If you haven’t started email marketing for your business, you should. Being able to communicate with your customers, and potential customers, through email is one of the most effective ways to grow your business. But, if you’re going to start email marketing, you must do it legally. The CAN-SPAM Act is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and it regulates how businesses must handle email marketing.
CAN-SPAM Act is short for The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003. It sets up the rules for commercial email. Anytime a business sends an email to a customer, or potential customer, it must comply with certain rules regarding email marketing. Even if you outsource your email marketing, you are responsible for the actions of that person or company, so it’s important to use a person or company you trust.
Complying with the law is not difficult, but if you don’t know what to do, you could be faced with hefty fines. Fines can be up to $16,000 per email or even up to $41,484 if the violations are particularly bad. Either way, that’s a lot of money!
What is commercial email?
According to the Act, commercial email is “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service” including content that promotes content on commercial website.
Any email that advertises or promotes your website is subject to the CAN-SPAM Act. It does not govern transactional emails like receipts or shipping notifications. If you are responding to a customer or prospect’s question, the Act probably does not apply. But, if any portion of the email is commercial in nature, it must comply with the Act.
How to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act?
1. You can’t use false or misleading information
This means the From, To, Reply, originating domain name & email address must all be accurate.
2. You can’t use deceptive subject lines
If you’re advertising a sale, you can’t use the headline that the sale is 70% off when it’s really only 20% off. This is just good business, because if you’re deceptive with your email list they are not going to trust you and will stop opening your emails. But, it’s also against the law.
3. You must tell them it’s an ad
You don’t have to include “ad” in the subject line, but it should be “clear and conspicuous”. This is a legal term meaning easy to understand and recognize. You can’t use confusing language and hard to find.
4. You must provide a physical postal address
You must let recipients know where you’re located.You may not want your email subscribers to have your home address, so a PO box is a good option. I think there are online options as well.
5. You must provide an easy way to opt-out of future emails
If they opt-out, you have to remove them promptly, which is considered within 10 days by the Act. If you’re outsourcing your email marketing (and you should be), you are responsible for making sure your email service provider removes people from your list promptly. Just choose a reputable company and this should not be a problem.
Can you send emails to random people?
You can send your emails to anyone as long you meet the “initiator” requirements of the Act. You must give those people an easy way to unsubscribe.
This is allowed by law but be careful where you’re getting those email addresses. It’s generally not a good idea to buy email lists. People don’t have to opt-in before you’re legally allowed to send them an email. But, when you’re buying a list, you don’t know how those names got on there and/or they’ve previously opted out of that list.
Email marketing is an effective way to grow your business
You can build relationships through email better than almost any other type of marketing. The CAN-SPAM Act serves to protect consumers and carries large penalties for violation. Luckily, complying with the law is not that hard. Make sure your commercial emails are honest about the sender and the contents, disclose as an ad, provide a physical mailing address, and make it easy to opt-out.
Want to make sure your website is following the other legal requirements? Read this post to learn more.
Disclaimer: This site, and all information contained herein or through communication with me, is intended as legal information only. I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney, so nothing on this site, nor any communication with me, shall create an attorney-client relationship. I am not liable for damages or losses based on any action taken, or inaction, based on the information contained on this site. All areas of the law are fact specific and there is no substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction who is familiar with the specific facts and circumstances of your situation.