The Reason Open Rates Aren’t Reliable Anymore and the Email Marketing Metrics to Monitor Instead

The Reason Open Rates Aren’t Reliable Anymore and the Email Marketing Metrics to Monitor Instead

The digital marketing landscape experienced a seismic shift on September 20, 2021, when Apple unveiled iOS 15. The standout feature, “Mail Privacy Protection,” was a major leap toward enhancing user privacy. By automatically loading all email images and concealing recipients’ IP addresses and locations, this update effectively disrupted traditional email marketing metrics.

Impact to marketers: What’s affected and what hasn’t changed

iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection marks every email as ‘open’ on iOS 15 devices, regardless of the user’s actual engagement with the email. Consequently, this change has led to significantly inflated open rates. Given that…

…marketers need to understand a significant portion of their email base inaccurately reports back open rates.

Considering the substantial adoption of iPhones and the appeal of enhanced data privacy, it’s probable that analytics tools are over-reporting open rates. Pre-iOS 15, the average commercial open rate hovered around 20 percent, but with iOS 15, this could theoretically surge to 48.8 percent. However, it’s critical to remember these calculations presume every Apple mobile device user has upgraded to iOS 15, opted into Mail Privacy Protection, and resides in the U.S.

This shift has brought a significant change for many marketers. However, click rates, a measure of active engagement with email content, have remained steady at 1–4 percent, despite the iOS 15 update. The click-to-open rates, which measure how many opened emails led to clicks, have inversely decreased due to the increased number of reported opens.

Impact to A/B testing

Beyond traditional email marketing metrics, the impact of iOS 15 extends into the realm of A/B testing, with conventional tests around open rates now compromised. While variables such as subject lines, send times, and send days previously provided valuable insights, the distortion in open rates means results from these tests may now be skewed.

However, there is still value in A/B testing, as long as the iOS 15 user ratio remains consistent across test groups. Marketers must track the percentage of iPhone users in their segments to properly account for inflated open and click-to-open rates.

Alternative email marketing metrics

Given the now unreliable nature of open rates, marketers need to refocus their attention on alternative, more reliable metrics. One such measure is click rates, which despite the changes brought about by iOS 15, have remained stable. This shows that actual engagement with the content of an email remains unchanged. By shifting focus to metrics such as click rates, click-to-deliver rates, and conversion rates, marketers can gain a clearer understanding of the true performance of their email campaigns.

In addition, strategies that previously relied on open rates for customer journeys may need redesigning. For instance, nurturing emails sent to recipients who opened but did not click a previous email may no longer be accurate as all iOS 15 users would receive this email, regardless of their interaction level.

But even these metrics alone don’t give you the full picture. Learn how you can measure and track even deeper-dive email marketing analytics with insights from two of our top expert marketers.

Tying it all together

While iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection has unquestionably disrupted established norms, it has also underscored the need for marketers to adapt and evolve. Though open rates have lost their previous reliability, a wealth of alternative email marketing metrics and strategies remain, ready to be explored and harnessed for impact.

Once you find new metrics to track, how do you apply your findings? Learn how DESelect Segment creates tailored audiences based on data views and subscriber behavior.

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