Oh my goodness, have you heard the latest news about email, specifically the iOS 15 update? If you haven’t, great, but you probably will soon, so it’s best to get ahead of the panic.
But seriously, if you are panicking, stop. The sky is not falling, and as far as I’m concerned, nothing has changed.
In this post, I’m going to explain what the iOS 15 update means for email open rate tracking, why you should care, and what you can do about it.
What is the iOS 15 update?
So what is this iOS 15 update all about and what does it mean specifically for authors and their email lists?
Well, in the iOS 15 update due from September 2021, Apple has announced more privacy-focused updates including two that affect email marketing.
1. An end to email open tracking
The first stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. What this means is, when you send an email from your email service provider (ESP) such as Mailerlite or Active Campaign, your message includes a tracking pixel.
This is a tiny image embedded into your email that can't be seen by your recipients. So when your email is opened, the pixel fires and reports the open back to your ESP. That’s how our email service providers are able to report email open rates.
As Apple is preventing these invisible pixels, our open rates will no longer be accurate. In fact, Apple will actually report an open on every email that passes through Apple Mail in iOS15. And just to be clear, almost all email opens on Apple phones and tablets are routed through Apple Mail, even if you are sending to a Gmail or Yahoo address, for example. This doesn’t only affect Apple iCloud addresses. And the chances are, other organizations, such as Google will follow Apple’s lead in this area.
2. IP address blocking
The second change blocks IP address and location and is less likely to affect authors. However, it may affect you if you use location-based segmentation. For example, if you attend author events around the country you might rely on location tracking to send emails about a particular event. If this applies to you, then make sure you ask your subscribers for their location when they opt-in and save it as a custom field.
Is this the end of email marketing?
So, what does this all mean – is it the end of email marketing?
In truth, open rates haven’t been entirely accurate for some time and they are also a vanity metric. In other words, knowing that 32% of your subscribers opened your email doesn’t really tell you much. Did they like your email? Did they take any useful action after reading it? That information is much more valuable.
This change to open rate tracking is one that you should be aware of, but realistically, if you are already doing email right, you shouldn’t need to worry.
If you’re not yet maximizing the potential of email marketing, now would be a good time to start learning how to get better at it.
If you want some help with setting up and growing a loyal and engaged email list, then grab my free Email For Authors Checklist here.
But just to be clear, email still outranks many other popular marketing tools, including social media, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Grow & Nurture Your Email List
Grab your 12-step checklist for building a loyal and engaged email following
What should you do now?
First, you want to get clear on your target audience – who it is you want on your email list – and focus on attracting and nurturing those people.
Second, you want to set an intention for every email – why are you sending the email, and what action do you want someone to take after reading it?
Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of these steps.
Deliver emails of value
I’ve said for some time that no one wants to subscribe for ‘news and updates’ anymore, which is why we incentivize subscribers with a compelling reader magnet. But this goes beyond the opt-in.
No one wants to receive news and updates in their inbox once a week or once a month. In other words, telling your subscribers how your latest draft is coming along or what author events you’ve attended recently won’t interest anyone but your most die-hard fans.
Remember, humans are notoriously self-centered, to put it bluntly. When people receive your email they will be scanning it asking ‘What’s in this for me?’.
This is nothing new, I have always said that your emails, and other marketing messages, are about your readers, not you. The focus should always be on giving them value. For more tips on this, check out my post How to write an author newsletter readers can’t wait to open.
This is even more important now. We want people to engage with your emails by clicking on links or replying to them – taking action in some way. This is not only so that you can ‘track’ who is engaging, but because an engaged audience is an audience that is more likely to buy your books, write reviews and share about your books with their own networks.
Include calls to action
So when you sit down to write your next email, start by asking yourself why am I sending this email? What do I want my subscriber to do with it?
That could be to check out your latest blog post or podcast interview. It could be to share or comment on something on social media. It could be to reply to a question you ask in your email. And sometimes it could be to buy a book or leave a review.
All of these things are calls to action, and while click rates are not disappearing for now, these are going to be even more important for us to assess who is receiving our emails and engaging with them.
Historically it’s always been recommended that we have just one call to action per email. We don’t want to confuse our subscribers with options or dilute our calls to action. I stand by this if you are running a launch campaign. If you are launching a new book, your focus will be 100% on promoting the new book and asking your subscribers to place an order. You do not want to dilute that message.
But what about those regular newsletters? Should you have just one call to action? My feeling, and it is just a hunch at this point, is that we will want to include more calls to action in each email in order to appeal to a wider range of subscribers.
Cater for different readers
Within your audience, you will have people at different stages of their journey with you. Some will have only just discovered you and are not ready to part with any money yet. Some will have purchased every book you have put out. If you write non-fiction, you may have people who are brand new to your topic and very much beginners, whereas others will be advanced and looking for expert tips.
Because our focus is on generating engagement, we will need to offer more opportunities for different subscribers to engage. Whereas once we may have only had one CTA to read our latest blog post, which was perhaps a beginners’ article, now we may want to offer another link to another post that will appeal more to our advanced readers.
And because I’m all about target readers and having a clear avatar of your ideal reader in mind, I should probably mention here that you may need to create one or two additional avatars. Perhaps you have one avatar for someone brand new to your writing – Nancy Newbie – and another avatar for your readers who have been with you from the start and read everything you publish – Loyal Lisa.
With these two avatars in mind, you can ensure there is something for each of them to engage with in every email you send.
There will be challenges
So, to wrap up. The iOS 15 update is going to pose some challenges. For example, it will be harder to keep our lists clean if we cannot scrub those who are not opening our emails, because we don’t know who they are. It may also be harder to test subject lines. However, I am confident that the email service providers and email marketing experts are working on these challenges and will provide solutions of some kind.
All you need to do in the meantime is to continue sending valuable content consistently.
Honestly, while it is frustrating, I see this change to open tracking as a positive step forward. It gives us a nudge in a very necessary direction.
In the end, who cares if people open your emails if they don’t then do anything with them? We want our subscribers to engage with us – we want them to consume our content, contribute to our communities on social media and of course, ultimately buy from us. But people are far more likely to buy from those they know, like and trust, which is why we put so much effort into creating content and generating engagement.
While open rates have been a useful metric to keep an eye on, they do not give the full picture and ultimately don’t tell us anything about how well we are nurturing our audiences.
Focus on your target reader
As ever, nothing has changed. Focus on your target reader. Concentrate on creating content that will appeal to them and devote yourself to building genuine relationships and communities with those who are passionate about what you do. Your subscribers are real human individuals. Keep that in mind and you won't be adversely affected by this iOS 15 update.
Email is still the most powerful marketing tool we have at our disposal. If you want more help with setting up and growing a loyal and engaged email list, grab my free Email for Authors Checklist here.