How reliable are email open rates?

Many marketers rely on the email open rate as the first indicator of how successful an email campaign has been, but that all needs to change following Apple's latest privacy update.

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By: Neil Edwards on 23rd August 2022, 4 minute read

As part of the latest iOS15 update, Apple recently announced a new feature called Mail Privacy Protection for its Mail app.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection now automatically loads all email images (including email tracking pixels) before the recipient even has the opportunity to open the message for themselves.

For email marketers, the consequences are far reaching.

What iOS15 means for email marketing

If you were hoping for good news, look away now.


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The iOSI5 update will artificially boost email open rates and skew reporting. Getting reliable information on the date and time of the open, device used, or IP address will become harder; A/B testing that uses open rates to determine which version of an email receives more engagement will be less reliable; and automations triggered by an email open will fire incorrectly.

So, all in all, not great. The days of relying on open rates as a core measure of engagement are behind us and more thought needs to be given to automation and re-send strategies.


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But there’s still a lot we can do to adapt and enhance our email strategy in the face of these changes.

“The consequences for email marketers are far reaching”

Coping strategies

The first thing to do is to try to understand the impact, which isn't an exact science.

Even if someone prefers to use their iPhone to review emails, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re using Apple Mail to do so. Somebody using the Gmail app to read your emails on their iPhone won’t impact on your results, it will only matter if they have configured their Gmail account through Apple Mail.

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Most Email Service Providers (ESPs), will be able to tell you how many of your emails are being opened with Apple Mail. You can use this number as the starting point for your inflation calculation. Assume 100% opens for these emails and then adjust it downwards based on the average open rate for the rest of your campaign.

To provide the most accurate data possible on email opens, our preferred automation platform, Lead Gen and CRM by Constant Contact, already has a built-in email bot filter. This automatically prevents identifiable security filters from impacting email performance metrics.

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In response to this update, Constant Contact has expanded the scope of this tool to filter out bot opens from Apple Mail as well. This will help ensure a more accurate picture of true email opens, without them being inflated by Apple Mail. While this doesn’t solve every challenge, we’ll be able to help our clients make smart decisions about their email strategy using the most accurate information available.

We recommend you check whether the ESP you use has a similar bot filter.

Best practices for tracking engagement

Although bot filtering will maintain the accuracy of your reports, the way you define whether an email campaign was successful or not may need to change.

If you’re still relying on open rates to determine success, explore using other available key email marketing metrics such as click-through rate, conversion rate, or overall ROI.

Click-through rates should continue to be a reliable metric of user engagement and should be emphasised much more in measuring your campaign success. Look out though for evidence of bot clicks on these stats too. Some spam filters generate a click on all links. Normally these are quite obvious, because it is unusual for anybody to click on every link in an email, and it tends to happen within seconds of the campaign landing.

Again, check whether the ESP you use is effective at filtering these clicks out of reported results.

The single most reliable indicator of overall engagement is the lead score, which is a feature of most more advanced marketing automation platforms, including SharpSpring. We recommend adjusting lead scores to put more weighting on clicks instead of opens.

Here to help

Email marketing is undeniably a tricky game that gets increasingly hard to play. Done well, however, it is still one of the most effective forms of direct communication and should form an integral part of any sales and marketing strategy.

Talk to us for advice on the opportunities.

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Neil Edwards


Neil Edwards

Neil is a Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing with many years' experience in marketing, brand and communications.

CEO / The Marketing Eye

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