Tag: Email

08 Oct, 2021

Are email open rates a truly valuable benchmark? Or is it just a vanity metric that the industry likes to shout about?

Before you read further... the answer to the first question is YES! Open rates have a lot of value.

What you will see below is our view, based on a number of sources of what is likely to happen with Apple iOS 15 privacy changes affecting open rates, but it is a bit of a moving feast and you’ll need to move quickly – so best read on.

When you send out an email, you want to know it’s arrived, that someone has looked at it and ideally read it. Indeed, some people may open it more than once. It’s basically the email equivalent of REACH and FREQUENCY in advertising channels.

It’s easy to prove it’s been delivered - through hard and soft bounce stats. It’s always been a bit harder to prove that it’s been opened, as it’s a pixel that relies on images being on, which isn’t always the case. And, indeed, the mere act of opening doesn't necessarily means the email has actually been looked at.

And now all that is going to get even harder.

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference hailed its “latest innovations in [its] legacy of privacy leadership”. Called 'Mail Privacy Protection', Apple will route emails through a proxy server to pre-load message conten, including tracking pixels, before serving to readers. Even if readers don’t actually open those emails. Apple will also block forward tracking, so if your subscriber forwards an email, you will not know. The new feature in iOS 15 helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email. and masks recipeints' IP address, so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

This affects any email opened from the Apple Mail app on any device, regardless of email service used (Yahoo, Outlook etc.) . Adobe and Litmus state that it shouldn’t affect other email apps used on Apple devices, like the Gmail app. Whilst improved privacy for people is always welcome, this does present the marketing community with an issue.

Since 2020, Apple iPhone, Apple Mail, and Apple iPad accounted for nearly half of all email opens. One benchmark report noted that 38.1% of all email opens and clicks come from one of the Apple Mail app clients. These are not small numbers.

So, when people update their iPhone to iOS 15 in September 2021, they’ll see a screen at launch that invites them to select this service. When Apple introduced a similar privacy feature on iOS 14.5 called Tracking Transparency, the feature required all apps to obtain permission before tracking users. Nearly 96% of users in the US declined tracking permissions. We believe it's likely there will be a similar take-up this time around, as people are hardly likely to say ‘do not protect me’.

So what? Well, here’s some maths...

Let's say your open rate is currently 20% and 38% of people are opening in an Apple mail app. Imagine 96% of them enable the Privacy setting, and assuming Apple reports 100% opens for those people, then your new open rate will show as 50.4%.

Over-reporting is the most likely scenario, but it could fall to 12.7% if Apple reports 0% opens. Either way, open rates will become a ‘noisier’ metric and a lot less reliable than today.

What might happen if Android follows suit? A Google spokesperson has confirmed that Google is considering similar features to block IP addresses.

There’s a lot of value in open rates, affecting various factors:

  • Open rates are used as an indicator of engagement for an email campaign, which then informs your understanding of how engaged people are, what should be sent in the future, and they are also a factor used in deliverability used by ISPs (Internet Service Providers) A comparison of open rates helps judge the effectiveness of subject lines in A/B tests
  • Many automated email journeys have components and rules that are based on sending emails to non-openers or bouncing to print Live content for email, such as countdown timers, live sports scores, live poll results, and maps, populate when an email is opened, not when it is sent
  • Open times inform Send Time Optimisation
  • Open rates provide some relative benchmark within industry and across sectors
  • Open rates can help judge the overall health and quality of an email list. e.g. GDPR data retention policies may use open rates as a way of showing customers are still active

On the flip side and playing devil’s advocate, open rates are vanity metrics:

Just because someone has opened an email doesn’t mean they have read it or absorbed any of the messaging. Therefore, is opening really engagement?

A more intriguing subject line might drive more email opens, but the email may not deliver against expectations. A supposedly weaker subject line might drive better response and conversion. Conversion is ultimately what really matters. Subject lines will still be important, just measured differently.

Delivery and response are arguably more relevant metrics to justify list health and quality.

Marketers should prepare for impact to existing logic rules on email campaigns, analytics and measurement, deliverability and email design and content. Which will in turn mean remedial action to review your existing email journeys and associated content to see how this will specifically impact. This will likely lead to a shift down the funnel in terms of engagement measurement, embracing broader and deeper engagement metrics. This may be accompanied by revising designs, reducing content in emails to bite-size pieces encouraging response and interaction (clicks) using more CTAs and return paths.

Reviewing your journey planning

People don’t always have time to react to your email. Re-targeting individuals who didn’t open, or opened and didn’t click, with a follow up email is often a standard part of a journey and can yield additional response - something as much as 50% of the original click-throughs.

This is something we generally encourage, as it is good marketing practice. Any journeys that have this rules-based logic will need to be reviewed, as it will look like that these people have opened. You will need to consider what the next stage in their journey should now be.

Additionally, any emails that use live content will need to be reviewed. This content will likely now display at the time Apple ‘pre-opened’ the email and not when the customer actually sees it, if they really do open it at all.

We also encourage people to send emails at the best time using Send Time Optimisation AI features that look at previous open patterns. These will be skewed short-term, but algorithms will change and improve over time base on clicks and other behaviour.

Shifting down the funnel

Open rates are a relatively minimal engagement measure, and given the existing issues around open rates and these new changes, it's worth embracing this as an opportunity to re-shift the focus away from open rates as a core metric to actual click-through rates by the different segments, A/B tests, etc.

Clicks are a measurement of more concrete action taken in a journey and give a greater understanding of which elements of the email have appealed. Click to Open rates will no longer be comparable with past figures.

The end goal with any email is tracking the response to conversion (sales, sign ups, donations) and that should become more of a focus for organisations. After all, conversions will show how the email is contributing to your overall objectives.

However, not all emails need to focus on that end outcome. With newsletter and retention-type emails, this will necessitate a move away from emails which dump a lot of content to make sure the customer ‘sees’ it, to more bite-size engaging content that invites click-throughs on headlines, images, and keywords/phrases in short body text.

Having more opportunities for customers to click through will generate a focus on click heatmapping, in order to see which elements of the email are more engaging, to focus more on outcomes and tracking what happens next with the journey. Looking at patterns of response over time across many emails rather than just a single one is recommended.

In future, marketers who re-send the same email to customers that didn’t open or click will likely re-send the email just to everyone who didn’t click. This would likely mean changing at least the subject line for the re-send and/or some of the content. A proportion of people would have opened and read the first email – we just won’t know who!

However, whilst most marketing campaigns are likely to have links to external content, we need to consider that some won’t. Many service-based emails won’t have any links in the email either, especially for pure notification emails. This may also have implication for multi-channel comms, where there may be rules that non-openers bounce to print, because of the legal need to ensure customers receive the communication.

It also means that the only proof of engagement with what might be considered a more ’obligatory’ type message will be the delivery information. However, this is no worse than a postal mail where we can ensure proof of posting.

Perhaps we all need to consider introducing more feedback loops into service-type messages when we want to know customers are taking note of them – e.g. ‘click here to confirm receipt/understanding’ buttons, or periodic return paths to mini-surveys, or the equivalent of like/heart buttons.

Impact on deliverability

As well as avoiding spam-type flags, other key factors that affect email deliverability include send volume, send frequency, user interaction (opens and click, complaints, or unsubscribe), and quality (overall percentage of bounces / undeliverable) - and engagement has become more important over time.

Low open rates are a signal to ISPs that your recipients are not engaged. If Apple over-report, this could be a positive. But it is more likely that ISPs will need to adjust to compensate for this. It's possible that frequency of communications may also become a factor and you may need a longer period of IP warming. But this isn’t clear yet. We will all need to keep a close eye on how these changes could affect deliverability.

A focus on action

It's difficult to say exactly how the Apple iOS 15 privacy changes are going to affect organisations. But they will have an impact, and action does need to be taken now in readiness:

  • Review all of your email journeys (waves and triggers) that include rules logic based on non-openers and/or bounce to print, live content, or use of Send Time Optimisation, as these will likely need to be changed.
  • Review your existing activity over time to look at all previous learning, trends and engagement, including a content engagement analysis audit.
  • Create a content taxonomy and re-design email templates and testing matrices to create more action-focused activity with more bite-size content that invites more CTAs, response, and feedback loops.
  • Track and evaluate at a more granular level and monitor broader content trends and conversion outcomes. Isolate a non-Apple audience for A/B subject line testing. Start Send Time Optimisation now before it gets harder.

Your organisations should be reviewing the way you create and evaluate your email output now, so that you are better prepared. Needless to say - but we’ll say it anyway - DCX can help.

If you want to know more, just get in touch.

Do Comms. Better.