Email Metrics to Replace Open Rates After the iOS 15 Update


For the new year, Webbula is launching a series of blog posts about email marketing metrics. We have a variety of esteemed authors from the email industry lined up to participate. Articles you missed:

  • Understanding and Leveraging the Power of Open and Click Reach Rates in Email Marketing by Jeanne Jennings. View that here.
  • Email as a Conversion Tool: 5 Metrics You Should Be Tracking by Tejas Pitkar. Read now.
  • Inactive Email Subscribers: Measure and Minimize Instead of Reactivating by Loren McDonald. Read it here. 
  • Click-to-Open Rates: The Best Measurement of Email Engagement by Betsy Grondy. Read it. 
  • 6 Ways Customer lifetime Value Can Drive Email Marketing Strategy by Emma Warrillow and Tammi Miller. Read it. 
  • Email Deliverability Guide: How to Interpret Delivery, Clicks, and Opens by Tom Blijleven. Read it now.

  • The Surprising Link Between Major League Baseball and Email Marketing Metrics by Chris Marriott. Read it Now

  • Open Rates Aren't Perfect: How to really know if your emails are engaging by Emily McGuire. Read it now. 

If you enjoy the article, watch the discussion! 


Is iOS 15 Armageddon upon us?

This week, Apple begins the roll out of iOS 15.  Much of the talk has been about the need to be prepared for email open metrics disappearing entirely in the worst-case scenario of everyone following in Apple’s footsteps and email senders not being able to find a suitable fix. Many people believe that the likelihood of that particular Armageddon occurring is very slim for a number of reasons. In fact, respected industry expert Chad White went as far as to say this on Twitter, “It's really irresponsible to say that email open rates are "going away" or won't be useful anymore. Open rates will still be useful at the audience level and at the individual level, for at least a portion of a brand's audience. Ignore opens at your peril.”

Is there a problem?

Looking at the latest data on the top 10 email clients from Litmus, Chad has a point. The iOS 15 update’s default settings will still allow email marketers to measure opens. 

Even if every iOS 15 user immediately switches from the default to the new privacy settings), we will still be able to measure opens for at least 50% of subscribers. Of course, this will vary depending on the make-up of your subscriber base — less if it skews towards Apple, more if not.

What do email marketers think?

The results of this recent survey conducted by Oracle show that email marketers are pretty evenly divided, however, over 60% believe that the impact will be significant. Whatever your position on the likely impact on your email program, it would be hard to disagree that it is prudent to examine the alternatives to open rates.

Download: The Email Marketer's Survival Guide to Saying Goodbye to Apple Mail Tracking Pixels

The Alternatives to Email Open Rates

When you send an email campaign, unless you have an open rate of >50%, the majority of people who receive the email will not open it! In my experience, the number of recipients who do not open an email they receive is typically around 80% - 90%. However, nearly EVERYONE will see the subject lines. Moving forward, this will require you to better understand subscriber behavior and actions independent of open rates. Consumer surveys consistently show that between 30% and 40% of respondents mention “visit the company’s website via another route” as their likely response to an interesting email. These signals, including click-through rates, circled in green below are very strong purchase signals indeed but tend to be overlooked or hidden by the current emphasis on open rates. 



Looking for and responding to these signals is called Audience Management. Audience Management is a practice that requires you to constantly monitor the entire audience – active, inactive, high-value, low-value, and everything in-between to ensure EVERYONE gets the right messages.  And, more importantly, ensuring everyone gets the right email cadence – whether the subscriber opened or not!

Recommendation: Redefine Engagement

We, therefore, recommend widening and deepening your definition of “engaged” for all other metrics that you track. So instead of your engaged segment = Opened <90 or 180 or 365 days – you should include as many of the following as you can:

  • Clicks (likely to become the biggest signal we can rely on)
  • Site visit Recency (You may have to look back up to 15 months)
  • Purchase Recency (as above)
  • Web Engagement (number of pages visited, types of pages)
  • Purchase History (number of orders, last purchase date, categories ordered, AOV)
  • Purchase Seasonality (look for purchases influenced by season – travel, gifting etc.)
  • Loyalty (participation in a loyalty program, number of points accumulated/redeemed, loyalty status, etc.)
  • Any other data, such as demographic data you might have


Recommendation: Update Segmentation Strategy

Build a dictionary between opens and these other engagement fields. Then, identify which fields are the best predictors of engagement and purchases.

  • Quick technique: compare open distributions. E.g., if Open30 is the top 20% of subscribers by open recency, then find look-alikes by looking at the top 20% in other KPIs.
  • Longer technique: Download your list ASAP and measure revenue generated over the next 30 days based on existing fields.

Recommendation: Update Testing Process
Modify your testing process to focus primarily on site visits, clicks, and orders instead of opens.

Recommendation: Update Reporting

Modify your reporting to focus primarily on clicks and orders.


A final word on opens

While the ability to measure opens may go away for subscribers using iOS 15, we will still get useful open data from other email clients.  You could use this data to “estimate” open rate in the segments impacted by iOS 15. However, what you will not be able to do is monitor opens at a subscriber level. 

Love or loathe them; Open rates were a very safe (albeit crude) way to measure subscriber engagement, and in that sense, they will be missed – by some more than others.



Meet the Author

Dela Quist, is CIO of Alchemy Worx, the largest email marketing agency. He is a highly experienced expert email marketer with a strong background in digital media and advertising.

Services include: email marketing strategy, email marketing best practice, email campaign planning, email design, email copywriting, HTML email production, email campaign deployment, email delivery and reputation, spam filter avoidance, reporting, and analysis.

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