Email matters. Open Rates don’t.  

by Vikrant Duggal

Apple Changed the Game: You Can't Rely On Email Open Rate To Gauge the Success

You've been running an email campaign, or several, for a while now. You know what to look for to determine the success of those campaigns: email open rates. When your target audience is opening the email you send, you get more traffic, more conversions—all the good stuff. Data guides you, so when your target audience isn't opening those emails, you know what to do then too: try a new email strategy or pivot your campaign to a different channel.

Not anymore. In September, Apple rolled out a new feature for all IOS 15, IPadOS 15, and Monterey devices called MPP, which stands for Mail Privacy Protection. One of its features is that no one other than the recipient can tell if an email has been opened, and it is awesome!

If you're an end-user.

If you're a marketing manager or an agency trying to get the most out of your email campaigns, you're probably feeling a little less than awesome about Apple's MPP right now. That's because something like 30-40% of your target audience is on an Apple device, and a whopping 96% of those users have historically chosen to opt-in to Apple's other privacy initiatives. Some quick math on those numbers will tell you that about 1 in 3 of your target audience isn't going to be giving you email open-rate data any longer. What's more, that lost data isn't a random sample, but a specific user base that may match up very well with one of the personas from your ideal customer profile (ICP). Worse still, it's likely that Gmail is going to follow suit.

Bummer. And you were just starting to get good at this.

But before you hang it up for good and redirect your marketing mojo to channels where you feel you can still get good data, please allow us to pull you back from that ledge. We have some ideas that might help out. Maybe email isn't dead, after all.

Email Open Rates No Longer Matter, But Engagement Still Does

There's an old maxim in data science that goes something like this: don't test attitudes; test actions.

Is opening an email an action? Sure. Does it matter? Not if the recipient hits the trash button next. The reason you want your target audience to open the emails you send is for engagement, right? But opening is just the first step on the customer journey. If there's no further engaged action, there's no customer "journey" at all. Curiosity isn't conversion. Customers are savvy, and getting their attention at the lowest level of "look! over here!" might not be everything you've hoped for.

Engagement pulls your target audience in, turning that initial curiosity into something deeper—a desire to spend time in the funnel. An engaged target audience is one you'll want to iterate on because they've already shown a willingness to take a step into your space. So how do you measure that?

One great way to do that is with a dedicated landing page for your email recipients, because you can measure how many people came to that page and weigh it against your email send. You know they opened the email, because they clicked the link, and you also know they didn't hit the trash button next, but the link to your site. This is an excellent opportunity to gather some data that you can't get from open rate.

Interactive features can also help you get numbers on engagement: a poll, a contest, a survey, a raffle, rewards, sales, etc. Getting a discount because you opened an email and engaged with it is a powerful incentive for continued engagement, and can add numbers to your social media shares as well. Be creative. The metrics are there, and they're more meaningful because you've had to dig a layer deeper.

Redefine Your List Cull

More isn't always better. Are more tires in your fishing nets better when you're trying to catch fish? No. That big sloppy list you've built over the course of many campaigns is just like those tires: it needs to get back down to a healthy number that just catches fish.

If 90% of your list never engages, what are your emails doing going into their inboxes? Nothing, or even worse than nothing. Measuring engagement over open rate puts your marketing energy where it belongs—with a target audience that's more likely to convert. Open rate data is a big net, floating aimlessly through the Pacific. You want a laser beam. Culling your list is that laser beam.

Rock Your Deliverability Strategy

Questionable metaphors about the awesomeness of laser beams aside, cull those hard bounces mercilessly. That email isn't valid anyway. There's no one home.

But when there is someone home, make sure your timing is consistent—slow and steady wins the race, so burying audience inboxes in an avalanche of your marketing pitches lowers your value. Do you want to see an email from someone selling something every day? Neither does your audience.

Don't be afraid to send your list an active confirmation query that asks if they'd prefer to unsubscribe. See who'll double-down on you. Refining your list helps you see what kinds of engagement strategies work on an audience that wants to be engaged by you. That's far better marketing data than open rate ever was.

Highlight The Value-Add Of Opening Your Email on Social

Social media is a channel where you can drive (and measure) engagement. Everyone likes getting presents (maybe), so tell your audience what's inside the package before they open it. Is it worth their while? Of course it is! That's why you're tweeting about it. Get some responses on how awesomely awesome opening that email really was, and remember, this is about engagement. Email open rate is done.

Checking The Boxes

Don't forget to shut down the systems that've been measuring email open rate. Automated flows, A/B tests relying on open-rate stats, timers that depended on opening an email—that sort of thing.

But also, get your team on board. They're accustomed to one set of numbers being useful to answer all manner of questions, and now, just like that, they're being deprived of that security blanket.

That means they might feel like tires in that fishing net, and there are lasers and... you get the picture.

Your team is part of your systems too, and a big part of their information universe just got sucked into a black hole. Use measuring engagement to help them pivot into something that has more longitudinal value, and more value overall.

Invest In Your Target Audience

Focusing on engagement over email open rates means you're investing your time and energy where it matters most—with your supporters. This can help in several ways: enlist them as the ambassadors of your email campaigns through social-media sharing and expand your recently culled list into higher quality territory. Use engagement data to inform revisions to your ICPs, so you can focus further on appealing to your best audience.


Apple broke your favorite marketing data set in one channel: email open rate. Google may be not too far behind. The things that worked for email campaigns last year aren't going to work this year, so what can be done?

Focus on measuring engagement, which is better, it turns out, because it's a more accurate reflection of what your potential customer base wants. It takes a bit more work, some creativity and resourcefulness, but the rewards are greater.

This trend will continue, and the discussion around the importance of email open rates will become irrelevant. We will see a shift to quality over quantity. We know that if companies put good stuff in the right places, following best practices, they will attract the right buyers.

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