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Marketing in a Spam-Filled World

Not so long ago, it looked like the spammers had destroyed e-mail marketing, but now it looks like things are actually getting better. The software people have created better spam filters, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have done a better job blocking spammy domains, and now the Feds have stepped in to try to take down the spammers. Industry initiatives are also under way to help address the problem of e-mail spoofing and phishing by verifying the domain name from which the e-mail is sent. Right now, spammers can hide behind fake e-mail addresses.

You need to have your attorney look over how you run your business and address any of your concerns. Best practices, acceptable use, terms of service, and laws change every day. By the time you read this article, everything may have changed, but this is meant to give you a general idea of what's considered spamming and what's not. In other words, don't e-mail people who haven't done business with you or who ask you not to e-mail them.

The CAN-SPAM Act and you

The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act of 2003 was effective January 2004. The CAN-SPAM Act applies to American businesses that use e-mail for commercial purposes, spammers, and those who hire spammers. The CAN-SPAM Act is the federal government's first step dealing with e-mail spam.

Now businesses can send unsolicited commercial e-mail to an e-mail address, but they have to stop sending e-mails to folks who don't want it. The law also created guidelines for marketers, and created consequences for those who violate the law. The punishments aren't just a slap on the wrist, either. They have some teeth, with serious fines and even jail time for violating CAN-SPAM. Spammers are also liable for civil damages.

The CAN-SPAM Act classifies commercial e-mail into three kinds of messages: transactional or relationship messages, messages to an opt-in list, and other types of commercial e-mails:

  • Transactional or relationship e-mails include order confirmations, order status e-mails, and messages to existing customers. Yahoo! Store Order Confirmations and Order Status messages are not spam because the customer placed an order and gave you an e-mail address. This relationship allows you to e-mail him. You can also send newsletters to the folks that have ordered from your Yahoo! Store before because you have a prior relationship with them, but an Opt-In approach is preferred.
  • Opt-In List e-mails are messages to folks who gave you permission to e-mail them. For example, when folks signed up for your newsletter, they gave you permission to e-mail them.
  • Other types of commercial messages include ads, newsletters, or commercial solicitation being sent that don't qualify as the relationship messages or opt-in messages. These messages must state that the e-mail is an ad or a commercial message somewhere in the e-mail.

Here's what you need to do to comply with CAN-SPAM:

  • State somewhere in your commercial e-mails that the e-mail is a commercial message or ad. Just in case someone doesn't have a prior relationship with you or doesn't opt-in, say this somewhere in the footer of the message:
    "You are receiving this message with our special offers because you are on our list of friends and customers. If you don't want to receive promotional messages from us, simply give us a holler, and we'll take you off the list."
  • Include your postal mailing address with all e-mails. It is a good idea to put this and other contact information, such as links to your Web site, at the bottom of all your e-mails anyway, but the U.S. government requires it now.
  • List clear removal or unsubscribe options in every e-mail. Most bulk or newsletter e-mail vendors do this for you by attaching an unsubscribe option at the bottom of all the newsletters. Honor the remove request within ten business days.
  • Live by your privacy policy. If you tell people that you're not going to sell, rent, or give away e-mail addresses and personal information that you collect on the site, then you shouldn't do it.
  • Don't use misleading From addresses or misleading subject lines in your e-mails. In other words, your e-mail needs to say that it is from you, and the subject lines need to be about what the e-mail is about.

Having permission to send commercial e-mail to someone is a privilege. Don't abuse it by mailing your list too often. Weekly e-mails are about as often as many people want to get promotional e-mails.

Yahoo's take on spam

Yahoo's Terms of Service require you to follow the Yahoo! Store guidelines, which are pretty specific about spam. Yahoo! says that you can't send mass e-mail to folks who don't request it; send e-mail with a fake e-mail address; promote a store with multiple submissions in public forums; use inappropriate links, titles, or descriptions; or use content that doesn't belong to you. For more details, see The Yahoo! Store Guidelines.

If someone is spamming you from a Yahoo! Store, report it at the Yahoo! Small Business Help page.

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