Refresher on Email CAN-SPAM Laws

Patti RennerI recently read that 95% of all emails sent can be considered spam. I thought it was a little high… that is, until I dug into my junk folder. Buried among the filtered “trash” were a few treasures – companies I actually wanted to hear from who never made it to my inbox. So, apparently even savvy online marketers can send emails that get sucked into the inbox abyss.
For many marketers, email is often a taken-for-granted workhorse of an overall direct digital strategy. But there are laws on the books that mandate the proper use of the channel. Consider this post a friendly reminder that these laws apply to every commercial message sent – not just the bulk sends promoting discount Viagra. To quote: “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” This also includes emails that direct people to a landing page, promote content on your website – even new product announcements to former customers. Today, government regulations on digital messaging cast a wide net to include email, SMS/mobile and even direct messages from Facebook.

We’ll get into words that trigger spam filters soon. But first, I want to revisit the essential seven best practices.

Of course, you’re already aware of most of these, but a refresher doesn’t hurt – especially since each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16K a pop. It’s cheaper to simply understand and follow the rules. Here’s the short rundown, adapted from the FTC’s guidelines for commercial email and messages. See the “CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business” for more complete details.

  1. Header Information: From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message. (In other words, your fake ID didn’t work in college… and it won’t work here either.)
  2. Subject Lines: The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message. (Don’t use gimmicks to get people to open. Play it straight.)
  3. Ad Disclosures: You must disclose clearly that your message is an advertisement. (It is what it is, and you have to be clear about that.)
  4. Your Location Your message must include your valid physical postal address.
  5. Easy Opt-Out: Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future.
  6. Remove Opt-Outs Promptly: Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days.
  7. Stay On Top Of Things: Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Having the right partner with deep maturity in the email channel can help.

As consumer privacy laws continue to evolve and online marketers face increased scrutiny, protect yourself by making sure you’ve been doing things right all along. I also recommend you check out the FCC’s guide on email and text messaging here.

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