Email Marketing

Countdown to Apple LTP: Preparation Tips, Testing Strategies, and Unintended Consequences 

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In our previous post about Apple’s Link Tracking Protection (LTP), we explained what it is, why it’s happening, and the likely impact it will have on email marketing.  

If you didn’t see it, here’s the TLDR version: With the release of iOS 17 in September 2023, Apple has new plans to further protect customer privacy. In their own words:  

Some websites add extra information to their URLs to track users across other websites. Now this information will be removed from the links users share in Messages and Mail, and the links will still work as expected. This information will also be removed from links in Safari Private Browsing.”   

In our latest State of Email webinar, we were joined by Jen Partin (Senior Marketing Manager, Email & SMS, Hickory Farms) and Michael Daniel (Senior Marketing Automation Manager, Validity).  

Let’s discuss their expert insights around how to prepare for LTP, what testing you should do to gauge potential impact, the results of our own LTP testing, and some unintended consequences LTP may have!  

How should marketers prepare for LTP? 

Firstly, remember LTP is still in beta. A lot can (and possibly will) change between now and the official release in late September. Use this opportunity to do your homework. Taking the time to understand the situation and plan your strategy will minimize the impact of the new release when it arrives. 

Remember, only users of Apple’s native Mail app and/or Safari’s Private Browsing mode will be impacted, and (for the moment at least) UTMs and custom user IDs appear safe.  

We also know LTP’s impact will be platform-dependent. According to PrivacyTests, the default tracking parameters of some widely used Email Service Providers (ESPs) are among those being blocked. Email marketers should take the time to understand how their ESPs handle click tracking.  

Knowing how much of your audience uses the Apple Mail app, and how your ESP handles links in emails, are good starting points.  

No two business strategies are identical, so consider the importance of each tracking parameter you use and explore alternative approaches to offset the impact of their loss.  

This includes assessing whether Apple’s Private Click Measurement (PCM) can provide anonymous click measurement stats to meet your business needs.  

What testing should we be doing? 

We strongly recommend downloading a copy of the iOS17 beta to test the impact on the URLs in your email messages. At Validity, there is a potential impact on the Everest email deliverability platform’s engagement tracking pixel.  

To get a clearer understanding of the impact, we constructed the following test, and readers can do the same for their programs: 

  • We downloaded Public Beta iOS 17 software so we could test on one of our iPhone mobile devices. 
  • We tested the following: 1) Open a Link; 2) Copy/Paste a Link; 3) Share a Link; 4) Forward an Email to understand the impact of parameter stripping (if any). 
  • We used unique pixel URLs for every test (c=) and each type of link (embedded and visible URL).  
  • We also included a variety of parameters that are expected to be stripped by Apple (see the “Tracking Query Parameter Tests” section at PrivacyTests). 

In terms of Everest impact, the test results were good news. Here is what we learned: 

  • The Everest pixel is minimally impacted as it is not a visible link. 
  • Only some very specific link types for individual use cases will be affected. 
  • The rich data to help build successful engagement strategies will still be available. 

However, our broader test produced interesting learnings. URLs for embedded images definitely saw less parameter stripping than visible links.  

We were unable to even read some of our emails in Safari private browsing and couldn’t copy/click some links in Safari Apple mail.  

The table from PrivacyTests may not be definitive, as some of the parameters didn’t get stripped out. Remember this is our own specific test, and the same results may not be seen by other programs.  

Help—the holiday season is just around the corner! 

As if 2023 wasn’t already challenging with soft consumer demand, we now go into peak selling season with a new worry on our minds!  

Based on the testing results, email marketers should be OK—though there are no absolute guarantees. However, they should definitely keep a close eye on reporting to ensure campaigns are performing as expected.  

Businesses that build audience/affinity models based on clicks, ad engagement, etc. will likely see a sharp drop as iOS 17 is broadly adopted and more users leverage LTP.  

Marketers should evaluate other contextual data, such as time of send and subject lines for insights into performance. As UTMs appear to be safe (at least for now), consider increased use of these parameters to fill the gaps. 

Keep in mind not everyone browses anonymously, so understanding your audiences’ browsing behaviors and tech preferences can only serve to better inform your strategies.   

Will LTP have any unintended consequences? 

As we learned from MPP, the short answer is “almost certainly!” When automated technology is deployed to strip out anything it identifies as privacy-related information, there’s always room for error! What if it strips out campaign tracking IDs? (Senders will lose sight of revenue generation metrics.) 

What if it compromises partner tracking? (Marketers will lose out on retargeting and personalization data, which actually harms the consumer experience.)

We’re also wondering about another potential consequence. Email best practice recommends the use of a one-click unsubscribe process, and this underpins the list-unsubscribe process that many major MBPs support. This requires personal data in the opt-out link (even if it is encrypted) so is there a risk this gets stripped out? 

While LTP’s primary target is parameters tied to individuals, the definitive list isn’t yet known, so it’s hard to forecast.  

Apple’s WebKit post on Tracking Prevention Policy highlights several practices that may be “inadvertently affected because they rely on techniques used for tracking (i.e., audience measurement, measurement of advertising effectiveness, etc.).  

Another unintended consequence could be the loss of contextual ads. While many will undoubtedly hail this as a positive step towards consumer privacy, it will likely lead to more generic offers as advertisers lose visibility into who engages with their ads and offers. 

Where can I learn more? 

Catch up on more LTP-related news in our recent articles iOS 17 and Privacy: A Sneak Peek for Email Marketers and A Deep Dive into Apple’s Link Tracking Protection: Should Email Marketers Be Worried? 

We’ve also kept a close eye on good insights from our industry peers, and recommend the following resources for additional reading:  

And of course, our latest State of Email webinar when we focused on LTP smashed attendance records, so if you haven’t caught it yet, have a listen today!