The CAN-SPAM Act is a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to stop emails and lays out a series of penalties if the act is violated. In short, the CAN-SPAM Act is a marketing regulation that your organization should be following if you’re sending out any commercial email communications.
What CAN-SPAM Says About Emails
The CAN-SPAM Act is a set of regulatory guidelines that organizations should follow for any and all commercial emails coming from their business. Oftentimes, businesses will set up and distribute emails to their customers, or even individuals who aren’t their customers, and will do so without knowing there is a federal compliance standard they should follow.
CAN-SPAM, which stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, was established in 2003, just as the email marketing boom was happening. Regulators saw the potential threat and onslaught of unwelcome communications that users could receive and set guidelines in place that:
- Keeps email subject lines and headers honest and transparent
- Notifies a user if an email is an ad
- Makes sure the email sender represents a physical, real business location
- Gives the user complete ability to remove themselves from an email list
What CAN-SPAM Means for Your Business
If you’re preparing to send email communications to your customers or prospective customers, there are a few rules and regulations you should be keeping in mind:
Make Sure Your From and Reply To Are Accurate
Your From and Reply To sections of your email should clearly state your business name. This could be in the form of an firstname.lastname@example.org email address or your organization’s name as the Sender name.
Example of a compliant email header section
Write Your Subject Line Honestly
This rule seems simple. But if you’re trying to write email subject lines that are engaging and will trigger a great response, you may be walking the line between honest and dishonest with your email subject lines.
As a rule, avoid subject lines that are:
- Misleading regarding who the email is from (i.e. a subject line that reads, “Did I see you at Starbucks this morning?” when the sender is very clearly a salesperson who lives in another state).
- Misleading regarding past email communications (i.e. a subject line that reads, “Responding to your email you sent yesterday.” when there has never been communication between the two of you).
- Misleading about the urgency of the message (i.e. a subject line that reads, “Urgent – It’s important that I speak with you.” when the email is regarding something like a retail sale).
- Misleading about an action the recipient has taken (i.e. a subject line that reads, “Confirming your reservation at XYZ Restaurant when the recipient has never made a reservation there and the restaurant is simply trying to increase business).
Be Clear That the Email is an Ad
You don’t have to state in the subject like that the email is an ad, but a disclaimer of some sort should be on the email. The best and least intrusive place to put this would be in the footer of the email.
Place something as simple as this text in the footer of your email communications:
This email is intended to market our services. If you wish to no longer receive emails like this, unsubscribe here.
Make Opting Out Easy and Fast
Along those same lines, you want to make sure that users can quickly opt-out of future communications from your organization. The unsubscribe option should be visible, clear and easy for anyone to use—including your 93 year old grandmother who just learned how to use the internet.
Once a user has unsubscribed, they should be instantly removed from all email lists attached to your marketing campaigns.
Make Your Location Known
Your email footer should also include a real, physical address that is representative of your organization. If you’re a purely online business, a P.O. Box will do. This tells users that you’re a legitimate entity (you know, that gets mail and everything).
Example of Location Specifics and Easy-to-Use Unsubscribe
Don’t Trust Other People to Be Compliant For You
If you’re planning to hire a marketing agency (hi) to handle your commercial emails for you, it is still your responsibility to make sure that agency is compliant with CAN-SPAM. If your agency isn’t sending emails to you for your review and approval, ask them to add that into their process. Because the emails are being sent on your behalf, the responsibility lies with your organization.
As always, we’re here to help. Part of being passionate about marketing means being passionate about the rules that exist to help protect businesses and customers. We understand what CAN-SPAM means for businesses, and can help you navigate the path with success.