Email open rates are an email marketing metric we have always relied on. They indicate the effectiveness of subject lines, send time, and overall subscriber engagement. However, moving forward, they may no longer be the most reliable email engagement metric that school marketers can rely on.
In June, Apple announced the release of a new privacy feature in iOS 15 and Mac OS Monterey. With this update, your contacts using Apple Mail will have the option to enable a new feature called Mail Privacy Protection, which will limit the ability for your email marketing platform to accurately track:
- Whether or not an email has been opened
- Where a contact is located when they open it
- The type of device used to open it
This boils down to one simple fact: open rates are no longer going to be a reliable metric, and your school will likely experience inflated and inaccurate open rate data.
We’re already thinking about how these updates will change our email marketing strategy. And while we aren’t writing off open rate metrics just yet, we are going to take a closer look at how we measure success and engage with our contacts.
"The potential loss of email open rates as a valuable metric was initially jarring to think about. So much of what we teach here at Finalsite is to measure average open rates, which can help determine the efficacy of subject lines and general engagement of your audience,” said Kristen Doverspike, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Finalsite. “But with the news of the iOS update, Finalsite is taking an opportunity to be better — and I hope our schools will, too! Open rates, upon reflection, shouldn't be the most important metric when measuring email success. What matters are click rates, read-through percentages, and genuine engagement with your compelling content."
What School Marketers Can Do
First, don’t panic.
We’ve already fielded some frantic calls and messages from clients about how this update will stifle their email marketing efforts.
At the moment, this update only affects Apple Mail users – and according to Litmus, Apple Mail currently only holds 11.5% of the market share. However, it’s still unclear as to whether or not this privacy update will extend to anyone using any mail app on an Apple device, or just individuals who use Apple Mail.
“This change is setting a new precedent for subscriber privacy — and even if you know your school community doesn’t heavily use Apple Mail, I recommend testing new subject lines, cleaning up your contact lists, and making sure the user experience after your email — on your website, or in-person at your school — is engaging,” said Kristen.
Set benchmarks now to measure changes.
You’ve likely tracked the average open rate for a variety of your school or district’s email campaigns — and now is a good time to set a benchmark. Let’s say that historically, the average open rate for your school’s monthly newsletter is 47%. You can use this benchmark to analyze future (predictably inflated) open rates and draw comparisons, conclusions, and plans for what’s next.
Adjust how you measure success.
Even before this update, open rates weren’t always the most reliable metric for measuring engagement. Email open rates are a “passive” engagement metric because they don’t actually prove that someone is actively engaged with your email communications the same way other metrics do. Consider your own email behavior — do you ever just skim through your emails to delete them? Do you open an email by accident? Or, have you ever just opened an email to unsubscribe?
Active email engagement can best be determined by:
- Overall email click through rates
- Individual link clicks to gauge content popularity
- Website traffic to linked pages
What the Update Means for Finalsite Platform Users
Open Rates May be Inaccurate
Almost all email solutions track open rates on emails sent via a tiny, single-pixel transparent image. This transparent pixel is placed in every single email, and loads each time the email is opened. In Messages, Finalsite’s email marketing and communications tool, open rates are tracked in this same way. With Apple Mail Privacy Protection, Apple Mail will automatically preload these pixels, even if your contact hasn’t opened the email.
While these changes may present some new tracking hurdles, your emails will continue to be delivered to your contacts who use Apple Mail, and email engagement will continue to be tracked and reported. You can expect to see inflated or inaccurate email open rates, depending on the number of individuals in your community that have Mail Privacy Protection enabled.
Branching Logic in Workflows Should Be Evaluated
As with your open rate metrics, keep in mind that branches based on email opens may not be as reliable and branches based on other logic, such as email click-throughs. If you’re concerned about how your school’s email workflows may be affected by this update, consider evaluating the content and sequence of the emails in your workflows.
Previously, an “opened email” may have triggered a new branch for what you deem to be “engaged contacts”. If you’ve created specific email content for “engaged” contacts, you may want to change that branching logic to a particular “link clicked”.
However, branching logic based on an “opened email” can (and should!) still be used in your email workflows – so don’t feel like it needs to be eliminated entirely. For email workflows that don’t have hyper-specific content or calls-to-action based on the opened email, continuing to branch by “opens” is still a great option.
It’s not fair to say that email open rates are dead — yet. The effects of this update will vary school-to-school — with some communities greatly impacted, and others not so much — depending on the prevalence of Apple Mail in a particular community.
However, it is fair to say that this is just the beginning. Apple Mail Privacy Protection is just one of the updates that Apple is making to empower users to take control of their data and privacy. And while no other email providers have made similar announcements or updates, user privacy becomes more important year after year, and it is likely only a matter of time until other providers follow suit.
Use this time to clean up your email lists, adjust how you measure success, and grow confidence in your school or district’s suite of communication tools.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia is a creative and passionate school marketing thought-leader. Since joining the Finalsite team in 2013, Mia has produced hundreds of pieces of content with one goal in mind: helping private, public, and international schools improve their online presence. In her current role as director of demand generation, Mia focuses on full-funnel inbound marketing strategies. She's also a co-host on The School Marketing Show, a frequent blogger, e-book author, Expert Course consultant and webinar host. She loves putting storytelling at the heart of all communications — and before joining the Finalsite team, Mia was a TV and radio broadcaster, wedding cinematographer, and author for various online magazines. She is an army wife, mom, and rookie photographer currently living in southern Georgia.