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How iOS15 (+ other algorithm changes) Creates Better Inbound Marketers


It’s every marketer’s nightmare: an algorithm or software change that upheaves what we thought we knew about a system, how it works, and how we strategize our marketing efforts to use it. If iOS15 and the changes Apple brought upon us in late 2021 triggered these marketing night terrors for you, you’ve come to the right place.

Every marketer I know loves a good puzzle to solve and a challenge to overcome. This latest development in privacy rules is no different. Now that we’re a little bit distanced from the release, it’s time to analyze the changes, impact, and opportunity this presents.

After all, Steve Jobs once said. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” 

Key Features of iOS15

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of the new features, I first want to take a minute to touch on the why behind the software update that Apple released for iPhone. 

Quick note: I’m using “iOS15” as a catch-all for the iOS15 features released for iPhone and the iPadOS15 released for iPad as they are functionally the same, but iPhone users are more common.

As I’m sure you’ve heard recently in various SEO circles, major tech companies are focusing more and more on solving for the consumer based on intent and cracking down on protecting their data. Apple is not alone in making changes with this in mind; in June, Google released an algorithm update focused on-page experience and reducing friction through search with their users.

The TL;DR here being major tech companies are focused on the consumer now more than ever. The decisions that are being made by the giants like Apple and Google are tightly focused on privacy and user experience. With iOS15, privacy was at the forefront along with usability changes to applications like Weather, notifications settings, and enhanced Facetime tools.

The user privacy updates (the stuff marketers need to worry about) included:

  • Mail Privacy Protection
  • Hide Your Email Address
  • Hide Your IP Address with iCloud Private Relay
  • Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention
  • Safari’s Privacy Report
  • Track Permission toggles
  • Approximate vs Precise Location toggles
  • Local Network Deny Access toggle

So what does this mean for marketers? Well, features 1-4 listed above directly impact a marketer’s ability to see certain data points in two main spaces: email and search.

Let’s dive into specifically what that looks like from an inbound marketing perspective.

4 iOS15 Privacy Features & The Impact on Marketers

As a quick recap, here are the 4 main features you likely need to bone up on as a marketer:

  1. Mail Privacy Protection
  2. Hide Your Email Address
  3. Hide Your IP Address with iCloud Private Relay
  4. Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention

This article by PC Mag does a fantastic job explaining all of the features if there are any that we’re not diving into here or if you’d like more technical information on accessing the features for yourself!

  1. Mail Privacy Protection

Per Apple: “Mail Privacy Protection works by hiding your IP address and loading remote content privately in the background, even when you don’t open the message. This makes it harder for senders to follow your Mail activity.”

As a note, this only applies to users who use the native Apple Mail app on their iPhone or iPad. Meaning, they don’t have Gmail or AOL mail or Outlook downloaded as a separate app. For those users, even if they’re accessing those apps on iPhone or iPad this feature will not apply.

Another quick note here -- users do have to turn this on using a toggle in their Settings. Not every user who has iOS15 will be taking advantage of this feature.

What’s the impact is on marketers? Inflated open rates. Since the remote content is loaded in the background, it will trigger an “open” metric even though the user has not interacted with the email at all. This is important to be mindful of when setting goals. 

On average, it’s reported that Apple mail usage is around 33-37%, and can vary from industry to industry. How concerned you need to be about this is directly related to the number of contacts in your database who are viewing on mobile vs desktop and who are using Apple vs another client. As a reminder - Apple users are NOT equal to Apple Mail app users.

The best way to get reliable data on open rates is to use your CRM or email management software to segment your list based on email clients and determine how much of your database is potentially affected by this change. 

2. Hide Your Email Address

This feature is a little bit less straightforward but essentially allows users to fill out forms with a randomized email account. This makes it easier to use a “burner” or throwaway email and avoid marketing communication from companies you interact with. It has the added bonus of anonymizing the identity of the form submitter. 

The impact on marketers is, of course, a decreased ability to follow up with leads using traditional marketing automation, drip communication triggered by a form submission. This is especially important because the more times your company is sending emails to fake/unengaged contacts, the more likely your company is to be flagged as Spam in inboxes by email clients. 

Notably, this likely affects even less of the population than those in the first email scenario as users need to have iOS15 and a paid iCloud+ subscription.

3. Hide Your IP Address with iCloud Private Relay

Per Apple: “Private Relay hides your IP address and browsing activity in Safari and protects your unencrypted Internet traffic so that no one -- including Apple -- can see both who you are and what sites you’re visiting.”

Essentially what this feature does is replace your actual IP address with an anonymous one based on your general geographical location. This can be as specific or general as you’d like, with the options being “maintain general location” and “use country and time zone.” As Apple notes, the user benefit to the former is localized content showing up in Search. 

Before we dive too deep into impact, don’t get too scared yet! Here are some contingencies:

  • This feature is still in Beta
  • The websites the user visits must fully support Private Relay in order for it to work properly
  • It only applies to those using the Safari browser

The most obvious impact of this feature is to paid ad targeting and data, as it will be more difficult to reach specific sets of users. This feature also has implications in Google Analytics and tracking lead-specific behavior on a site. Overall, it affects targeting and a marketer’s ability to pinpoint the exact behaviors of specific users.

4. Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Protection

Per Apple: “Safari prevents trackers from viewing your IP address and following you across websites. iCloud Private Relay is hiding your IP address from websites you visit.”

This feature comes with a report that allows users to see specifically what trackers were prevented/blocked from following your activity. 

Again, this has a HUGE impact on paid ads and how we can target user behavior in search.

Although this feature, and the others listed above, are probably frustrating to read about after all you’ve learned and the skills you’ve honed through the years in the digital marketing space (I know my SEO/PPC Specialist colleagues are less than thrilled with this) I’d like to spend some time focusing on how this impact can make us better marketers who pull in better leads.

How iOS15 is Forcing Us to Be Better Inbound Marketers

touch of grey

I can’t help but think about the Grateful Dead lyric “Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey” and how a lot of these algorithm and software changes feel much more like a gut-punch of grey. But, there is a silver lining and we will survive!


Let’s think about inbound marketing for a second. Remember: “Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don't always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.” (HubSpot)

All of the recent Google and other major platform algorithm changes (as well as all of the rumored upcoming changes) are focused on user experience. Specifically, helping users find the relevant content that they’re looking for and decluttering their screens of spammy ads.

If you are a good inbound marketer these changes should be of no concern to you. If you’re writing helpful content aimed at your company’s persona with the genuine goal of providing support and a solution to searchers who could find productive partnerships with your company you are already aligned with and prepared for these changes. 

Sure, some of these changes with iOS15 will necessitate a strategic pivot. In the email space, it may be more important now than ever to steer clear of mass email sends and begin smaller, segmented lists. Sending curated resources to interested parties will yield the engagement results you’re looking for rather than blasting general info to your entire database. And that’s at the heart of what inbound is about!

Bounce Ideas Off the Experts

If you’re still not sure of the best way to mitigate some of the current and upcoming algorithm and software updates set up a meeting to chat with us! We’re always happy to talk through strategic ideas for making the most of your marketing.

Need an Inbound Refresher?

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve visited the main tenets of inbound marketing, or you’re completely new to the space! This guide to inbound marketing is the perfect place to start:

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