How the Canadian Anti-Spam Law Affects You – And What You Can Do to Keep Your E-mail List Clean

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The marketing world’s abuzz with talk of how apps are killing the e-mail channel. However, Craig Swerdloff, Senior Vice-President of E-mail at Experian Data Quality Solutions and CEO of LeadSpend, says this is overkill. E-mail is healthy and robust, is still used as the primary communications channel, and isn’t going away anytime soon.

SiteTuners CEO Tim Ash agrees that e-mail is the one thing we share and drives clickthroughs from mobile for e-commerce promotions and newsletters.

As the e-mail communication channel remains critical and one thing marketers can’t do without, in an episode of Landing Page Optimization, Craig and Tim discuss aspects of e-mail that marketers should be paying attention to - the implications of the Canadian Anti-Spam Law(CASL) and keeping e-mail lists clean.

CASL and Explicit Opt-In for All Subscribers

Laws around spam are getting tougher internationally. Craig notes that while laws in Europe are not too difficult to deal with for marketers in the U.S. because we don’t have to abide by them, CASL, which went into effect in July, is a different story.

CASL Craig Swerdloff

The law creates a high burden of proof in terms of explicit opt-in. Since you don’t know who your Canadian customers are and who aren’t, it almost becomes, in effect, a new minimal permission level for all of your subscribers.

Sure, you can check a customer’s IP address to determine which country they live in. The problem is when the customer uses Gmail, AOL, or some other 3rd party service where you can’t tell where they’re originating from. This is a gray area in the law as it’s unclear whether or not the marketer has to provide the burden of proof if there’s no way to know that the user was in Canada.

Craig explains that marketers should get clarity on this once the law is enforced and a case law is available. But until then, it’s hard to know where the line’s going to be drawn, so most e-mail marketers are going to have to …

  • acquire explicit opt-ins from subscribers
  • ask people to check a box in order to sign in
  • make their intentions explicit around what they’re going to do with the e-mail address, and
  • even disclose the specific types of partners they’re going to share those e-mail addresses with.

Consequences of Violating the Law

CASL affects everyone.

It doesn’t matter whether a company is operating in Canada or in another country. It only matters where they’re sending e-mails to. So, if you’re a U.S.-based company who sends an e-mail to a Canadian subscriber, who didn't explicitly opt in, you are liable under the Canadian Anti-Spam Law.

Craig points out that the Canadian and U.S. governments have a very close relationship, so there’s no doubt that Canadian enforcement agencies will go after U.S. companies if they don’t abide by the law. They may face fines and enforcement at the federal level within Canada as well as the potential for civil liability.

Tim wonders if this means throwing away the entire existing e-mail list, starting clean, and starting with the permissions. Craig clarifies that there’s exception for data collected before the law went into effect -they give you a two-year window essentially to get your legacy listing compliant.

Keeping Your List Clean with Real-Time Validation

Craig predicts that the explicit opt-in requirement will adversely impact conversion rates. People, when explicitly asked to opt in, are less likely to do so than if the opt-in is implied, and they don’t have to take any action. So, marketers need to be a little more careful about when they ask for that permission - earlier or later in the funnel- in order to optimize for opt-in and limit abandonment within the conversion process.

Also, when you do get an opportunity to get an e-mail address, make sure you collect a valid, deliverable one by using real-time e-mail validation upfront on a registration form, at the point-of-sale, or in a call center. Craig stresses that that mistyped e-mail address may be a missed opportunity today, but the cost of that becomes significantly higher when an explicit opt-in is required.

As a customer enters their e-mail address and tabs to the next field, if the e-mail address is invalid, you can prompt them to fix it and give a suggested correction if one’s available (e.g. if they mistype Yahoo with one O, you can say, ‘did you mean Yahoo?’).

What to Check for in an Address

Craig shares that his company’s service validates an address by checking if:

  • the syntax of the address is correct (i.e. something@something.something)
  • the domain is valid
  • if there’s a mail server connected at that domain

Then, they connect to the mail server via SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and ask the mail server if the user name exists. This can take between a few milliseconds to several seconds. Response times are dependent on the 3rd party mail servers, but you can set a timeout and indicate that you’re only willing to wait a couple of seconds, for example.

Tim adds that it’s also a good idea to put the e-mail address field first, so you can start validating as soon as they fill out the field, but you don’t have to finish until they complete the form. Craig says this is why they recommend binding the validation service directly to the e-mail field and not to the submit button.

E-mail Addresses Have Just Become More Expensive

Craig observes that the Canadian government is looking at making CASL the gold standard for fighting spam globally. There’s no doubt that they will go after big brand marketers first to let people know that they’re serious about enforcing this. People who are most egregious violators of the law will, in the long term, have the biggest issue. However, every marketer needs to adjust how they’re collecting data and how they’re generating permission to mail that data.

E-mail addresses are critical and they’re becoming, in effect, more expensive and harder to get, so when you do get one, make sure it’s a workable one.

webmaster-radio-1.jpgListen online or download the “Email Pitfalls and Best Practices with Craig Swerdloff” podcast from WebmasterRadio.fm, where Craig and Tim also discuss avoiding behaviors that make marketers look like a spammer.

First Air Date: October 20, 2014