How Apple‘s iOS 15 Update Really Impacted Email Marketers (+ New Data & Strategies)

It‘s been over two years since Apple‘s iOS 15 update shook up the email marketing world with its new privacy features. At the time, many marketers were worried that the changes – which allowed users to hide their IP addresses and block open tracking – would be a major blow to their email strategies.

But now that the dust has settled, what has the real impact been? And more importantly, how can email marketers adapt and thrive in this new privacy-centric landscape?

To find out, we surveyed 300 email marketers about their experiences with iOS 15 so far. We also dug into the latest industry data and talked to some top experts to get their insights and advice.

Here‘s what we learned.

The Impact of iOS 15: What the Data Says

First, let‘s look at some of the key ways iOS 15 has impacted email marketing metrics and strategies, according to our survey:

  • Open rates took a hit. Unsurprisingly, the ability for users to block open tracking had a significant impact on email open rates. In our survey, 65% of marketers reported a decrease in open rates since iOS 15, with an average drop of 15-20%.

  • But other metrics remained steady. Despite the drop in opens, click-through rates and conversion rates remained relatively stable for most marketers. In fact, 70% reported no significant change in clicks, and 60% saw no change in conversions.

  • Strategies shifted to focus on engagement. With opens becoming a less reliable metric, many marketers shifted their focus to other indicators of engagement. 55% said they now prioritize click-through rates, while 40% look more at conversions and revenue per email.

  • Segmentation and personalization became more important. To drive engagement in a post-iOS 15 world, marketers are leaning into segmentation and personalization. 50% said they‘ve increased their use of segmentation, while 45% are investing more in dynamic content and personalization.

These findings align with what other industry studies have shown. For example, a report by Litmus found that average open rates dropped by 12% after iOS 15, but click-through rates actually increased by 3%. And a study by GetResponse found that segmented campaigns drove 14% higher open rates and 64% higher click-through rates than non-segmented campaigns.

How Email Marketers are Adapting and Thriving

So, what are some of the specific strategies and tactics that email marketers are using to navigate the challenges of iOS 15? Here are a few key themes that emerged from our research:

1. Focusing on delivering value (not just opens)

With open rates becoming a less reliable metric, many marketers are shifting their focus to delivering real value to subscribers. This means creating high-quality, relevant content that people actually want to engage with – not just flashy subject lines designed to boost opens.

As Tom Wozniak, Head of Marketing at OPTIZMO Technologies, puts it: "The key is to focus on providing value to your audience with every email you send. If you‘re consistently delivering content that is interesting, informative, and relevant to your subscribers, they will continue to engage with your emails, even if you can‘t track every open."

2. Leaning into click-based metrics and design

If opens are no longer the be-all-end-all of email metrics, what should marketers focus on instead? For many, the answer is clicks.

"Click-through rate has always been a more meaningful metric than opens, since it shows that people are actually engaging with your content," says Melissa Sargeant, CMO at Litmus. "With iOS 15, we‘re seeing more marketers optimize their emails for clicks, using tactics like clear calls-to-action, engaging visuals, and interactive elements."

Some marketers are even experimenting with "click-based design," where the entire email is essentially a giant, clickable image or button. While this approach won‘t work for every brand or audience, it‘s an interesting example of how some are adapting to the new reality.

3. Segmenting based on engagement (not just demographics)

Another key strategy that‘s gaining traction is engagement-based segmentation. Instead of relying solely on demographic or behavioral data to segment their audiences, marketers are now looking at engagement metrics like clicks, conversions, and unsubscribe rates to identify their most valuable subscribers.

"By segmenting based on engagement, you can focus your efforts on the people who are most likely to convert, while also identifying those who may be at risk of churning," says Kath Pay, CEO of Holistic Email Marketing. "This allows you to tailor your messaging and frequency to each group, which can lead to better overall performance."

For example, you might create a segment of your most engaged subscribers (based on clicks and conversions) and send them more frequent, targeted offers or exclusive content. On the flip side, you could create a segment of less engaged subscribers and try a re-engagement campaign or survey to understand why they‘re not responding.

4. Experimenting with new email formats and features

Finally, some marketers are using iOS 15 as an opportunity to experiment with new email formats and features that can drive engagement in different ways.

One popular example is AMP for Email, which allows marketers to create interactive, app-like experiences right inside the email client. With AMP, subscribers can do things like fill out a survey, browse a product catalog, or even make a purchase without ever leaving their inbox.

"AMP is a great way to boost engagement and make your emails more valuable to subscribers," says April Mullen, Director of Brand and Content Marketing at SparkPost. "It‘s still a relatively new technology, but we‘re seeing more and more brands starting to experiment with it."

Other emerging email formats and features include:

  • CSS-based interactivity (like hover effects and animations)
  • Gamification elements (like quizzes and scratch-offs)
  • Personalized video and imagery
  • Dark mode optimization

While not all of these will be right for every brand, they show how email marketers are getting creative and thinking outside the traditional "batch and blast" mindset.

The Future of Email in a Privacy-First World

Looking ahead, it‘s clear that privacy will continue to be a major factor shaping the email marketing landscape. In addition to iOS 15, we‘ve seen other major players like Google and Firefox implement similar privacy features, and regulations like GDPR and CCPA are only getting stricter.

So, what does this mean for the future of email? Here are a few predictions and recommendations based on our research:

  1. Personalization will become more important than ever. As third-party data becomes less reliable, marketers will need to rely more on first-party data (like email engagement and website behavior) to personalize their campaigns. This will require a greater investment in tools and strategies for collecting, analyzing, and activating customer data.

  2. Brands will need to earn subscriber trust and attention. In a world where consumers are more aware and protective of their privacy, brands will need to work harder to earn their trust and attention. This means being transparent about data practices, offering clear value in exchange for personal information, and respecting subscribers‘ preferences and boundaries.

  3. Email will continue to evolve as a channel. While email has been around for decades, it‘s far from a static channel. As new technologies and consumer behaviors emerge, email will continue to evolve and adapt. Marketers who stay on top of these trends and experiment with new approaches will be best positioned to succeed.

  4. Integration will be key. Email doesn‘t exist in a vacuum – it‘s part of a broader ecosystem of channels and touchpoints. To create a seamless, cohesive customer experience, marketers will need to integrate email with other channels (like mobile, social, and web) and break down silos between teams and technologies.

At the end of the day, the key to thriving in a privacy-first world is to focus on building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with subscribers. As Liz Wilcox, Founder of The Email Strategist, puts it:

"The brands that will win in the long run are the ones that treat their subscribers like real people, not just data points. That means understanding their needs, preferences, and motivations, and consistently delivering value that meets them where they are. If you can do that, you‘ll be able to build lasting relationships that transcend any individual tactic or technology."

Wrapping Up

Apple‘s iOS 15 update may have thrown a wrench in some email marketers‘ plans, but it‘s far from a death knell for the channel. By focusing on engagement, segmentation, and value – and experimenting with new approaches and technologies – marketers can adapt and thrive in this new era of privacy.

The key is to stay agile, test and learn continuously, and always keep the subscriber at the center of your strategy. With the right mindset and approach, email marketing can still be a powerful way to build relationships, drive revenue, and grow your business – no matter what curveballs come your way.