Understand the CAN-SPAM Act to Avoid Major Email Marketing Mistakes

Posted by Sarah Wai on Jan 16, 2017 8:53:00 AM

Understand the CAN-SPAM act

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Emails selling private jets, Lasik eye surgery, financing, professional training, software and more, have worked their way into the inboxes of Tribute Media employees in the past year. Some of this is decent marketing--in the sense that it all applies to us (although the private jets may just be wishful thinking)--but what isn’t decent about these emails is that we did opt-in to receive these messages.

Much of what we all have received is SPAM. I’m not talking the nasty, salty kind of SPAM that you eat. I’m talking the * just as nasty *, unsolicited marketing emails.

Here’s the problem with this: It’s unsolicited, and it’s ILLEGAL.

Many marketers are either blatantly ignoring the law or are ignorant to the fact they are breaking it because they don’t understand the legal requirements for these kinds of emails.

It Really is the Law

An act that was passed in 2003, the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act, is the Federal Trade Commission’s requirements for commercial messages. It gives recipients the right to unsubscribe or mark as SPAM any email that they deem to be a violation of these set requirements, and it sets severe penalties for those who are in violation.

If you use email for your business, you can’t ignore this law!

This applies to every email, not just bulk email. There are no exceptions for business-to-business emails. So essentially, even if you bought a list (which we definitely discourage you from doing) and sent individual emails to each recipient, you are not exempt from this law. Every single email you send in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, according to the FTC.

Let’s do a little math here. Say you send as few as 100 emails (that’s pretty small in comparison to most bulk email sends), and you are then fined $16,000 per email. That’s a total fine of $1.6 million dollars. I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to want to pay that, nor do you have the resources to.

It’s Time to Follow the Law

To ensure you don’t violate this law and suffer the consequences, take a look at the requirements that the FTC has laid out:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  3. Identify the message as an ad
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located
  5. Tell recipients how to opt-out of receiving future email from you
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf

For a more detailed description of these requirements, check out the full FTC guidelines here

Now that you’re aware of actual legal requirements, here are some additional pointers to prevent your email recipients from feeling like you're spamming them:

  1. Send from an email address that gives a clear idea of who you are. Don’t use personal email accounts, but rather make sure that your company name is included in the email address you are sending from. I’ve seen a company use an address like company@yahoo.com. That doesn’t count. You need an email address associated with your company’s website domain.
  2. Make your subject lines are clear, concise and honest. Your subject line should always be an indicator of what the email is about.
  3. Make unsubscribing easy. Not having an obvious unsubscribe link is a great way to get marked as SPAM.
  4. Include your company’s physical address in every email you send, whether it’s in the footer or included in your signature. Proof of you being a valid company is essential.
  5. If you don’t do your own email marketing, monitor whoever is. Even if you are outsourcing your email marketing, you are also held responsible for every email send in your name or the name of your company.

One of the best things you can do to avoid breaking the law laid out by the CAN-SPAM Act is to err on the side of caution. At Tribute Media, we have seen many violations or gray tactics performed by companies to get email addresses. One such example is how you build your contact lists. Avoid:

  • Buying lists
  • Tricking people into giving their email address
  • Taking advantage of email addresses given to you at networking events (you’re not given permission when given a business card)

If someone has not directly opted-in to receiving emails from you, do not send them sales or marketing types of emails. Reaching out to an individual personally for other reasons is fine. However, the moment you step beyond the laws laid out by the CAN-SPAM Act is the moment you lose credibility, valuable contacts, and well, quite possibly some significant cash.

If you’re interested in learning more about email marketing or are in need of some more pointers, check out our handy email marketing guide!

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Sarah Wai

Written by Sarah Wai

Content and Email Marketing Specialist of Tribute Media. B.S. in Media Communications. Certified in Hubspot, Inbound Marketing, Contextual Marketing, and Email Marketing.

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