’s rate is higher than that, then we suggest two steps.

1. Examine the hard bounce rate of each subscriber acquisition source.

You’ll likely find that most bounces come from just a few subscriber acquisition sources, especially open signup forms and lead generation forms that offer valuable signup rewards, which anyone on the internet can easily access.

2. Examine the email addresses of recent hard bounces.

What percentage are domains used by temporary email address providers? What percentage are @privaterelay.appleid.com addresses, the domain used by the earlier version of Hide My Email? And as of September 20, also look at the percentage of icloud.com addresses, the new domain used by Hide My Email. This will help you understand how much these email addresses are contributing to your hard bounce rates.

How to reduce the impact of temporary email addresses

Here are four remedies to consider:

1. Adjust your signup incentives

High-value rewards and other lead magnets can be effective at attracting signups. However, they can also cause consumers to use temporary email addresses at higher rates. That’s because many of them just want the incentive, not the promotional emails that often come along with them.

Consider these alternative approaches:

  • Decrease the value of your signup incentives and refocus your signup appeal on how you’re going to regularly deliver value over the long-term.
  • Promote a rich reward that you’ll deliver at a later date. For example, a B2C ecommerce company could say, “Sign up today to qualify for an email-exclusive 25%-off coupon we’ll send on [date].” That gives you a window of opportunity for your email program to demonstrate its value to the subscriber, while also making a temporary email address useless for getting that discount.
  • Serialize your content and deliver it over several days or more, if appropriate. For example, a B2B company could serialize content from a research project, breaking it up into various aspects or “chapters” of the research, or into different modes of content, such as an infographic followed by a report followed by a webinar recording.
  • Gamifying content to set an expectation of ongoing content and benefits, instead of a one-time content download, for example.

2. Change your signup mechanism

If you want to keep rich signup incentives, consider changing up the signup process to better protect yourself. For example, consider coupling a double opt-in process with the delivery of a signup incentive, says Jessica Stamer, Consulting Technical Manager at Oracle Marketing Consulting.

“This gives people the option to verify their email address or abandon the subscription process once they’ve gotten the offer they’re after,” she says. “That keeps unrealistic leads from receiving subsequent emails and driving performance down.”

Another approach is to use rich signup incentives to promote SMS opt-ins instead, as temporary phone number services are considerably less popular. This solution worked wonders for one of our consulting clients, one of the nation’s leading information technology, communications, and electronic device retailers.

“They were driving strong email acquisition performance through social channels with a rich coupon offer,” says JT Capps, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “However, it was being abused, which impacted margins and resulted in high email churn rates. Because of that, they decided to shift fulfillment of the special offer from email to SMS, and shift customer acquisition from channel subscriptions to an account-based model. This allowed them to deliver on the unique value proposition of their programs with a cross-channel messaging approach of both email and SMS.”

Again, in situations where account access is potentially at risk, requiring a cell phone number or two-factor authentication may be wise when a customer appears to be using a temporary email address or an icloud.com address, since that could be masking their true email address.

3. Reassure people about your strong email permission practices

Some people use temporary email addresses because they don’t trust the brand and fear it will send them unwanted email. You can help ease their concerns by:

  • Using prominent, unchecked promotional email opt-in boxes positioned right next to the email address field during checkout, on whitepaper download forms, webinar registration pages, and other forms. If consumers see you’re not auto-subscribing them, some will be more willing to share their real email addresses.
  • Reassuring people that you will never sell or share their personal or contact information, if that’s indeed the case. 
  • Adding a reminder to your promotional email opt-in forms that it’s easy to unsubscribe at any time. You can reinforce this policy by including an unsubscribe link at the top of welcome emails, in addition to in the footer as usual.
  • Letting would-be subscribers know they can control the type and frequency of emails, if you offer a preference center with those options.
  • Making it clear to customers they will receive only one-time order confirmation, shipping confirmation, and other transactional emails when they share their email address as part of a transaction. Reinforce this in transactional emails by adding a statement of permission in the footer, such as, “This is a one-time email sent because you placed an order with us.”

Privacy expectations are changing, so marketers need to respond by being transparent and reassuring at every stage of every interaction, says Foster. 

“The days are gone of simply including a link to a privacy policy that requires a law degree to understand,” she says. “Marketers need to weave short and easy-to-understand privacy statements throughout their engagement funnels.”

4. Block temporary email address domains

The most heavy-handed remedy is to simply not allow subscribers to enter addresses with domains used by temporary email address providers. When someone tries to enter one, display a friendly message like, “Please enter a valid email address,” followed by reassurances we mentioned above.

You may decide this approach doesn’t make sense for email addresses provided during checkout, as it potentially risks sales. You might also be willing to accept temporary email addresses in certain forms because the incentive provided tends to lead to sales, where the customer is more likely to identify themselves accurately.

However, in other scenarios you may determine the consumer is not living up to their end of the value exchange. It’s perfectly reasonable to prevent people from feeding you fake contact information that clutters your CRM database and drives up hard bounce rates.

Since Apple uses the icloud.com domain for both standard email accounts and Hide My Email addresses, you’ll only want to block this domain if you see clear evidence of negative behavior that threatens your deliverability or your users’ security. According to Oracle Marketing Consulting data, the average B2C brand will likely see around 2% of their subscribers using icloud.com email addresses. B2B brands will see far fewer on their lists.

If you’re a B2B brand, you might also consider blocking temporary email addresses, icloud.com addresses, and freemail addresses as part of a policy of only accepting corporate email addresses. There are several significant drawbacks to this approach. The two biggest are the alienation of small business owners and freelancers who are more likely to use freemail addresses as their primary address, and the fact that corporate email addresses tend to turn over faster than personal email addresses, which itself elevates hard bounces. However, the advantages around data quality can be persuasive for some.

Track the behavior of icloud.com address users

If you aren’t going to block the use of icloud.com email accounts, you should at least track their performance as a separate segment. Review it periodically and determine if this segment exhibits negative behaviors that you need to mitigate. 

“By identifying Apple’s proxy accounts up front, marketers may be able to more easily identify subscribers who are likely to be passively engaged and message those subscribers differently and less frequently,” says Kaitlin Reno, Senior B2B Consultant at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “This will help brands protect their sender reputations.”

Until now, many companies haven’t cared if people used temporary email addresses. Usage has been low enough that it’s generally just an annoyance rather than a danger. However, Apple’s entry into this space may increase the use of non-permanent email addresses significantly. While this may be an opportunity to grow your list in that Hide My Email might give comfort to consumers who previously weren’t comfortable sharing their email address with your brand, that opportunity will likely also come with more data quality issues, and perhaps deliverability issues, that marketers may not be able to ignore.

 

Need help with your data hygiene and deliverability? Oracle Marketing Consulting has more than 500 leading marketing minds ready to help you achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including List Growth & Demand Generation Services and Email Deliverability Services teams that can help you maximize your list growth and manage your deliverability risks.

Talk to your Oracle account manager or reach out to us at CXMconsulting_ww@Oracle.com.

Chad S. White

Head of Research, Oracle Marketing Consulting

Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Consulting and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.


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