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How Apple’s privacy updates impact small business

Come September, email marketing as we know it is set to change. In June, Apple announced a new email privacy feature that worried many small businesses reliant on this form of marketing. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing this privacy update, the potentially negative effects on small and solo businesses, and what you can do to minimize the impact.

What is ‘Mail Privacy Protection’?

Mail Privacy Protection is a new tab that Apple will add to the Mail app on its products during the next iOS update. In this new tab, users can choose to stop email senders from using invisible pixels that collect recipient data in their emails. This data includes knowing whether a recipient opened an email, the time they opened it, their device type, location, and IP address.

While the average user may consider this to be good news (and understandably so — many people have no idea these tracking pixels exist), it has come as bad news for marketers who rely on this data for a good proportion of their decision-making process.

All this comes on the heels of the iOS 14.5 update, which introduced a new policy that prohibits certain kinds of data collection, dealing a blow to apps such as Facebook. As a result, ads personalization and performance reporting have become limited for small businesses that use Facebook advertising.

These iOS updates are widely considered a setback for small and solo businesses that depend on this kind of data collection to deliver relevant content to users, ad targeting, and monetization.

mail in front of growth chart

How these changes will impact small businesses

Much of the outcry over the most recent update has understandably been from email marketers. Open rates are a widely used KPI for measuring user engagement and the effectiveness of specific email campaigns. Aside from open rates, email marketers will no longer be able to improve their campaigns as easily based on user behavior—from send-time location optimization to re-engaging with those who do not open.

The impact is worse still because Apple products account for such a large share of the email market. According to Litmus, Apple’s mail apps account for 61.7% of the overall email client market share across its devices (even if the Apple user has a non-Apple email address). Even more worrying is Apple’s domination of the mobile email market, with 90.5% of mobile opens coming from iPhones, especially when you consider the fact that 49.7% of email opens happen on mobile. 

From an email marketer’s perspective, key metrics and data about a large percentage of their user base are about to be rendered useless.

That said, this change isn’t a complete catastrophe. While it’s certainly a blow to lose a slew of once-relied-upon email marketing metrics, this could serve as an excellent opportunity to get creative and pivot to more reliable metrics.

A turning point

Email newsletter analytics is composed of a host of metrics that aren’t dependent on invisible pixels. In fact, the accuracy of using email opens as a method of measuring campaign effectiveness has been debated for quite a while now. 

Tracking pixels can be impacted by several factors, such as email clients that don’t support HTML and blocked images. So, even without these changes from Apple, open rates aren’t always completely accurate — some even argue that it’s nothing more than a vanity metric.

Beyond the debate about Apple’s true motivations (and potential hypocrisy) over these recent changes, it’s undeniable that the shift towards a more data-protected Internet these past few years — from GDPR to discussions about banning third-party cookies — is a welcome one for anyone being marketed to online. 

While the changes will undoubtedly impact the way marketers and advertisers have to do things, they now have the chance to reinvent marketing practices and think outside the box — all the while ensuring users have more control over their data and how it’s used. 

arrows shooting out through a circle

Four ways to minimize the impact

There are myriad ways to understand your audience and track trends and growth beyond email tracking pixels and app ad tracking. Here are four to get you started:

1. Follow clicks and conversions rather than opens

Now is the time to start looking at deeper engagement on email with clicks instead of opens, as well as how customers behave when they actually reach your website.

  • Figure out what a conversion means to you: What is the goal of your email campaign? What is it you want subscribers to do when they head to your website? Whether it’s making a purchase or simply reading an article, define it so you can properly track what they do when they reach your site.
  • Use heatmap technology on landing pages: a heatmap is a visual representation of how users behave when they land on your web page, such as where they click, how far they scroll, and which parts of the page attract the most attention. They typically use a gradient of warm to cool colors to show which page elements are most popular and which aren’t. Marketers can use this data to improve their landing pages and improve conversions.
  • A/B test email copy: Instead of A/B testing subject lines to see which ones garner the most opens, A/B test the email body copy and measure which emails drive the most people to the site. 

    Check out this post on analyzing website visitor behavior for more tips on understanding your website visitors.

2. Monitor audience engagement

Evaluate how engaged your readership is by taking a look at the following: 

  • Mailing-list changes: Continually monitor new subscribers and unsubscribes to get a good idea of how your list is doing.
  • Website views: How many subscribers reached your website from a specific email campaign? Has it grown over time?
  • Revenue growth: From individual product sales to total campaign revenue, earnings are also a great way to measure the success of a campaign. 
  • Email quality score: Namecheap’s email marketing manager Clinton Wilmott favors this particular metric: “It uses spam reports, unsubscribes and click rates to show how many people are annoyed versus how many people are delighted by the emails you are sending them. No open rates!” Find out how to calculate yours here.

3. Find alternative ways to understand your audience

You’ll need to work a little bit harder to gain customer insights to personalize your email campaigns, and a good way of doing that is with zero-party data. That is, data customers voluntarily and knowingly hand over you through a variety of means, such as: 

  • Use thumbs up and down buttons at the end of your articles: By tracking which articles your users do and don’t find helpful, you’ll be able to tailor your content accordingly. 

4. Develop and nurture your online community

Attract and keep customers by encouraging interactivity across multiple channels:

  • Lean into social media: Don’t just push out content and leave it at that. Actually engage with your audience. Get to know them by asking questions and replying to their comments. Make them feel valued. Check out our blog on boosting your social media strength for ideas on how to do this.
  • Start community groups: Reduce reliance on Facebook ads by creating groups where you can build communities, such as on Facebook groups or Clubhouse, a new social media app with audio-cased chat rooms. While Discord has its roots in gaming, many small businesses and content creators have been using the chat platform so that their audience can engage with them and each other in a more personal way. You can even set up multiple text and voice channels on various topics and sign people to different roles, like owners, admins, and moderators.

Wrap up

Apple’s latest iOS changes aren’t expected to come into effect until September, so there’s plenty of time to change up the KPIs and metrics you track and adapt to the new normal. Be sure to keep an eye on the various email services and platforms to see how they’re planning to adjust their offering to deal with these changes, too.

When all is said and done, losing the data marketers previously depended on is not the end of the world. It may be a chance to find new ways to get to know your customers and subscriber base more intimately and ultimately serve them better than you ever have before.

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