Sept. 20 marked the 1-year anniversary of Apple’s launch of Mail Privacy Protection, which has affected everything from email performance measurement to deliverability to email design. Despite the far-reaching nature of these impacts, the results of Oracle Digital Experience Agency polls over the past year show that marketers are getting a grip on managing them.
Most notably, the percentage of marketers who say that MPP has extensively impacted their email marketing program has fallen from a high of 33% at the beginning of this year to just 6% last month. The majority of those who were seeing extensive impacts have managed those issues to the point where the impacts are now only significant.
The overall decline in impact is likely attributable to the availability of advice on how to adapt to MPP, as well as a general decrease in anxiety about the change over time. And the distribution of impact likely maps to the size of the respondents’ email programs, with smaller senders being less affected by MPP and larger senders more affected.
The variations are also likely the result of brands being less or more affected by how MPP has affected email analytics, deliverability, and design. Let’s go into more detail about how it has impacted each of those areas of email marketing.
For our most comprehensive advice on MPP, download our Definitive Guide to Adapting to Mail Privacy Protection.
How MPP Has Affected Email Analytics
By Clint Kaiser
The most disruptive aspect of Mail Privacy Protection is that it floods email service providers with auto-generated opens to obscure when and whether Apple Mail users open emails. That has made open rates much more difficult to use, in part because the definition of “open rate” is splintering in inconsistent ways across ESPs.
For example, today marketers may see one or more of the following open rates in their reporting:
However, ESPs are providing these open metrics inconsistently, and the naming and calculation of each of them are inconsistent. Oftentimes, whatever is being offered is just called “open rate,” as if nothing has changed. This only reinforces our view that external benchmarks are of little value, especially when they come from outside your ESP.
Here at Oracle, we report real open rates, stripping out auto opens, which we provide separately. Again, because auto opens contain some actual opens, unique open rates declined 46% year-over-year in August among Oracle Marketing Consulting’s retail clients, for instance. However, given the high usage of Apple Mail among B2C subscribers, all of that decline in measurability is reasonably due to MPP and not an actual decline in open engagement. As scary as that meaningless decline appears on paper, brands whose ESPs only provide unadjusted open rates have been even more deceived by massive increases in open rates that also mean nothing.
Despite all of the inconsistencies, opens are still a useful—even vital—performance metric for non-promotional campaigns, as well as for media companies, B2B companies, brand manufacturers, and other organizations that aren’t focused on direct sales. With MPP adoption plateauing, month-over-month open rates are now useful again—and starting early next year, year-over-year comparisons will finally provide more apples-to-apples comparisons without requiring a lot of data massaging.
However, all of the doubts around the accuracy of opens has prompted movements away from the metric to deeper and broader metrics. For example, send time optimization (STO) algorithms have been updated to heavily weigh click times. Since clicks are a less frequent signal, STO is now slower to adjust to changing subscriber behaviors. However, because clicks are a stronger sign of intent, more emails are being delivered at times when recipients are likely to take meaningful action, not just open emails.
Brands are also adopting a more holistic, customer-centric approach to performance measurement, including multi-touch attribution models and the use of customer data platforms to aggregate omnichannel behavior data. Consumers have been increasingly engaging across channels for well over a decade, so these changes are long overdue and should allow brands to create much better customer experiences.
Despite some positive changes, customer visibility is impaired at many brands because of MPP. That’s concerning because analytics often provide an early warning system for all kinds of problems, from automations that break down to deliverability problems. While marketers’ worries have subsided in recent months, risks are lurking in those blind spots for brands that ignore records with no actual engagement data. Put more plainly, I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.
How MPP Has Affected Email Deliverability
By Daniel Deneweth
For more than a decade, marketers have been told to safeguard their deliverability by paying attention to email engagement indicators, which are primarily email opens and clicks. Marketers responded by limiting their mailable audience to only engaged subscribers. This approach had been a reliable way to maintain a fresh, active email audience and to score well with inbox providers’ spam filtering systems.
Unfortunately, with Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection obscuring open indicators, marketers have been forced to choose between two painful options:
1. Marketers can set aside and ignore Apple’s auto-generated opens, resisting the temptation to treat these like real opens, which they are not. By not using auto opens in audience selection, marketers can protect themselves against deliverability issues. However, doing this reduces the size of their mailable audience because the small percentage of real opens hidden among all the auto opens are lost. To compensate, marketers are broadening the engagement metrics they use in selecting active mailable email marketing audiences post-MPP.
2. Marketers can include Apple’s auto-generated opens in their selection process, allowing their mailable audience to artificially swell and include less engaged subscribers. This significantly increases the risk of encountering deliverability problems from engagement-based spam filtering.
It also increases the risk of hitting spam traps and being blocklisted, which remains one of the greatest threats to deliverability. One of our key defenses against blocklistings has been to track which email addresses are opening or clicking, assuming that addresses that never open or click may be spam traps. But with MPP obscuring opens, it’s harder than before to protect against blocklistings, as well as to perform the remediation it takes to remove a blocklisting.
Although open rates have long been a primary deliverability performance indicator, the depreciation of opens by Apple has changed the paradigm and forced marketers to rely on weaker signals of email engagement. Today, marketers should now pay more attention to click rates, inbox placement rates, and adjusted open metrics for detecting fluctuations in deliverability performance, and more strongly consider customer behaviors along with email behaviors when managing inactive subscribers.
How MPP Has Affected Email Design
By Jason Witt
Email design is a reflection of a marketer’s goals, so as Mail Privacy Protection has shifted email marketing KPIs, it has also shifted email design. The biggest change has been the migration down-funnel away from opens to clicks as campaign goals.
In some cases, the obscuring of opens by Apple prompted urgent and clear changes. For instance, the loss of reliable opens prompted many brands to redesign their open-triggered email journeys. Brands also redesigned their reengagement campaigns so that they asked subscribers to click, because just getting an open isn’t a clear signal of reengagement anymore.
But more broadly, MPP put a premium on driving clicks, which are unaffected by MPP. That has led to more A/B testing and optimization of calls-to-action, as well as growing use of non-promotional content in emails. When you’re using clicks more heavily as an indicator that a subscriber is safe to mail, then you care less if they’re clicking on a CTA to “Buy Now” or one to take a poll, watch a video, read an article, check out a social media post, or something else. You just want the click.
That said, marketers want to avoid adding more friction to their email interactions by moving email content onto landing pages solely for the purpose of trying to drive more clicks. That’s a poor customer experience, and may cause subscribers to become less likely to open your emails because of the hoops you’re making them jump through.
Another element of email design that’s been impacted by MPP is live content. Since MPP prefetches email content, the timeliness of live content is undermined. That’s because instead of the live content being populated at the time that a subscriber opens the email, it’s populated at the time that Apple opens the email.
Even though MPP’s prefetching of email content doesn’t appear to undermine live content very much, we’ve seen brands hesitate to invest in it and focus instead on traditional personalization and dynamic content. That’s unfortunate because live content has a range of valuable uses, from real-time polls to current weather.
One use case for live content that has been critically damaged by MPP is location-based personalization based on IP addresses. For example, prior to MPP, it was common for retailers and other store-based brands to add a map showing their nearest store location. But since MPP uses proxy servers to regionalize a subscriber’s location, trying to do this now can result in the highlighted store being potentially a hundred miles away from the subscriber’s actual location.
In general, MPP has driven a focus on the basics of email marketing, much like the pandemic has. Marketers are staying away from what they perceive as fancy bells and whistles, and trying to establish a new baseline for their email program in terms of experience and performance.
Need help adapting to changing privacy rules? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.
Want to better understand your email marketing risks and opportunities, take advantage of our free Email Marketing Assessment. Our experts will check your deliverability, review your email creative, audit your signup process, do a partial competitive analysis, and more. If interested in this free assessment, reach out to us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.
Clint Kaiser is the Head of the Analytic & Strategic Services team at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. His background in the email marketing space includes 20 years of experience with ESPs and digital agencies. His analytical approach to driving change in digital marketing is reflected in his quantitative approach to improving clients' business outcomes.
Daniel Deneweth heads up a team of Email Deliverability Services team at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. He shows clients how to maximize the ROI from email through improved inbox placement. Prior to Oracle, Daniel held a variety of roles at the deliverability firm Return Path. His tenure included managing the Sender Score Certified program, where he collaborated with ISPs and helped senders implement email best practices. Daniel brings this insight and in-depth deliverability knowledge to help clients maximize their inbox placement rates, and accelerate the ROI of their email channel.
Jason Witt is the VP, Executive Creative Director, at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. He has over 15 years of digital creative experience helping clients deliver engaging brand stories. For the past seven years, Jason has focused on creating highly personalized experiences through email marketing, leading teams that produce award-winning creative work.