Soooooo, Should I Care About Email Open Rates Anymore?

You’ve likely noticed something different about your email stats. Specifically, your open rates.

In October 2021, we blogged about the Apple iOS 15 operating system and, with it, the launch of Mail Privacy Protection. One-sentence refresher: All emails sent to an Apple Mail app user (who has completed their iOS 15 upgrade and opted in) will register as opened.

I checked in with Bryan Lloyd, Stelter’s Digital Manager, on the status. He reports that in the nine months since iOS 15 launched, Stelter has seen about 83% of Apple users complete their system upgrade.

This makes it a great time to check in.

Tell Me Again About Open Rates

For years, open rate was the go-to metric for email performance. It was easy to measure, easy to test and it provided a helpful starting point for gauging donor interest.

So without it—or rather, with every Apple email looking “opened”—what’s a marketer to do?

Almost 11% of email users in the United States use the Apple Mail app. It’s much higher for nonprofit mailing lists. Around 52% of the donors Stelter sends to use Apple Mail.

Think of it this way: About half of the donors you’re emailing are reporting that they’ve opened your email…even if they didn’t. The change has inflated open rates for everyone.

Help Me Out, What Should I Do?

First off, say bye-bye to open rates as a complete metric of engagement. Open rates simply won’t tell you the full story.

We propose some new ways to judge digital performance:

  1. Don’t look back 12 months at your data; look back three. If you compare your open rates, for example, in May 2022 versus May 2021, you’re likely to draw incorrect conclusions. Instead, go back just a handful of months, early 2022, for example, to establish a trend line. Revisit this as more users upgrade to iOS 15.
  2. Monitor other performance indicators. Click Through Rate is the heir apparent. You used to spend time on subject lines (still important of course); you also need to optimize for the click. Consider:

    • The design to draw attention to the link. Think eye-catching colors and buttons instead of the more subtle in-line links.
    • The content to tease the material but not give it away. The readers should have to click to your site to get the information.
  3. Keeping your lists clean is tougher now that Apple users may be reporting false opens. Look to bounce rates and unsubscribes to measure email success and maintain good lists. It may seem counterintuitive, but removing unengaged donors can improve your overall email performance. When a contact is consistently not engaging, their inbox provider may filter your message to a spam folder or hold it in quarantine. When multiple contacts behave similarly, the provider may hold up all your emails, even to those who have been engaging.

Keep Up With Updates

Mail Privacy Protection is likely to spur similar efforts from other email providers. Email is ever-evolving. Get caught up on emails that drive action and how to stand out in a crowded inbox.

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