Email marketing is an effective way to increase engagement with current and potential customers while keeping your company and products fresh in their minds. But, you’re probably reading this to make sure that your email marketing campaign is legitimate and not spam. It’s important to recognize that your outreach campaign will be beholden to certain email marketing laws.
In the United States, the applicable law for email marketing is known as the CAN-SPAM Act which was passed in 2003. The law seeks to reduce email spam and increase transparency in advertising material. Running afoul of the law can cost you up to $16,000 per violation. So, you definitely want to ensure that you are complying with all the rules and regulations.
Build Your Email Lists Organically
For starters, you want to build your email list with leads that you produced organically. This usually means that individuals opted in to receive emails through prompts on your website, a social media profile, or with in-real-life sign-up lists. Consent to receive marketing emails can be verbal or written (which also simply includes checking a box on your website).
If you want to comply with the email marketing laws, you should avoid purchasing email lists at all costs. If you’re unaware, a purchased email list is just a cache of email addresses that you can buy from a third party. While it might seem like it’s an easy way to reach hundreds or potentially thousands of consumers, a purchased email list might also raise some red flags. Some common issues with buying email lists include:
- Your account can be flagged as spam – Email service providers (ESPs) will note the large increase in traffic from your account. It will raise natural questions about how you procured such a large list of emails. Recipients will likewise wonder how they made it onto your email list, causing them to mark you as spam.
- Increased bounce rate – It’s usually unclear how a purchased list is compiled, and it can contain numerous inactive or discontinued email addresses. Messages sent to these email addresses may “bounce back” which will, again, be noticed by your ESP and possibly lead them to block your account.
- Opting in is required in other jurisdictions – Email Marketing Laws in Canada, the European Union, and Australia all require recipients of the marketing messages to opt-in. This is not the case at the federal level in the United States, but if your outreach is international, it’s safer to know that your list was accumulated organically.
- A random purchased list is ineffective – Most purchased lists feature email addresses of a wide range of disparate individuals, many of whom are likely uninterested in your product or service offerings.
Again, building a list organically provides you with the best return on your investment, because your list will feature individuals who are actually interested.
Include the Accurate Origin of the Email
The anti-spam laws require that you be transparent about who is sending the marketing email. This means the “From,” “To,” and “Reply to” details have to accurately identify the sender, whether it’s an individual in your business or the business itself. The routing information must also be accurate.
Use Subject Lines that Accurately Describe the Message’s Content
The subject of your marketing email can’t be purposely false or misleading. Earlier, companies used to send emails with subject lines that promised gifts or incentives that the body of the message didn’t actually offer. However, with stringent email marketing laws in place, the subject line cannot be deceiving.
Now, a subject line that reads “Claim your free dinner date with Brad Pitt” would be illegal if the message did not, in fact, contain a way for your recipients to reserve a dinner date with Brad Pitt. If you’re offering 25% off on a specific product, state that in the subject line. Don’t dress up the subject line of your marketing email with incentives you’re not actually promoting.
Tell the Recipients that the Email is an Ad
Another requirement of the spam rule is that you must conspicuously identify a marketing email as an advertisement. The law notes that this includes emails with any “commercial content” which is defined as material “which advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose.”
This does not apply to “transactional or relationship content” which would include emails with information like order confirmations, order statuses, or anything else that is meant to facilitate or provide information about a transaction.
Identify Your Location
The email marketing law requires businesses to include a mailing address in marketing emails. Usually, this means the address of your company’s street address, but you can also use a post office box or another private mailbox that is registered to the business and is compliant with Postal Service regulations.
Provide Clear Opt-Out Instructions
Every marketing email must contain the ability to opt-out or unsubscribe link from the mailing list. It is legal to provide the option for recipients to simply opt-out of certain types of messages, but you must also clearly provide a method for opting out entirely from all marketing emails. Typically, you can just put a link somewhere in the body of the message to let recipients automatically unsubscribe.
Be Prompt about Unsubscribing Recipients who Opt-Out
Under the email marketing law, you have to honor the request within 10 business days. Within this period, you are legally bound to remove the email addresses of individuals who have decided to opt-out of receiving your emails. All emails must also be able to honor opt-out requests for at least 30 days after they have been sent. Additionally, you may not do any of the following:
- Charge a fee for the service of unsubscribing a recipient
- Ask for any further contact information or identifying information from the client
- Make the process needlessly difficult (a single reply email or a visit to a single webpage should be the only thing required to unsubscribe from a mailing list)
- Sell or transfer the email address of a subscriber requesting to opt-out
Keep Tabs on Anyone You Contract to Run Your Email Campaigns
You can hire an email service provider or other company to manage your email list, but you are still liable if they break any of these rules. So, it’s important to monitor their activity to ensure that they honor opt-out requests in a timely fashion and include all the requisite information.
As we mentioned above, other governmental entities like the European Union and Canada have different laws regulating email marketing campaigns. Individual states in the U.S. may also have slightly different laws on the books. So, it’s important to look those up to ensure that your emails comply with the law.