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After all your hard work creating and optimizing what you thought was the perfect promotional email, there’s nothing worse than checking in, only to see your open rates are deep in the tank. For many brands, this nightmare becomes a reality quickly, often for some of the most preventable reasons. If you’d like to skip the disappointment and keep your messages out of readers’ virtual trash cans, here are five easy mistakes you’ll need to avoid as you make your way toward a powerful, and successful, email marketing campaign.

Succumbing to Link Overload

Think of the last time you cleaned out your spam folder. Chances are the messages in this portion of your inbox ranged from the stereotypical – foreign royalty asking for a small donation in return for riches – to the downright odd. However, one of the common themes across most of these spam emails is an overabundance of links within the message body. With many spam filters honing in on link overload, if you want to stick around in the inbox, you’ll need to pick and choose your hyperlink battles. Try to keep your linking to a minimum if possible, focusing only on redirecting to landing and promotional pages. It might seem like a wasted opportunity to not link back to your page throughout the message, but based on the direction major email service providers are taking these platforms, it’s your best bet for dodging an unwarranted trip to the spam folder.

Unnecessarily Promotional Subject Lines

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that subject lines can make or break your chance at connecting with a customer in an instant. But what if your viewers never even get a chance to hear your promotion out because the subject line of your message makes it suitable only for the digital trash can? Unfortunately, overly promotional or overtly sales-focused headlines often earn a ticket straight to the spam folder. To put the brakes on this problem, tone down the numbers, capitalization, and forceful words – think “hurry now,” “open immediately,” etc. – so that your message doesn’t look like it belongs with the rest of the spam folder riff-raff. Instead, keep things simple in your subject line and focus on indentifying the valuable content held within your message. This way, you’ll avoid the wrong part of your audiences’ preferred email clients, in addition to giving them a great reason to keep reading on once they receive your email.

Emails with Too Much Text

While spam filters probably won’t screen your messages based solely on the length of content within, that won’t stop readers from marking incoming emails from your brand as spam after opening something that’s better suited for a library shelf. Essentially, readers only spend about 15 to 20 seconds on each message, so if you go overboard with the length of your message, it’s hard to expect a favorable response from your audience. Unfortunately, there’s no defined ideal message length, so the answer to this dilemma is a bit murky. A good rule of thumb to stand by if you’re unsure about the appropriateness of your email length is to ask yourself a simple question – if this message found its way to your inbox, would you take the time to read it? If the answer is closer to trashing it and blocking the sender than it is to an emphatic yes, it’s time to do a little trimming with your content.

Attachments Only Cause Problems

At first glance, this section probably sounds like it belongs on a dating advice site and not a post about keeping your emails from being caught up in a spam filter. However, if you really want to keep your marketed emails in the clear, skipping attachments is your best bet. Sure, it might seem like a great idea to attach that infographic or eBook you’ve worked so hard on to every email, but this is a major red flag for plenty of email service providers. Instead, after taking a little time in the message to explain the value of these offerings, let your selective links lead back to this content via landing pages. This way, you’ll skip the spam folder and boost site visits at the same time.

Know When Enough is Enough

Tenacity is often a key part in any marketing operation. However, when it comes to your email initiatives, constantly targeting and messaging people who have bounced repeatedly is a recipe for disaster. Not only are you building ill-will with someone who’s simply not interested right this moment, your brand could also face a spot on Gmail, Yahoo, or another email giant’s blacklist – something far worse than ending up in the spam folder. Thankfully, if you can toe this line, while also keeping up with everything else you’ve learned from this post, there’s nothing that can stop your next campaign from being a smash hit with interested audience members around the globe.

Inbox vs. Spam Folder


All of us at Elite Email have been working hard for months & months to understand every component of CASL, which takes effect on July 1st, 2014. We have seen many organizations across Canada and abroad fully embrace these major changes that are rocking the Canadian marketing landscape. They are doing everything necessary to get fully informed and caught up with making sure their mailing lists are up-to-date and 100% compliant with CASL.

A few months ago we released our CASL Survival Guide and made it available in a variety of formats:

Since it’s release, it has been downloaded and accessed a tremendous amount of times and has helped countless amount of organizations gain a deeper understanding about what’s in store come July 1st. In addition, organizations around the globe are using our step-by-step action plan as outlined in the guide to ensure they are on the right path.

Here in Canada, this is not only being discussed in boardrooms and around the water cooler [do people still do that?] but on major news outlets as well.

In the past few months we have seen some of Canada’s largest publications and networks reference our CASL Survival Guide.

Yesterday, Global TV News stopped by our offices and and spoke to our CEO, Robert Burko, about CASL and the changes that lie ahead.

Click here to see the full story and the video on the Global News website.



The world of email marketing is far from static or stagnant. In fact, it seems like a single day doesn’t pass without some new development shattering what we think we know about connecting with customers via their inboxes. Recently, AOL decided to keep up with this trend by dramatically altering how they handle email verification and spam for incoming messages to its user base. If you plan on promoting your brand and shipping out offers and discounts to your customers via email, you’ll want to stick around and find out exactly what AOL changed, and what you need to do to make sure you don’t end up with a logjam of bounced messages coming back from this ISP.

The Big Changes

In a blog post detailing the move, AOL unveiled the particulars of this email verification change. Basically, emails that claim to originate from the ISP’s servers must undergo a series of checks that ensure these messages actually fit the bill regarding credentials and authenticity. If it turns out that these messages simply use an @aol.com in its address but originate from a different server entirely, then all bets are off once AOL’s system starts sending up the red flags. Messages that fail this check will bounce right back to the sender, making sure that the email never comes close to the intended recipient’s inbox.

AOL’s Logic Behind the Move

So why is AOL completely changing its policies regarding server verification? While some might think it’s a direct shot at the email marketing industry, the truth is that promoted messages are simply a unintended causality in this ISP’s continued efforts to fight back against spammers and their illicit messages. Near the end of April, AOL users became the target of a widespread spam attack, leading to numerous compromised accounts and even more junk messages making their way to new mailboxes. To help stop the problem at its source, the ISP decided to shut down one of the biggest tools in the spammer’s kit: Spoofed messages that edit the outgoing address. Unfortunately, if your brand is also using this technique for legitimate purposes, chances are you’ll need to rethink how you reach out to customers before your messages start showing up in these customers’ inbox again.

A Growing Precedent

Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened for those who dabble in email marketing. Recently, we covered the news and offered some insight on a similar change unveiled by Yahoo. Not surprisingly, the circumstances leading to this action were eerily similar between these two ISPs, so seeing both platforms come to a similar conclusion makes sense. Again, this growing precedent isn’t a knock on email marketing so much as it is the mistakes of a few – think spammers and others trying to pull a quick one on unsuspecting viewers – ruining a good thing for you and the customers who enjoy checking out your latest offer or discounts.

The Future of ISP Interactions

Until service providers can find a way to eliminate spamming and junk emails that hit the inbox stuffed full of viruses and shady links, chances are that these new verification checks are going to become the norm in the email industry. While there’s no guarantees that Gmail, Hotmail, and the other big names out there will definitely follow in AOL’s footsteps, if spammers start to put more pressure on the ISPs that haven’t made the switch, you had better believe it won’t take these platforms long to shut down spoofing and legitimate usage of these domain names alike.

Redefining Your Mailing List Strategy

Before you do anything else, the first change to your strategy is one that needs to happen ASAP if you rely on an @aol.com outgoing address – stop sending messages that are just going to bounce right back to your platform. From here, switching up your domain to one of the other free options out there, like Gmail or Hotmail, can help alleviate your issues in the short-term. However, as you can see, there’s a definite argument that one can make for all of the major email ISPs to eventually follow AOL and Yahoo’s lead on this issue.

To protect your email marketing operations in the long-term and make sure your messages always hit the consumer inbox on time, consider going with a domain name you either own or operate. This way, you’ll never have to worry about internal changes coming from AOL or any of the other big names directly affecting your ability to stay in touch with an audience that’s eagerly awaiting your next email.



The past few days have been pretty tumultuous for the email marketing world, and that’s putting it lightly. In a surprising move, Yahoo decided to switch up how it handles email verification, leading to a major headache for brands that use this domain to send out promotional messages to customers. If this is news to you, don’t worry – it is to most of the rest of the industry as well. To help catch you up to speed, here’s a quick rundown of what happened and what you need to do to make sure you stay in contact with every member of your mailing list.

What Happened Exactly?

As part of a new approach to email, Yahoo augmented its Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) reject policy. Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying that emails sent to the people on your list en masse from an @yahoo.com address – or the @yahoo.ca, @ymail.com, and @rocketmail.com variants – might get bounced or rejected under the new authentication policy. The reason why? Because they’re coming from an outside platform and not directly from Yahoo’s servers. Currently, the known providers bouncing these messages include Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, and Comcast.

Why’d Yahoo Do This?

Yahoo did this to break mailing lists and ruin email marketing, right? Not exactly. While it is a bit of a roadblock for brands currently using these addresses, this wasn’t the plan behind the change. Actually, Yahoo’s reason for making the switch centers on spoofing attacks made against its millions of users – the mass amount of bounces is an unfortunate side affect that’s part of a larger plan for enhanced security. From that perspective, it’s pretty hard to blame Yahoo, but it doesn’t make it any easier for companies to deal with the fact that these emails are now running right into an authentication brick wall.

Protecting Your Mailing Lists Moving Forward

Now that you’re all caught up, it’s time to build a rebound plan and get back in touch with your audience. First on the list – stop sending out emails with a Yahoo reply address. These messages never make their way to your mailing list members’, as they will only continue to bounce. Once you’ve got this under control it’s time to make a switch with which domain you use.

If you’re thinking short term, there’s plenty of free options out there that don’t currently set off the Yahoo red alarm, like Hotmail or Gmail. However, there’s no guarantee that Yahoo’s new DMARC configuration isn’t the start of a new trend among all the major email players. To permanently protect your ability to show up in your subscribers inboxes, you’re going to have think a little more long-term. What this means is going with a domain that you own or operate to prevent any future hiccups like the one inadvertently caused by Yahoo’s attempts to cut down on all the real junk mail.



6 Simple A/B Tests to Optimize Your Conversion Rate

Picture this scenario: Your email marketing campaign has started to see success in redirecting customers back to your site, but you feel like you could do better. So what now? If you’re looking for a useful tool to help decipher the best methods of gaining customers and increasing revenue, A/B testing is the way to go.

Of course, this process comes with a learning curve and a little trial and error to see what produces the best results. But when combined with a smart email marketing campaign, A/B testing can make a big difference in your online visibility. Think of it this way – the A/B test is like a science experiment. You ask yourself a question, create a hypothesis and test it out. If one version gets noticeably better results than the other, you know you want to continue with it.

Experiment with Your Call to Action

Start with a call to action, or CTA, that’s either on your home page or part of an email campaign. Typical CTAs include “buy now,” “get started,” or any other action that’s used to help get the user to interact with your promotional content or products. Web Designer suggests considering things like size, color, placement and clarity. Remember that you want your CTA to stand out and be easy to find, otherwise you can’t expect much of a response. Making it impossible to miss can come off as too pushy though, so you need to be careful to strike the right balance. Choosing the right color can be just as important. Marketing expert Paul Olyslager points out that colors evoke certain emotions and can therefore impact your conversion rate, so choose carefully.

Perhaps the biggest thing to consider when running an A/B test with your CTA is clarity. An effective CTA must be easy to interpret. Avoid vague terms, and include specifics like outcomes or timeframes.

Free Trials in the Place of Buy It Now

Shoppers naturally feel hesitant when considering a purchase from a site they are unfamiliar with. No one wants to spend money on a product they don’t like. To help combat this, try offering a free trial. Since there are no strings attached, shoppers will have a serious incentive to give your products a chance. If they don’t like the product, there’s no harm done and you’re likely to still build some good will you can capitalize on later. If they do like it, they can go on to purchase it after the trial. Naturally, this won’t work for certain products and services, but if you can support this process, it’s worth testing to see the impact it will have on your conversions.

Add a Trust Symbol

Savvy browsers are cautious when it comes to supplying websites with personal or financial information. We’re all aware of the perils of viruses and scams, so you can’t fault your shoppers for being careful. If you’re having trouble getting visitors to purchase what you’re selling, make sure the icon for your sites security is easily visible to reassure them that your site is legitimate and that you have taken the necessary precautions to safeguard their financial information. This can be a major selling point, especially if your products range on the pricey side. Showing off your security features reliably increases conversion rates and gains you return traffic from shoppers who feel comfortable on your pages and with your email marketing plan.

Include Opinions and Testimonials

Make room on your website for customer reviews and testimonials. Seeing what other people thought of the product, how it benefited them, or even the downsides can help potential customers weigh their options and feel more confident about the purchase. Perhaps the best part of testing out this process in conjunction with a strong email marketing operation is that having unsolicited testimonials that talk up the benefits of your products and services can do more for your brand image than other forms of advertising.

Tweak Your Headlines

Catchy headlines will draw attention to what you have to offer. More traffic means more opportunities for customers and increased revenue for your business. Headlines that draw attention may use numbers, keywords, or words that trigger an emotional response. Putting your headline into “how-to” or question form can also intrigue your viewers. Of course, avoiding the dreaded “run-on” headline is key to getting the most out of your first impression.

Don’t Ask Too Many Questions

Very few people actually look forward to undergoing long or tedious forms. If it is too much work to contact you, find out information or make a purchase, then the only thing that you can count on is more people skipping over your site and heading straight to your competitors. Keep your website forms simple and straight to the point. Having forms available on your website is essential to your business, but try not to overuse and abuse these tools. Test to figure out exactly what is needed for your customers to be able to communicate with you clearly and for you to be able to accurately meet fulfill their orders.

No website is perfect. Once you have a great email marketing plan, combine it with a great landing page and website. A/B tests will let you see what works and what doesn’t, so you can increase conversions and traffic rates. Using them regularly to refine your approach will help you keep your online marketing campaigns in peak condition.



Google is perpetually looking to break the mold when it comes to allowing users to connect with each other. However, the tech giant may have stirred up the pot in a big way with a recent announcement that focuses on its burgeoning social network and one of the most popular email services on the web. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, brushing up on this development and how it affects the world of email communications, before the change goes live, is a smart idea for anyone who uses these tools or has an interest in the email marketing industry.

So What Happened Exactly?

In a recent blog post, Google announced a new social media feature for Google Plus. The search engine leader plans to add the capability to email anyone on the Google Plus network, as long as they also have an existing Gmail address tied to their accounts. For those who have been around the social media scene for a while, Google tried this before with its previous social media system, Buzz. While Buzz didn’t blow up and take the Internet by storm as the company would have liked, the networking landscape has changed drastically since that time. Before this functionality goes live, Google plans to email Gmail and Google Plus users to let them know how this new avenue of access may potentially affect their ability to connect and socialize with others who use these services.

How Will It Work?

While it looks fairly simple at first glance, Google has several caveats that affect how you can utilize this service, according to a breakdown from the New York Times Tech blog, Bits. To start, simply typing in someone’s name in the email entry field on Gmail won’t get you on your way to connecting with new friends. Before you can contact these individuals, you’ll have to “follow” them on Google Plus. Once you click the follow button on the person’s profile, which doesn’t require his or her permission, feel free to shoot off an email from your Gmail account by typing the person’s name into the recipient field.

There are a few other things to keep in mind once you send off an email. First, the receiving party’s email address won’t be visible to you unless he or she decides to respond. Additionally, the emails that originate from Google Plus won’t end up in the “Primary” inbox tab in Gmail. Instead, recipients will find these messages under the “Social” tab with other transmissions from social networks and similar properties. Additionally, opting out of the process is also an option. By selecting the “General” tab under the Gmail settings section of the inbox, you can turn this feature off and avoid unsolicited emails entirely.

Why Google Thinks This Is a Great Idea

There are a few other things to keep in mind once you send off an email. First, the receiving party’s email address won’t be visible to you unless he or she decides to respond. Additionally, the emails that originate from Google Plus won’t end up in the “Primary” inbox tab in Gmail. Instead, recipients will find these messages under the “Social” tab with other transmissions from social networks and similar properties. Additionally, opting out of the process is also an option. By selecting the “General” tab under the Gmail settings section of the inbox, you can turn this feature off and avoid unsolicited emails entirely.

Why Others Aren’t So Excited

While the search engine and social media leader might be excited, it’s not unexpected to have a few naysayers pop up around every major announcement. As noted in the aforementioned NY Times blog, the fear of this new feature compromising user privacy is apparently an issue to some. While Internet privacy is a very serious issue and not something to simply brush aside, reading the official blog release on the subject illuminates two key points on this subject. First, simply not responding to entries that fall into the social tab is completely acceptable. Second, the aforementioned opt-out feature exists in this new structure to allow those not looking to make new connections a chance to turn off this functionality and close the doors to outside communications if they so choose.

What It Means in the Long Run

So what does this mean for email communications moving forward? To start, if adoption of this new program enjoys sustained success, expect other major players in the email and social media industries to follow the lead and build connections of their own. Even if this doesn’t happen, simply having one of the leaders in this sector bridge the gap opens up some great opportunities for individuals and organizations looking to reach out to others with similar interests or shared needs.

To wrap things up, this latest innovation from Google has the ability to revolutionize how users of Gmail and social media connect. By offering an optional service to forge new contacts, marketers and individuals alike can reach out to one another and exchange information voluntarily. Naturally, privacy is a big issue when it comes to meeting new people on the Internet, and many will undoubtedly want to opt out before the emails start flowing in. However, Google has clearly offered enough flexibility and options to make this a lasting and potentially beneficial change to how you interact with others in virtual space.



There’s no doubt you have a personality all your own. Chances are there’s nobody else out there quite like you, and if you started to act differently, the people who know you best would be sure to notice. Some would be concerned, others could be put off, the rest just confused. The same goes for your company. Does your newest campaign strategy stay true to your company’s voice?

You may be confused at first, but every company has a character, and according to marketing expert Noah Fleming character should be well-established and as consistent as possible. Overall, your company’s voice should be true to your company’s values, appealing to your audience and, while not static, as stable as you can make it.

Find Your Perfect Pitch

Depending on the industry and audience, your company voice may be as casual as an eighth-grade pajama party, as formal as a presidential dinner party or somewhere in between. Figuring out just where you should stand requires understanding your business and who you’re catering that business to. Stiff corporate environments make maintaining a playful, fun tone difficult, while small mom-and-pop businesses may have a hard time keeping up the formality from season to season. A good way to find your company voice, if you’re waffling, is to think about the voice of your target audience, and refine it a little bit. Make sure your image matches your tone, and create content that makes your clientele feel at home.

Always Assume the Cameras Are Rolling

Above all else, your company’s character should be consistent. Every person who has a hand in content creation, social media management or any level of public relations should be intimately aware of what it stands for, what it’s about and how that message gets across. Just as it only takes a couple of instances of finding the main character of your favorite book series acting dramatically different from how you remember before you put the book down for good, a couple of out-of-character Facebook posts and email campaigns will leave your customers feeling uncomfortable, maybe even jilted.

When you represent your company, always assume your clients are watching. That joke might seem hilarious enough to slip into this week’s ad, but if it doesn’t mesh with your company’s character, then make the sacrifice and leave it on the cutting room floor.

General Rules

When it comes to maintaining a consistent voice, there are a few things to always keep in mind.

  • Be authentic. Make sure your content is honest, clear and not needlessly puffed up.
  • Be conversational. Treat every campaign as an open dialogue; make your customers feel like you’re talking to them, not at them.
  • Be consistent. This has already been said, but it bears repeating. If you’re in the process of reinventing your company image, be sure to update the voice with it, but be prepared for a little pushback.

Be prepared for that update. This isn’t throwing consistency to the wind, no matter how it sounds. Following customer response, however, can help you figure out how casual is too casual and where formal becomes stiff. Let your company voice evolve over time with your customers, don’t change it overnight.

Nobody knows your company’s voice better than you, but the key here is making sure that voice is one that resonates with your audience. Keep your company in-character, absolutely, but let time takes its course, and don’t be afraid of a little character development. As long as you stay true to the core of your company’s values and your customers’ needs, then maintaining a clear voice should be as easy as, or easier than, building a new year’s campaign strategy around it.



You probably already know about list segmentation, and splitting your subscribers into specific niches based on interests, gender or other personal information, which has been shown to bring up customer engagement, clicks, and conversions overall. This method is called personalization, and it’s just one part of the best way to help drive your message home and get your campaign noticed.

Say Hello to Every One, Not Everyone

When a subscriber opts into your mailing list, they usually provide a little bit of personal information. Name, gender, age; there’s a plethora of categorical data you can ask for when someone decides they want to hear from you. You have the information, make sure you use it. One of the best ways to garner more opens on your emails is a personalized subject line, so get the subscriber’s first name in there, and make sure they know the message is for them. Instead of starting off a newsletter with, “Hello, everyone”, begin with a greeting to the specific subscriber the message is meant for.

Break It Up

Taking it a level beyond simple use of names and salutations, utilize the information from the subscribers’ opt-in to help categorize them into specific segments in your list, and subsections in the main category of subscribers. Group your customers by gender, age, and even by the number of times they’ve made a purchase or contracted a service from you, and use that information to further personalize the campaign. You can even use a customer’s birth date to send them a special offer for the month in which it takes place – a gift just for providing a little detailed information.

It takes a little extra work and a little extra research, but list segmentation helps keep your content relevant to the reader. The more relevant it is, the more likely a customer is to continue to engage with you and your business, and the less likely they are to unsubscribe from your mailings.

True Personalization

Of course, it doesn’t end there. To completely tailor your email marketing strategy toward a specific customer requires detailed tracking and reports. If you don’t hear from a customer for a while, make sure to drop them a line and ask if they want to come back, sweetening the pot with a deal makes that even better. Likewise, you can send offers and content tailored to a customer’s specific purchase habits, with the right tracking data. This can range from something as simple as a coupon to use on an item they purchase often to a discount on an item they’ve put in their cart, and then removed or outright abandoned three or more times.

Learning your customers’ habits is a long process, and takes great attention to detail, but MECLABS’ MarketingSherpa blog has reported on personalized email campaigns bringing in open rates of close to 40 percent, with a clickthrough rate of 30 percent or more. With MarketingProfs reporting an average open rate of 18.9 percent in the United States as of 2013, while the average clickthrough sits at a mere 3.3 percent, the difference makes the extra work more than worthwhile.


What’s new in the world of email marketing – images by default. Yes, Google, in all their infinite wisdom, has decided to make images in Gmail a default setting. Gmail recipients will no longer have to click the ‘display images below’ to see their email in all it’s marketing glory, as it was intended.

This is a good thing, right? Well for email engagement sure, it’s a wonderful thing. New subscribers who have not had a chance to add you as a safe source will be able to see the full email including the images, thus improving engagement. For the tracking pixel, this may not be so wonderful. A tracking pixel is an invisible one pixel image in email that allows ‘opens’ to be tracked by Elite Email and other email service providers. This Gmail image default has the potential to ‘mess up the works’ for collecting ‘opens’.

How? Well in the first place, images in emails could be harmful and compromise your computer or mobile device. This is why you are asked if you would like to display these images. To make ‘display images as default’ work, images will all be transmitted through Googles’ own proxy servers and assessed for risks first. This is where the problem lies, if Gmail is serving the images, then the ESP will not be receiving the ‘opens’.

“There has been speculation within the industry, of what the potential could be and whether there could be an impact on open rates and the ability to track user behavior.” Econsultancy.com

This was the initial thought and fear of the marketing world, upon release of this Google news. It will have an effect on email marketers but not as dramatic as first feared. According to a Google spokesperson, marketers who track open rates through images will still be able to do so. It’s been suggested that the data might even be more accurate now since open rates will count users who read the emails but don’t load the images.

However, there is some other user data that won’t get tracked like, geographical data in the form of user IP addresses and device tracking. It will be interesting to see what these changes will mean to marketers that may lose out on some degree of analytics.

Given the recent changes by Google, the savvy engineers here at Elite Email have found a work-around so that “total opens” still track correctly even with the new image caching system that went live. Of course, we don’t know if Google will do another round of updates that will prevent this clever fix from working. But, for the moment, all Elite Email customers should not have their open reports impacted. The Geo-Reports will be skewed because there is no way for us to detect the location of Gmail users. So, if you notice an increased number of contacts engaging with email from California, that is because Google is making it seem like everyone is living in their data centers.

The change of displaying images as a default turned out to be less earth shattering to marketers then first believed. Opens are still being reported, however with Gmail users some geographical data capture is at the moment offline. This is just one small change of many more coming down the road, but with savvy ESPs, the road should be a lot less bumpy.


For the most complete information about CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation)
please review the complimentary

Elite Email CASL Survival Guide

It took nearly 10 years of hard work and much debate, but Canada’s new anti-spam legislation (known as CASL, or Bill C-28 for those that like to get technical) now has a start date.

All marketers in Canada and elsewhere need to circle July 1, 2014 on their calendars because this is the milestone moment when arguably the world’s toughest spam law will take effect.

It’s been a long journey for this game-changing piece of legislation that has it’s original roots way back in 2004 when the Task Force on Spam was established. Canada was on a mission to wage war on unsolicited email (…cue the fight music…!). After much effort, the bill gained Royal Assent in December 2010 but that set off a slew of debates, complaints, concerns and general wariness about whether this new law would actually afford Canadian inboxes with more protection or just add to the administrative burden of businesses.

On November 28, 2013, the Treasury Board of Canada President (and all around anti-spam superhero), Tony Clement approved the final Industry Canada regulations. These final regulations will be published in The Canada Gazette on December 18, 2013, but at this point we essentially know what is covered.

Yesterday, on December 4, 2013, Industry Minister James Moore announced that Canada’s anti-spam law (CASL) will come into force on July 1, 2014 with these wise words:

Our government does not believe Canadians should receive emails they do not want or did not ask to receive. These legislative measures will protect consumers from spam and other threats that lead to harassment, identity theft and fraud. We are prohibiting unsolicited text messages, including cellphone spam, and giving Canadian businesses clarity so they can continue to compete in the online marketplace.”

This announcement gives marketers 6 months to whip their mailing lists & other databases into shape to ensure CASL compliance.

For those that want to really get into the nitty-gritty details, CASL is actually being rolled out in a phased deployment. Although the bulk of the CASL regulations that impact marketers will take effect on July 1, 2014, there are some components only taking effect down the road.

Here is the technical breakdown from the official order:

  • July 1, 2014 as the day on which sections 1 to 7, 9 to 46, 52 to 54, 56 to 67 and 69 to 82 of the Act, subsections 12(2) and 12.2(2) of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, as enacted by section 83 of the Act, subsection 86(2), section 88 and subsection 89(1) of the Act come into force;
  • January 15, 2015 as the day on which section 8 of the Act comes into force; and
  • July 1, 2017 as the day on which sections 47 to 51 and 55 of the Act come into force.

Based on this, it would appear that starting in July 2014 the government is enforcing the administrative monetary penalty for those that violate the new set of rules. It should be noted there are actually three government agencies tasked with enforcing CASL: Competition Bureau of Canada, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, & Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Then, in July 2017, things go a bit broader because individuals will be able to apply to the courts to seek compensation for CASL violations. Of course, things may change between now and then, but certainly having individuals file CASL claims takes things to a whole new level because now anyone and everyone can be enforcer of the stringent new rules.

CASL Timeline:

  • May 25, 2010 :: Bill C-28 First Reading
  • Dec. 15, 2010 :: Royal Assent (Passed)
  • July 2011 :: Regulations Drafted
  • July 2011 :: Regulations “gazetted” for Review
  • Sept. 7, 2011 :: Draft Regulations Comment Deadline
  • Mar. 2012 :: CRTC Regulations Gazetted
  • Jan. 5, 2013 :: Industry Canada Draft Regulations Published for Comment
  • Mid 2013 :: Industry Canada Final Regulations
  • July 1, 2014 :: CASL Takes Effect (or at least the majority of the rules)
  • January 15, 2014 :: CASL Rules Related to Installing Computer Programs Takes Effect
  • July 1, 2017 :: CASL Rules Related to People Bringing CASL Violations to the Courts Takes Effect

CASL is not something that can be ignored. So, if you’re one of those marketers who has been turning a blind eye to this, secretly hoping that the new law would never rock your world, then it’s time to wake up and face the music. The penalties for violations are intense (… Canada is not messing around with this!…) and can go as high as a $1 million fine for an individual or $10 million for companies.

Or, maybe you’re the marketer in the USA (or any other country) who is saying “Oh Canada…. who cares about their rules, they don’t effect me…”. Well, you are wrong. Very very wrong. The new regulation doesn’t only effect Canadian organizations, it effects anyone who sends a commercial electronic message (CEM) that is accessed from a device in Canada. What this means is that if you’re a retail store in Florida, but you’ve got some folks on your mailing list who live in Canada (and probably visited your establishment when escaping the cold Canadian winter), then CASL is fully in effect when you message them. The CRTC (in Canada) will be working closely with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the USA to enforce the new laws. So, playing the “but I’m in America” card, will not work!

It should also be noted that CASL isn’t just an “email” law (similar to the CAN-SPAM Act), it covers other digital channels such as text messages (SMS). That means becoming CASL-compliant isn’t an exercise focused exclusively on email mailing lists, but other databases as well.

Show Me The Money Consent

Is it still OK to be using quotes from Jerry Maguire? I figure if CASL started in 2004, then referencing a movie from 1996 is fair game…. and, I’m going to use that to drive home the point that what people are going to be talking about in regards to the new CASL rules is consent, consent, consent.

So much of the new regulations are rooted in acquiring proper express consent to ensure you are only sending messages to people that specifically asked for them. Gone are the days of tricking people into joining your mailing list; gone are the days of having a small pre-checked box that secretly said “receive future emails”; and really gone are the days of doing anything that is not out in the open and super obvious. Keep in mind, the goal of CASL isn’t to stop the use of email/SMS for commercial messages, the goal is to make sure that people only get the messages they asked for.

It should be mentioned that there is no special “grandfather” clause for existing databases. Just because you’ve been emailing someone, does NOT mean you can continue emailing them if you haven’t gotten affirmative consent. This means you need to comb back through your database and anyone you don’t have a really solid opt-in paper trail for, you will need to re-confirm.

There are certainly some exemptions to the new intense explicit consent rules, but the majority of these won’t apply in a typical email marketing or text message marketing scenario. Exemptions include:

  • Messages between organizations that already have a relationship
  • Messages sent internally within an organization
  • Messages sent on behalf of registered charities
  • Messages sent on behalf of a political party or political candidate
  • Messages sent based on a referral made by a third party (although the third party must be disclosed)
  • Messages sent to existing family and personal relationships (phew, your mom can’t sue you for $1 million for inviting her to Sunday brunch!)

OK, I Get It… This is Serious…. What Do I Do Now?

First, take a deep breath. So many marketers are going into panic mode and that is both unnecessary and not helpful.
You still have 6 months to get organized, so we’re not in an emergency situation.

In my previous post All About CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) in Plain English I have an entire section about what you should be doing to prepare. That to-do list is still very accurate and will certainly provide an excellent starting point on the road to becoming CASL compliant.

I should also mention that if you are a customer of Elite Email with a signup form (or link to Subscription Center) on your website, then you are already following the proper double opt-in process that CASL requires. After someone signs up through that form/link, they are sent a welcome/confirmation email to double-check they want to join your list. We capture that confirmation consent, date stamp, and log the IP, so you have that paper trail automatically. On the mobile marketing side, we have already made updates in response to the recent TCPA Guidelines, which really overlaps a lot with CASL in relation to SMS/text-message marketing. This means you can easily enable a double opt-in process on your mobile channels as well.

Will This End Up Being Good For Legitimate Marketers?

For now this new set of regulations is going to add a lot of work for marketers…. and no one likes “extra work”. So, in the short term, there will be grunts and groans.

However, there is a school of thought that once all the dust settles and everyone gets off the ledge (don’t jump!), legitimate marketers will actually have a better & easier time of getting their message through. Since non-compliant messages will be weeded out, we’re going to end up in an era where people really only get the emails they asked for. This means that the average consumer won’t have to sift through unwanted email to find your wanted message. It may only be your fully CASL compliant message sitting in their inbox, where they can eagerly see it, open it, and interact with it. Of course, only time will tell whether there is a net ROI gain for marketers who may see their list size decrease but engagement increase, but certainly there does remain a silver lining as everyone works towards implementing CASL compliance.

CASL Goes Live July 1, 2014

This blog post is intended to provide our general comments on the new law. It is not intended to be a comprehensive review nor is it intended to provide legal advice. Readers should not act on information in the publication without first seeking specific advice from their lawyer. In short, I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be a lawyer.

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