Email marketing is a valuable marketing tool. It’s inexpensive, quick and easy to set up, and since your customers have given you permission to contact them, they are generally interested in what you have to say. Plus, you’re able to track results to determine which approaches work best for your customers.
Unfortunately, there are companies out there that have exploited email marketing and given it a bad name. Known as spammers, they send emails to anyone they can get their hands on, no matter how they obtained the data.
Laws are in place to prevent this kind of business, mainly through the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. CAN-SPAM is short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing and is a play on words to “can,” i.e., get rid of the spam.
Follow these ten tips to stay on the good side of the law and avoid becoming a spammer.
Opt-In is a Must
Be sure you have your customer’s consent to send them emails. A customer’s consent may be oral or written. Keep track of how and when you received permission to contact each person.
Be Truthful in your Header Information
Customers have a right to know who is contacting them, so the “From,” “To,” and “Reply To” lines must represent your company; or specifically, the company or individual who sent the message. Your routing information must also be clear, including the origination domain name and email address.
Don’t Use Deceptive Subject Lines
The subject line must accurately reflect the message’s content. For example, if the offer inside is a 15% discount, the subject line can’t suggest a higher percentage.
Identify The Message As An Ad
Most customers know an advertisement when they see one and will tend to ignore it because of this. Marketers have therefore developed techniques over the years to make messages look more like a recommendation than an ad. However, the CAN-SPAM Act requires you to let your customers know the email is an ad. Again, it’s all about making sure customers aren’t deceived.
Tell Recipients Where You’re Located
This shows your customers you are a real company and gives them another way to contact you. The message must include a valid postal address. This can be your company’s street address, a post office box registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or private mailbox registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service Regulations.
Tell Recipients How To Opt Out Of Receiving Future Emails From You
Email marketing is always about the customer’s choice. It should be their choice to sign up to hearing more from you and their choice to decide they’ve had enough. Make it clear how recipients can opt out of getting future emails from you.
You also need to give a return email address or another internet-based way to allow people to let you know their choice. If you provide a menu of choices so the recipient can choose certain communications and not others, there needs to be a “no communication” option.
Promptly Honor Opt-Out Requests
Make sure your own spam filter doesn’t stop opt-out requests from coming through. Once you’ve received an opt-out request, be sure you honor the request within 10 business days.
You must make opting out as easy as possible which means you can’t charge a fee, require personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make them do anything other than request to opt-out.
Be Sure You Know What Others Are Doing On Your Behalf
It’s no excuse to blame the mistake on someone else, so you must keep a watch over any external company that completes your email marketing for you. Both the company that sends the email and the company that is selling the product or service must comply with the law.
Commercial Email Definition
The CAN-SPAM Act defines commercial email as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose).”
For the most part, the CAN-SPAM Act only applies to commercial mail, rather than transactional or relationship email. This means that if you send order receipts, warranty information, or changes in membership details via email, you only need to make sure that your routing information is correct. Be careful if you start to add any advertising messages in these types of emails as they could fall under commercial category.
Also think about where the email links to, as your customer’s final destination from your email also counts when deciding if the overall message is commercial or not. Usually your website will fall under this definition of commercial.
Be Careful of Forward-to-a-Friend Schemes
If you offer a link so the recipient can forward the email to a friend, you don’t need to worry about the CAN-SPAM Act. However, if you include an incentive for your customer to forward it, like a discount code or the chance to win a competition, then you become responsible for the sending of that email. Therefore, you need to be very careful about adhering to the rules.
To make sure you don’t risk breaking the law and upsetting your customers with poor email marketing practices, follow these legal stipulations. At $16,000 per violation per individual email sent, you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law! If you’re unsure about your email practices, the Federal Trade Commission offers this publication which better explains the CAN-SPAM law.