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Making Sure that Your E-Mail Marketing Complies with Spam Laws

5 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Spam and Blacklists as Applied to E-Mail Marketing

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 makes certain e-mail marketing practices illegal and gives legal definitions to many best practices. Using these best practices is one way to reduce spam complaints and ensure that your e-mails reach their targets. The broad strokes of the law are here, but you need to consult your attorney to make sure you comply fully with regulations.

Don’t rely solely on the info here to make decisions regarding your own compliance to the law. Contact your attorney if you need more information.

Determining which e-mails have to comply with CAN-SPAM

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and the 2008 revisions apply to commercial e-mail messages, which the law distinguishes from transactional or relationship messages. In general, the CAN-SPAM Act defines the two separate kinds of e-mail messages, as follows:

  • A commercial e-mail is basically an e-mail containing an advertisement, a promotion, or content from a business’ website.

  • A transactional or relationship e-mail is basically anything other than a commercial e-mail.

Although understanding that some e-mail messages fall outside the definition of commercial e-mail is important, it’s equally important to understand that all e-mails sent in the name of your business can be construed by the recipient as commercial in nature. Best practice is to make sure that all your business-related e-mails are legally compliant.

The 2008 CAN-SPAM revisions specify that e-mails forwarded to others by a recipient may be subject to all the CAN-SPAM requirements. Talk to your E-Mail Marketing Provider to make sure your forwarded e-mails are CAN-SPAM compliant.

Including legally required content in your e-mails

First off to be CAN-SPAM–compliant, you need to make clear that your e-mail is a solicitation. The exception is when you have permission or affirmative consent from every individual on your list to send the solicitation. Your marketing e-mails must contain other specific content:

  • A way for your subscribers to opt out of receiving future e-mails: You’re required to remove anyone who unsubscribes from your e-mail list permanently within ten days of the unsubscribe request, and you can’t add that person back without her explicit permission. It’s illegal to charge someone to opt out or to ask for any information other than an e-mail address and opt-out preferences. Your opt-out process also has to be accomplishable by replying to a single e-mail or visiting a single web page. Your E-Mail Marketing Provider can provide you with an opt-out link that allows someone to automatically unsubscribe in one click.

  • Your physical address: If your business has multiple locations, include your main address or the physical address associated to each e-mail you send.

    If you work from home and you don’t want your home address in every e-mail, the 2008 CAN-SPAM revisions confirm that you’re allowed to include your post office box address as long as the post office or box rental company associates the box to your legitimate business address.

  • An informative e-mail header: Make sure that your header clearly identifies your business and does not mislead your audience in any way.

    Don’t use your Subject line to trick your audience into opening your e-mail or to misrepresent the offer contained in your e-mail.

If your e-mail contains sexually oriented material, make sure your e-mail Subject line complies with the CAN-SPAM Act supplementary guidelines and also clearly states that the content of the e-mail is adult in nature without being explicit in the way you describe the content.

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