What Are the Legal Restrictions Around Email Marketing?
Email marketing is an extremely cost effective and efficient way to promote your business. Unfortunately, many small businesses are associated to engage in email marketing for fear of legal implications surrounding the practice. This article is intended to clearly spell out what elements should be included in your email marketing campaigns (and what should not).
The CAN-SPAM Act was originally passed in 2003 and recently expanded in 2008. CAN-SPAM sets legal requirements for all emails that have a promotional nature. This is not limited to mass email as you may expect; CAN-SPAM also includes any type of email you may send with a primary purpose of promoting your product or service, whether it is business-to-consumer or business-to-business. However, the CAN-SPAM Act is not nearly as restrictive as some tend to think. If you follow these simple rules you will ensure better deliverability and response in addition to avoiding legal ramifications.
- HEADER INFORMATION: All emails must include accurate 'from', 'to', and 'reply-to' lines to indicate the actual person or business sending the email. They can not be misleading and must include the correct originating domain and email address.
- SUBJECT LINES : All emails must include relevant subject lines that are indicative of the offer in the body content and must not be deceptive. Subject lines in violation would include (but not limited to), "Hello", "Happy Holidays", and "Thank You". Many Email Service Providers also reject any subject lines that contain over usage of characters like exclusion points; over usage of capital letters; using subject line modifiers like FW :, RE :, and FWD:; intentally misspelled words; and HTML code.
- POSTAL ADDRESS: All emails must include a legitimate physical address of the publisher and / or advertiser.
- ADVERTISEMENT DISCLOSURE: Somewhere in the content of the email or the subject line, you must clearly tell recipients that your email is an advertisement for your product or service.
- PROVIDE MEANS TO OPT-OUT: All commercial emails must include a clear and simple way for recipients to opt-out of receiving future emails from you. This can include a link to an unsubscribe mechanism online (1 page only) and / or a reply-to address where customers can email their opt-out requests. You can not require the recipient to give you any information beyond an email address or charge a fee to opt-out.
- REMOVE OPT-OUTS PROMPTLY. All opt-out requests, whether through a manual email reply process or an automated system must be handled within 10 business days of the request. Once opted-out of receiving communications from you, you can not sell or transfer their email address.
- NO OPEN MAIL RELAYS : A message can not be sent through an open mail relay; an open mail relay occurs when a server is configured to allow anyone online to send email through it. Spammers often use these types of servers to avoid detection.
- TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR VENDORS. If you hire another company to handle outbound email marketing on your behalf, be it an email service provider, consultant, or creative firm, you are still responsible for their compliance with CAN-SPAM. Both you and the company that sends your messages will be held legally responsible for compliance. This includes affiliates / publishers who may promote your promotion of product / service through a marketing network.
The fact of the matter is that every reputable business in the United States has to follow the CAN-SPAM rules – but doing so can only help your results. Most of these rules are simply best practices you'd want to employ even if you were not required to do so by law.