Email marketing has proven itself a powerfully effective way to generate new business and keep existing customers from going astray. A study by ExactTarget found that 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email. And, according to eMarketer, email marketing was cited as the most effective digital marketing channel for customer retention in the United States in 2014.
Who wouldn’t want to tap into that business-building potential, right?
But you have to be careful in how you go about your email marketing efforts. The CAN-SPAM Act is a law that sets the rules and requirements for commercial email—and it spells out the tough penalties for violating those rules.
So if an email message you’re sending has a commercial purpose, it must comply with the requirements of CAN-SPAM. If you’re sending an email that has both commercial and transactional or relationship content, then the primary purpose of the email is what dictates what regulations apply to it.
According to the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide For Business, “…if the subject line would lead the recipient to think it’s a commercial message, it’s a commercial message for CAN-SPAM purposes. Similarly, if the bulk of the transactional or relationship part of the message doesn’t appear at the beginning, it’s a commercial message under the CAN-SPAM Act.”
Even an email that has only transactional or relationship content must comply with some provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act.
Not abiding by the rules (even if unintentionally) set by the CAN-SPAM Act might land your business in legal hot water and burden you with financial penalties.
Could your current email marketing practices potentially cause trouble for you?
Common email marketing no-nos every business should avoid:
1. Failing to conspicuously communicate that a message is an advertisement when sending a marketing email to people who have not opted into your marketing list.
If recipients haven’t explicitly requested to be on your list through an online sign-up form or other authorization process, don’t send them your email marketing campaign content without clearly disclosing your message is an ad. The law provides flexibility in how you do it, so you don’t have to directly mention it in the subject line. But take care not to mess up by making the next no-no.
2. Using a deceptive subject line that’s a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Never write subject lines that blatantly try to make a sales/marketing email look like they contain an update to terms of service or some other bit of important information. It’s misleading—and illegal.
3. Taking your good old time or ignoring unsubscribe requests from recipients.
Your opt-out mechanism must be capable of processing opt-out requests from an email message for a minimum of 30 days after you’ve sent the message. The law requires that you honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days.
4. Forgetting to include your snail mail address.
That’s right, you need to share either your current street address, a post office box registered with the USPS, or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail agency that follows Postal Service regulations.
Of course, there are many more “gotchas” that could trip you up, so I recommend reading up on what you can and can’t do. The FTC’s guide will help you understand the requirements.
With each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act subject to penalties of up to $16,000, there’s a lot at stake if you screw up. For that reason, and for the sake of marketing with integrity, it’s wise to educate yourself—and anyone helping you with your email marketing—about the law.