A CAN-SPAM Refresher Course

Here’s a quick review of the CAN-SPAM rules.

Remember the CAN-SPAM Act, enacted in 2003? Neither do many email marketers, if the amount of spam clogging email boxes each day is any indication.

CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, and it sets out rules marketers must follow when sending out commercial messages, defined as any content promoting commercial services or products. It applies to all advertising emails, including business-to-business communications.

CAN-SPAM doesn’t seek to stop commercial emails, only to regulate how those emails are presented, and the rules are things that legitimate businesses should be doing anyway.

Be Honest

  • Use real header information: Your “From” line should include a real email address or name, either the sender’s or your business’s. Your “Reply-to” email should also be a legitimate address.
  • Use true subject lines: They should accurately reflect the content of the email. Don’t use “Free Consultation,” if your email discusses only paid services. Also, links in your emails should lead to relevant landing pages. If your email offers a free consultation, your landing page should include information on requesting a free consultation.
  • Provide a mailing address: CAN-SPAM requires a physical mailing address in every email. You can accomplish this easily by creating an email template that includes this information, possibly as a footer.

Be Clear About Intent

CAN-SPAM says you must clearly label advertising as such. Subject lines that are obviously commercial, like “This Week’s Specials” or “View our New Collection” are CAN-SPAM compliant.

More ambiguous subject lines, like “We need to talk,” may not be. This subject might be truthful, if your email discusses how a conversation with you would benefit the recipient, but it is also deceptive because it sounds personal but is actually commercial. If you use this type of subject line, you must add the word “advertisement,” as in “We need to talk (Advertisement).”

Give Recipients a Choice

  • Provide a simple opt-out option: The simplest opt-out link automatically removes the email address from your list. Alternatively, you can send the person to a Web page to confirm the decision to opt out. You may not require any additional information to process the request.

You have 10 days to comply with any opt-out request, but it is safest to make it instantaneous. Most reputable bulk email vendors automatically insert an opt-out link at the bottom of each email.

  • Send only to opt-in subscribers: This is not a requirement of CAN-SPAM, but it is the safest way to avoid recipients labeling your messages as spam. It’s also the best way to make sure you are reaching people who actually want to read your message. Of course, you must still follow all of the above rules.

Every email sent in violation of CAN-SPAM is subject to up to $16,000 in penalties, so it is in your best interest to follow the rules, which are really quite reasonable. You have plenty of leeway for creativity in your email marketing; just do it within the confines of the CAN-SPAM Act.

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