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⛏ Why don't we track email open rates?
⛏ Why don't we track email open rates?
Chris Russell avatar
Written by Chris Russell
Updated over a week ago

With Apple’s iOS 15 now an available update for all iPhones, email marketers should be on the lookout for changes in their email open rate data. Or, you might just want to stop looking at them altogether.

What’s the change? Apple’s iOS 15 allows users to opt in to its Mail Privacy Protection feature, which essentially blocks email senders from being able to see information on how those users interact with emails. What’s ironic, though, is that the feature could cause open rates to inflate, not drop.

“Any subscriber that uses an Apple mail client with MPP will have their email images prefetched and cached, causing those emails to register as ‘opened,’ even if the recipient did not physically open the email,” said email company Validity in a statement last week. “This will have a significant, sweeping impact on the industry, as Validity data shows that Apple dominates email client usage at about 40%. In addition, marketers will lose the ability to track device and location data from these pixels as well.”

Significant and sweeping? It’s interesting that Validity is saying that since many marketers are suggesting that their peers move away from open rates as a key performance indicator.

“In essence, open rates are a vanity metric,” said Frank Brooks, Head of EMEA Marketing at Dotdigital, speaking at MarTech Conference (free registration required).

“Recipients flicking through that email may count as an open when actually the fact is they haven’t engaged with you at all and barely even looked at your email. It offers no insight into whether users are actually engaging with your marketing, and I would recommend that this is an opportunity to really change the way you look at marketing metrics.”

What if I still care about open rate data? We get it. It could take some time to convince clients or other internal stakeholders that open rates are a poor KPI. And the last thing you want to do is allow them to see inflated open rates as a sign of increased engagement. For its part, Validity announced an update to its Everest email marketing platform that allows users to remove data that could be inflated because of the Apple update.

“Everest engagement analytics will segment inflated open rate data stemming from Apple Mail and other proxy services from more accurate open rate data originating from other mail client and mailbox providers,” said Validity. The conceit here is that Apple users don’t behave all that differently than other mail client users. So if you can cut them out of your data you’ll be left with a truer open rate.

What if I’m convinced to abandon open rates? Congrats, because you’d be making a good decision. The KPI that most email marketers suggest you focus on instead is click-through rates.

Christine Johnson, marketing lead for Vancouver Island University offered the following tactics for optimizing emails for clicks:

“1. Include valuable content (always) 2. Link to relevant articles that prompt clicks 3. Ensure ads are relevant to your audience 4. Keep things lean and mean 5. Make polls 6. Ask people if they like the content and use link triggers to track,” she wrote on Twitter.

She also suggested personalizing your messaging for specific audience types.

“Finally, design your email strategy so that you’re actively trying to segment your audience based on progressive profiling. Ex. If you have multiple personas, create a separate messaging campaign for each group and analyze the click-through rates.”

Why we care. Any disruption in an email marketing team’s data will have a ripple effect, and the issues that inflated open rates will cause automated campaigns triggered by opens need to be dealt with. But it’s clear our community knows open rates are a poor KPI. Clicks aren’t any less tricky, especially since corporate spam checkers can routinely inflate click rates, but reorienting your email strategy is the right thing to do.

Origin Email’s Ryan Phelan put it a bit stronger: “Opens are dead. Let them die. … Every moment you focus on it, it takes away from other things,” he said.

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