happy holidays from google

Gmail has always been a bit of a quagmire for marketers, they lack feedback loops for reporting on spam complaints, they heavily filter email to the junk folder if users aren’t engaging with it and they’ve recently deployed their “Tabs” which scares plenty of marketers into thinking their emails won’t be seen in the inbox again.

Just this past week on Word to the Wise a blog post appeared confirming that Gmail has been re-writing image links in emails.  For the non-technical this means that when an email comes to a Gmail inbox (and has images) Gmail is converting the links from the original email to links to the same images but now cached on the Gmail servers.  So the first time someone opens your email and the images get downloaded it will register as an open but any subsequent open will retrieve the image from the Gmail server where it has now been cached instead of your servers (and thus registering as opens and clicks).

Big deal, you say, you only care about unique opens.  Ok, so maybe you are alright with your metrics this way, did you use any kind of dynamic content or geo-targeted information in your email? That type of information will be impacted as well, it may render properly the first time but it may not ever again.

The full impact of this image re-writing process is still unknown and Google is mum at the moment on the subject. Happy Holidays, right?  That’s exactly the present everyone was looking for…hopefully Gmail will help offer up some alternatives or information on how best to navigate the murky waters of their inboxes.

spamming Canada will get tougher in 2014

On July 1, 2014, Canada will implement a significant change to the laws governing electronic communications in that country.

Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) may be less-known than the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act but it is stricter and will require much more diligence on the part of senders to ensure compliance. CASL covers all commercial electronic messages (much more than just email) being sent into Canada to Canadians, or crossing Canadian wires. The law provides for enforcement actions with penalties up to $10,000,000 per email for senders of unsolicited messages.

Unlike CAN SPAM, which covers only email, CASL covers commercial electronic messages, which is defined as any commercial “message sent by any means of telecommunication, including a text, sound, voice or image message.” Some examples of what that includes:

• Email
• SMS
• Instant Messages
• Social Media postings such as ‘tweets’
• Some voice communications

So, what does this all mean? The legislation is wide-reaching – any business that uses email or other forms of electronic messaging needs to be aware of their exposure under the legislation, as potentially significant penalties can result from violations of the Act. The three things you should know to ensure compliance: consent, identification and unsubscription options. In other words, if you are being a good sender you have express consent from the email recipient to send them email, a key caveat its that CASL does require that opt-in checkboxes (etc) not be pre-filled/pre-checked. Second, you must identify yourself as the sender and who you are sending on behalf of, this includes mailing address, contact information, web presence, etc. where necessary. To be compliant in your unsubscribe process your process must be functional for at least 60 days, must be free, should be provided in the same means as your communication (i.e. if you are sending email there should be an email address or link to unsubscribe), must be easy to do and processed without any delays.

So what should you do to make sure you’re in compliance:

1. Review your existing electronic message practices, footers, privacy agreements, subscriber preference centers, etc. to ensure they meet all provisions of the law. Privacy Policies and form collection on websites should be updated to ensure proper consent. In the case of forms, this includes moving from an opt-out (pre-checked) to an opt-in (not pre-checked) methodology.
2. Make changes as necessary and set up best practice guidelines for all internal stakeholders around how you will maintain compliance with CASL.
3. Review your current database, remove any addresses without a positive/affirmative opt-in. If you do not currently maintain an opt-in database you should consider moving that way to be compliant with CASL, consider an Opt-In focused Nurture program. After July 1, 2014 it will become illegal to email Canadian contacts who are not positively opted in.

How does CASL compliance differ from CAN-SPAM compliance? CAN-SPAM is less rigorous than CASL, so the best thing to do is be in compliance with CASL to ensure your communications are meeting both sets of standards.

For more details on CASL visit the legislation here.

send, resend, repurpose. all the same, right?

You’ve got some great tools in place, you can see who has opened your email, you can see who hasn’t and now you want to get all those people who haven’t engaged with you yet to open it so why not send it again?  Seems harmless enough, in fact it sounds like a great way to “repurpose” your content, here comes the bad news…it’s not.  In fact, it can do you more harm than good.

Now you’re either angry or confused, that’s ok, let’s walk through this.  The way that the neat little tracking bits work in your email marketing technology or marketing automation platforms is that it embeds a hidden image in the email, when that image is downloaded it registers as an “open” with the tool you are using.  So let’s say the person receiving your email is using Outlook or Gmail a Mobile Device or some other email client that turns off images by default, meaning you get an email that looks like this:

imagesturnedoff

instead of this:

imagesturnedon

What does this mean in terms of your tracking? Well it means it doesn’t register until (or unless) someone turns on the images or downloads them.  Now, let’s just presume that some portion (maybe 1-2%) of your tracking doesn’t register a true open, is it really fair to send those people the same message twice in a quick enough period of time that they will remember? So you get crafty (or so you think) and you send the same message but with a different subject line, is that really fair either?  Again you are running the risk of sending the message again and inviting someone to unsubscribe (at best) or report your message as spam (at worst).  Neither unsubscribe or spam complaint is a pretty picture.  How about an alternative, how about a true reuse of the content.  If someone did not engage with your message via email, why not try a different mechanism for reaching them, maybe the subject line itself could use some work.

The answer to non-engagement is not to resend until someone happens to open it, the answer is to understand the preferences of your audience. Is a specific type of content better (webinar vs. white paper, etc.) or is a specific channel of communication more popular (live chat, email, social, etc.).  The key to understanding the real problem is not to resend your email, the key is to understand how your audience communicates and to tailor your plan accordingly.