Click Bots, Apple Privacy and Email Reporting

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by Amanda Steward
Email Marketing Project Manager

Over the past few years, a lot has happened in email marketing. Not only did COVID-19 throw everyone for a loop, but click bots were rampant and then, last fall, Apple decided to throw in their new Mail Privacy Protection setting. Open rate numbers have gone crazy and click rates are wonky as well. Some have said this might be a nail in email marketing’s coffin—but I think email marketing is still here to stay. It just needs a fresh look.

When Apple came out with their new privacy setting, it allowed people to choose if they wanted marketers to track their email opens. This meant that if somebody was knowledgeable enough to turn on this setting (and it is very easy to do), they could essentially hide when and if they opened your email. To achieve this, Apple now automatically downloads all images in your email, which unfortunately also automatically downloads the tracking pixel that marketers use to track when and if the email gets opened. Doing this has caused open rates to skyrocket and not truly reflect how engaged your subscriber list actually is.

Apple Privacy and Open Rates

Open rates are no longer the be-all and end-all statistic to gauge your list health, subject lines and engagement performance. Those re-engagement campaigns everyone was pushing are now far less reliable. (I mean, if you can’t really know whether somebody has opened your email or not, how can you send non-openers a re-engagement email?)

Open rates still serve a purpose, and I believe within the year we will have a new benchmark for comparison. For now, let’s not focus on open rates of the past, but on current open rates and how we can use them to better our emails.

For example, open rates can still be great tools for determining winners of A/B subject line tests. Chances are if Subject Line A performed better than Subject Line B, you can assume that even if 50% of your email subscribers are using the Apple privacy setting, you can still safely trust that Subject Line A is in fact garnering more engagement.

Click Bots and Click Rates

At some point, computer security companies started using bots to automatically click on every link in an email in order to see what emails were SPAM. By clicking each link in an email, the bot can tell if the links are legitimate and lead to where they should. If you have seen your click rates jump dramatically in the last year or two, it may be due to this.

A lot of email service providers are using filters to remove bot clicks from reporting; however, it’s a good idea to keep track of your click rates and investigate if you see a high click rate for no apparent reason. By default, your click rates aren’t any less important but, again, if you are seeing dramatic increases you may want to hit pause on your celebration and ensure that your clicks are actual clicks.

Shifting Your Reporting Focus

Click rates based on opens are no longer a good way to see if your engagement is successful. Those previously mentioned fluctuating open rates have also impacted click-to-open rates, since a good portion of those opens weren’t actual opens but “fake” opens by bots. Focusing more on clicks that are delivered instead can allow you to still see what percentage of your list is clicking—though you still won’t know if they are clicking based on your content on being engaging or if they aren’t clicking because they never opened.

Keeping track of the highest-clicked links in your email is a great way to see what content is gaining attention. For example, if you report on the top five highest-clicked links and it routinely includes information on dining options or events in your area, its pretty safe to assume you should investigate adding more content that involves those types of content. If your highest click each month is your unsubscribe link, then it’s time to cleanse your list and check to ensure your new subscribers are coming from trusted sign-up forms.

Website analytics are another great way to keep track of how your subscribers are engaging with your emails. By using tracking URLs on links in your email, you can see how long people are staying on your website after clicking and what other pages they are visiting. Tracking where subscribers are going can lead you to new content ideas or new, more targeted email programs. If people are clicking on your event article, then immediately going to your Places to Stay page, it could be a good indication it’s time for you to send an email focused on events with content that also highlights great places to stay nearby.

Looking to the Future

Email marketing is constantly changing and evolving. By working with your email marketing partner to keep up with privacy settings, chat bots and other changes, you can ensure your email programs continue to succeed.

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