The impact of iOS 17 on email marketers
Short answer: Little to no impact
Long answer: Continue reading
What makes iOS 17 unique?
You might be thinking, why are marketers so up in arms about the iOS 17 release compared to other operating systems released prior? What’s the panic? At the WWDC held in June, Apple teased its latest privacy features that focus on continuing to prioritize their users’ data privacy over the big brands that try to market to them. With this, they plan to introduce Link Tracking Protection in their latest update across OS 17+, iPadOS 17+, and macOS Sonoma+, which will most likely be released in September 2023.
When marketers caught wind, most were immediately taken back to the days when Mail Privacy Protection was released with iOS 15 in September of 2021. The change resulted in open rates moving from a success metric to a vanity metric. This was a big hit to marketers and impacted things like subject line A/B testing and monitoring performance with fluctuations of open rates—due to Apple pre-fetching email content when it hit the inbox, resulting in an immediate “open.” If this is news to you, we explained this update in another blog post.
What is Link Tracking Protection (LTP)?
Apple describes Link Tracking Protection as a new feature that will remove extra information that marketers add to URLs to track users across other websites. When users share links from Messages and Mail, Apple plans to remove this extra information marketers add.
Did your mind immediately think of UTM’s? You aren’t alone.
An example provided by Apple:
If Apple plans to strip information from links, we email marketers could have difficulty with attributing to some of the email campaigns that reach our subscribers—via UTMs. Additionally, most of us work with a handful of other links that have extra data added to URLs, such as:
- Password reset emails. These often have a unique user ID attached to the link.
- Unsubscribe links. These often contain the email address or user ID of the individual attempting to unsubscribe.
Can you imagine if these were no longer operational? Hopefully, now you can understand the initial panic that a few of us experienced.
LTP’s impact on email
A handful of developers in the email industry successfully tested LTP with the developer beta that was released shortly after the WWDC. Peter Jakus, wrote up his findings which we later also confirmed during our own testing. And, during one of Parcel’s Summer Sessions held on August 8th, 2023, email geeks chatted through what had been uncovered. Collectively, we all sighed in relief—here’s a recap of what was discussed:
1. Only a select few ESPs have their unique parameters stripped.
Testing showed that only a few parameters were selected to be stripped out. They are exclusive to this list defined on privacytests.org — which impacts a few email service providers, including Drip, HubSpot, Mailchimp, MailerLite, Marketo, Omeda, and Vero. This isn’t to say that Apple will not expand this list, but for now, Customer.io isn’t impacted by this change.
2. Apple Mail leads the charge in email client market share, but LTP is exclusive to Safari.
Apple Mail currently holds the majority weight in terms of market share. Does that mean that 58% of your audience might be impacted by LTP? Not necessarily. Since LTP is exclusive to those who use Safari on Safe Browsing Mode (or opt into it), we are confident that the percentage of those impacted will remain small.
3. Google and Facebook are the targets.
Email marketers everywhere, rejoice. From the breakdown of those impacted on privacytests.org, the most likely target of these changes is Google and Facebook. Peter Jakus documented that select user-level parameters (user-level = can be tied to an individual) from platforms like Google (gclid) and Facebook (fbclid) are stripped. Apple is ultimately cracking down on cross-website tracking with this release.
4. Customer.io remains unaffected.
Through our own testing, we’ve confirmed that no UTM parameters are stripped. We also noted that there is no impact when a subscriber clicks a link to unsubscribe. So no, unfortunately, you cannot blame LTP for disallowing your subscribers to leave your email program (what a shame).
Key takeaways from the iOS 17 release
- LTP most likely won’t impact your email marketing
- LTP is exclusive to those who use Safari
- Check-in on your demand gen friends
Naomi West is a Product Marketing Manager for Parcel, the industry-leading email coding tool, which was acquired by Customer.io. She’s worked in email for 8 years and is a regular contributor in the email geeks community. You can also catch her writing about all things email on her personal blog.