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Email Marketing and CAN-SPAM: What You Need to Know

CANSPAM Email Marketing Do's and Don'tsCAN-SPAM—it sounds like a salty canned meat substitute, but it’s actually a very important law for digital marketers to understand.

Email marketing is a powerful tool to reach segmented audiences with timely messages. But there are provisions defined in CAN-SPAM, that you have to follow. The actual act is full of legalese, so we’ve broken down the important points you really need to know.

CAN-SPAM Background

The CAN-SPAM Act was passed in 2003 to protect consumers from spam email. Businesses can be fined up to $300 per email. If you send just 1,000 emails, that’s a $300,000 penalty.

Email Marketing Do’s

Do include a physical address

Organizations sending marketing emails are legally required to include their valid physical address in the email. This is to show recipients that the email is coming from a legitimate business, and also verifies the organization in case any of the “Email Marketing Don’ts” are broken.

Do use an opt-in list

Only send emails to people who want them. Have an opt-in form on your website and social media so your audience can inform you that they want your messages. You can encourage e-newsletter sign-ups on social media, through promotions, and through advertising. Once you have a targeted opt-in list, your email messages will reach only people interested in what you have to sell.

Do include an opt-out option

Every marketing email you send must have an option for recipients to opt out. The standard is to include an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each email. Almost all out-of-the-box email marketing programs (MailChimp, iContact, Constant Contact, etc.) have this feature built in and manage opt outs for you.

Do honor unsubscribes

When somebody does unsubscribe from your email messages, it’s important to honor those requests. As we said, most programs automatically remove unsubscribes from your list. If you don’t have a program that automatically unsubscribes users, you have 10 days from the time a user unsubscribes to remove him or her from your list.

Do ensure your marketing agency is following CAN-SPAM

If a marketing agency (or freelancer or anybody) is sending email marketing messages on your behalf, you’re still liable under the CAN-SPAM Act. Ask your agency questions to ensure they understand and are following the law. Subscribe to your own e-newsletter so you can be sure each message complies.

Email Marketing Don’ts

Don’t send to anyone who hasn’t opted in

CAN-SPAM doesn’t fully outlaw sending marketing messages to those who haven’t opted in. However, we strongly advise against doing so. The law does state that if you send marketing emails to someone who hasn’t opted in, you must clearly state that the email is an advertisement. It is also illegal to harvest email address (including having the intern look at leads’ websites for email contacts) or randomly generate addresses to send to.

If someone has done business with you (i.e. they’ve purchase from you), it is perfectly OK to send email marketing messages to him or her. But if someone is just a lead, ask him or her to opt in…just to be safe.

CAN SPAM Email MarketingDon’t purchase lists

This point is a follow-up to the previous “Don’t.” Using a purchased list is tempting for many marketers because it’s easier. But don’t. Just don’t. These lists are not targeted, like an opt-in list is, and people will flag you for spam. Instead, spend the money you would spend on a list doing a promotion to attract genuinely interested subscribers.

Don’t sell email lists

When users give you their email addresses, they assume you’re using them only for your marketing purposes. In fact, it’s good to have fine print stating so on your sign-up form. Selling email addresses can cause potential customers to dislike you. Plus, if someone spams with the list they bought from you, it could end up costing more than you sold the list for.

Don’t use misleading header information

Header information in an email is both the name and the email address in the “From” field. Use your organization’s name and general email address (i.e. for these fields. Don’t try to get more opens by saying the email is from Bill Gates—that’s illegal.

Don’t use a deceptive subject line

If the email subject line doesn’t match the content, you’re breaking CAN-SPAM. Don’t use subjects like, “Win a free iPad.” Subject lines should be creative, but not misleading. When in doubt, forego creativity to ensure you’re not being deceptive.

Worried you’re breaking CAN-SPAM? Let us know and we’ll audit your email marketing and get you all fixed up.