Complying with the CAN-SPAM act

Email is a powerful marketing tool for businesses. Yet unfortunately, its ease of use and low cost have led to its abuse, and even within the very first years of email, users were confronted with massive waves of “spam.” To regulate the bulk email sent, the Federal Trade Commission oversees compliance with the federal CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act that established the rules of commercial email. The act defines what is a legal commercial email and what is an unsolicited spam, and it does not only apply to bulk emails: Every commercial email sent is subjected to it. Hence, every marketer should be familiar with the rules this law defines. The FTC will fine every single email that does not comply with the act $16,000, meaning that if you send 100,000 emails that violate the act, it may be financially disastrous for your company.

Rest easy, though: The rules are very easy to follow. Before listing them below, we should remind you that we are not a law firm and this article should not be taken as legal advice. The FTC has more detailed information on the subject, and you should check it out before starting any commercial email campaign.

  • Do not fake your headers or mislead users with your header information: Simple as it is, don't pretend to be another website or company!
  • Do not lie in the subject line: Your subject line should reflect the content of your email.
  • Tell your customers that this is a commercial email: You have lots of options to do this; the most popular one is adding small print at the very bottom of the email. You need to clearly state that the email user is reading an ad.
  • Include the physical postal address of your business somewhere in your email.
  • Let users know exactly how to unsubscribe from your emails, and don't make it difficult.
  • Do not delay the processing of opt-out requests: When a user opts out of your mailing list, you should remove them from your mailing list within 10 business days. Also, your unsubscribe links must stay valid for 30 days, so when a user clicks them even many days after the message is delivered, they should be able to opt out. You cannot charge users for leaving the list, and you cannot force them to do anything other than replying with a single mail or visiting a single Web page to opt out.
  • Do not sell the email address of a user who opted out from your list to third parties: This is the most important rule to follow. You are not allowed to sell or rent the email addresses of opted-out users to third parties under any circumstances.
  • Monitor your marketing agency: Even if you delegate your email marketing to another company, you still have legal responsibility to comply with the law. In case of a violation, both your agency and you will be held responsible.

These steps will help you to make necessary adjustments to your marketing emails in order to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. Remember, the fines are bold, so you must take necessary precautions!

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