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Email Marketing Laws: What You Need to Know

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Although email is a quick and low-cost way to promote your products or services, there are some relevant laws that every business owner needs to be aware of, especially those contained in the CAN-SPAM Act.

Developed in 2003 to provide rules for commercial email and protect Americans from junk mail and scams, the CAN-SPAM Act is a body of email marketing regulations that applies to all commercial email messages — whether you are promoting a product, service or free content on your website.

Here is an overview of what the CAN-SPAM Act requires, along with some best practices that can help you improve your deliverability and open rates:

  • Make it easy for subscribers to opt out: All of your messages must contain clear opt-out instructions. The easiest way to comply with this law is to include an “unsubscribe” button that allows people to opt out with a single click. When someone unsubscribes, you must remove them from your list within 10 business days. To make handling unsubscribes easier, you can use email marketing software that automatically processes opt-outs.
  • Include your address: The CAN-SPAM Act requires you to display your mailing address in all of your email communications. If you don’t want to publish your street address, you can show your P.O. box or private mailbox instead. Displaying your address helps to show your subscribers that you are a legitimate business. 
  • Don’t deceive your subscribers: It’s illegal for you to present false information in your email “from,” “to” and subject fields. You must clearly identify yourself or your business. In addition to complying with the CAN-SPAM Act, identifying yourself in your “from” lines will increase your open rates, as subscribers will only open messages from people who they know and trust.

Your subject line also must accurately describe the content of your message. It’s illegal to use deceptive subject lines such as “information you requested” (when they did not ask for information) to try to get someone to open your message. Subject lines that contain words such as “FREE,” “increase traffic,” “amazing stuff” and “home-based business” may be legal to use, but they tend to get messages flagged as spam. Instead of using spam fodder, write compelling subject lines that show readers the benefits of opening your messages.

  • Identify your commercial emails as advertisements: The CAN-SPAM Act requires you to clearly identify your messages as ads. This part of the law is vague, so there are no specific rules on how you must comply. You can start by identifying your business in the “from” line to let your subscribers know that the message is commercial. However, you don’t need to go as far as to say “this is a promotional email” in your subject line. If you do this, no one will open your messages. Your opt-out statement can also say something like, “Click here to stop receiving these promotional messages.”

The CAN-SPAM Act does not require businesses to get someone’s permission before sending them emails. But if you want to comply with email marketing best practices, you should always ask for permission before you add someone to your list. The easiest way to do this is to use an email marketing system with a double opt-in feature that allows recipients to confirm that they would like to receive your messages. Using a double opt-in process will lower your spam complaints and provide you with a more active engaged audience.

Build Customer Loyalty Through Email Marketing

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Note to Canadian marketers: Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) requires that you always gain permission before sending someone an email marketing message. If you’re in Canada or plan to market to Canadians, it’s best if you comply with both the CAN-SPAM Act and PIPEDA.

What about you? Do you have any questions or concerns about complying with CAN-SPAM or PIPEDA? Feel free to share your comments and questions below.  


 

WHAT NEXT?:

Be sure to check out “How to Create an Email List Without Sacrificing Trust” for tips on using email to build relationships with potential customers.

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