You probably spend a lot of time thinking about messaging, open rates, bounce rates, and calls-to-action, but how often do you consider the legality of the emails you are sending to prospective or former clients? Even without any malicious intent, the messages you send to your marketing lists could land you in serious trouble if they are not fully compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act. This law applies to all emails with commercial content as defined by the Federal Trade Commission. Any email blast you send probably falls under this criteria. Each individual non-compliant email can result in up to $16,000 in penalties from the FTC! Fortunately, compliance is neither difficult nor time-consuming, and may even make your email marketing campaigns more successful.
Deceitful Header Information
In this case, the term “header information” refers to the routing information fields: “From,” “To,” and “Reply-To.” Your emails need to clearly identify who the email is coming from, and where a direct response will go. The domain name and email address should accurately identify your business, but it doesn’t need to by hyper-specific.
When managing drip marketing campaigns with automated email messages, I often use a generic email account for sending. The header information might read “From: The High Point Real Estate Team (email@example.com),” but that is an email account for appearances only, so hitting “Reply-to” would then send a response directly to my business email address firstname.lastname@example.org. The domains are consistent, and I’m being very clear and honest about where the email is coming from and where a response will be sent, so this approach is CAN-SPAM compliant even though I’m using two separate email addresses.
You must not invent a new email address with the intention of deceiving the recipient about who actually sent them the email. You should also avoid using a personal email account for any business correspondence.
Dishonest Subject Lines
You want to your subject lines to attract the recipients’ attention and lead them to open the email, but it must be done without deceit. Don’t lie. It’s not a hard guideline to follow.
Concealing the Nature of Your Email
If you are sending emails to a list of people who have not explicitly agreed to receive emails from you, the CAN-SPAM Act requires that you identify your message as an advertisement. This rule does not apply if you’ve developed your marketing list organically and the recipients are expecting promotional emails from you. Otherwise, you’ll need to state clearly that the message is an advertisement. The law is pretty ambiguous about how explicit this statement should be, but an honest (perhaps subtle) acknowledgement should suffice.
Failure to Disclose Your Mailing Address
According to the CAN-SPAM Act, commercial emails must contain the physical mailing address for the business represented by the email. Usually this information is displayed using small text in the footer of the message.
Not Allowing Recipients to Opt Out
Even if the recipients were very impressed by you and your services, they may no longer want to receive emails from you. You need to provide a link that will allow these people to be removed from your email marketing lists. Like the business address, this information is usually provided in the footer of the message.
Failure to Honor Opt Out Requests
Most email service providers such as Campaigner or iContact will automatically handle this for you. If not, you’ll need to manually remove contacts who opt out from your mailing list. The CAN-SPAM Act states that this must be done free of charge within 10 business days.
Not Monitoring Partners
If you hand your email marketing list over to a third party, perhaps a marketing company or freelance marketer, you are responsible for their compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act. Because you collected the email addresses, you must ensure that they are contacted legally and responsibly.
Overall, the law is pretty clear and simple concerning email marketing. As long as you’re aware of the requirements, honest with your messages, and considerate toward the recipients, you should never have any trouble with the CAN-SPAM Act.