Ever receive an unexpected email from a friend regarding their business? Ever think it is a good idea to gather up customer email addresses and blast them with promotional offers? Are you aware of the CAN-SPAM Act? The CAN-SPAM Act is a Federal law that regulates commercial email use. Yep, “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites is REGULATED. Each separate violation can net you a $16,000 fine. Do I have your attention now?
Here are some steps you must follow in order to be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act:
- Never use false header information which means the From, To and Reply To information of you email must be correct.
- Utilize an accurate Subject line that describes the content of your email.
- Inform your reader that this communication is an advertisement.
- Provide an accurate physical mailing address of your business.
- Include an Opt Out process so the recipient can prevent receiving future email from you.
- Your Opt Out process must be in place 30 days after you send the message and all Opt Out requests must be processed within 10 business days.
- You are on the hook for any CAN-SPAM violations if you hire an email vendor to blast on your behalf.
Some of you are now debating whether or not your email is subject to these regulations. I like to see your brain churning and scheming. The lawyer in me also is figuring out loopholes or ways around the government’s definitions. However, here is the dirty little secret this law does not tell you; major ISPs expect you to follow these rules even for emails that are not subject to this law!
One of my former employers shipped out millions of emails daily to a double opt-in global community. It was determined that the emails did not fall under the CAN-SPAM Act so we were not subject to these restrictions. However, Yahoo, GMail, Hotmail, AOL and many other major ISPs maintain an email reputation score for each email sender. These heavy hitters want you to follow these best practices. If you do not follow these best practices and your email recipients start declaring your email as Junk or Spam your email reputation will start to decline.
Why is my email reputation important?
If your email reputation sinks low enough Yahoo will start your punishment with a rolling blackout. This blackout can occur at any random time for a random duration and means none of your email will be deliver to @yahoo.com email owners during this period. Imagine if 40% of your legitimate community has a Yahoo email address and you want to send them an important time sensitive announcement and Yahoo has you on that random blackout. It has happened. What if that 40% correlates directly to your annual revenue? That 40% of your revenue is based upon actions of your community membership that have a Yahoo email address. Now think if you push that envelope too far and Yahoo outright bans your ability to send email to their Users; ouch. Can you afford to lose 40% of your annual revenue? Not following the guidelines above whether or not your email falls under the purview of the CAN-SPAM Act can be costly.
Here are some other tips for your next email marketing campaign:
- Avoid purchased email lists. If the people on that list did not sign up to receive your email chances increase they will mark your email as SPAM or Junk.
- Make the Opt Out process extremely easy. If you ping a motivated and easily irritate User with an email they believe is SPAM they will report you if they must go through a burdensome Opt Out process. Make them click a link that removes their email address and have them land on a webpage that states they were removed.
- If you are collecting email addresses for email marketing be very clear when the User adds their address that they will receive your commercial, business or promotional email.
- Make those individuals Double Opt In. So the User signs up and they receive an email from you requiring they confirm their registration by clicking on a confirmation link within that email.
- If you blast a list and you receive failure to deliver notices because some of those email addresses DO NOT EXIST remove those addresses immediately from your email database. You will not appear as a legitimate emailer if you repeatedly hammer on the same non-existent email addresses. Trust me the ISPs track that conduct. I have had those discussions with them which led to implementation of some nifty bounce-back scripts that automatically purged the corporate email database.
If you follow the email best practices and a GMail smacks you around you can petition by informing them of your email practices. If they can confirm you are following the best practices they your reputation score will get bumped back to normal.
This is not a bulletproof get out of jail free post. You really must check out the FTC website for greater details and I urge you to have legal counsel advise you if you are uncertain. This is especially true for companies that are sending lots of email and that email is generating lots of revenue.