In North America, autumn means several things—kids going back to school, cooler temperatures, and pumpkin spice everything! It’s also the time Apple introduces its new products and hosts its software showcase. This year, Apple introduced to us a new iPhone, updated products, and iOS 17, the newest version of their mobile operating system.
iOS 15 brought us Apple Mail Privacy Protection, which radically changed the email marketing landscape by automatically downloading all images, including open tracking pixels, in a user’s inbox. The latest iOS iteration, however, poses a new challenge to the email industry, Link Tracking Protection (LTP).
What is Link Tracking Protection?
Some websites will add unique parameters to links they send in emails. These additional link parameters allow them to track users across other websites. Link tracking protection means that when users share links from an email, additional tracking information will be automatically removed. The information will be removed from links that will be shared in Messages, Mail, and Safari Private Browsing.
You may be wondering how LTP will work in practice. How will Apple alter URLs when a brand sends email to their customers? Which parameters are they specifically targeting? Is there a way to prevent this? All good questions that we will be touching on in this blog.
Which URL parameters is Apple targeting?
From our internal testing and other industry research, Apple is looking to remove any URL parameters that may contain personally identifiable information (PII) as you travel from site to site. As of this writing, impacted fields include, but are not limited to, Facebook Click ID (FBCLID), Google Click ID (GCLID), and Twitter Click ID (TWCLID).
Information like Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics parameters are preserved. Deep linking parameters for websites and email addresses also remain untouched for the time being.
How will Apple alter the URL?
In testing, the targeted URL parameters are simply removed. The non-targeted URL parameters are left alone. Take a look at one of our test examples below.
Sent URL: http://www.sendgrid.com/?utm_source=123&fbclid=abc
Received URL: http://www.sendgrid.com/?utm_source=123
Interestingly, Apple LTP is smart enough to reach inside of a URL and remove only the targeted parameter(s), leaving the rest of the URL alone. Here’s an example of another link we tested.
Sent URL: http://www.sendgrid.com/?utm_source=123&fbclid=abc&utm_campaign=def&campaign_id=456
Received URL: http://www.sendgrid.com/?utm_source=123&utm_campaign=def&campaign_id=456
Can we prevent LTP?
It’s important to remember that LTP impacts only a portion of your email list, specifically users who are using the Apple Mail app, iMessage, and Safari Private Browsing. This feature, however, isn’t contained to just Apple domains. Just like Apple MPP, this will impact all domains. Additionally, iOS adoption goes up over time as users upgrade their existing devices or purchase new ones.
In testing, the current way to preserve URL parameters is to enable Click Tracking within SendGrid (or your ESP of choice). By using ClickTracking, the base URL is replaced with a link to SendGrid’s servers within the HTML of the email. Since Apple can only see the SendGrid redirect and not the underlying URL, you can preserve all of the parameters without issue. Link shorteners like Bit.ly would work as well, but industry best practices are to use a branded domain so inbox providers and recipients don’t flag it as a malicious link.
Link Tracking Protection and Twilio SendGrid
At the time of this writing, iOS17 is still in beta, and Apple may end up making changes before the final release on September 18th. It’s also conceivable that they could widen the scope of their URL changes in the future and remove more parameters than the ones listed here. For the time being though, using a redirect will obscure the final URL from Apple and maintain any and all parameters.
The email industry is always evolving, and Twilio SendGrid will continue to provide best practices on how to adapt and maximize your email program. If you’re in need of more help, our professional services team is here to help you upgrade your email program and strategy.