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CAN-SPAM Email Compliance: Guidelines for Email Marketers

By Sayem Mustafa | Reviewed By Semra Islam
Published March 20, 2024

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In the ever-evolving landscape of digital communication, email marketing is still an effective tool for organizations to engage with their customers. However, the freedom to leverage this tool necessitates complying with a myriad of legal obligations.

The CAN-SPAM Act provides an essential framework for regulating commercial emails, with the aim of protecting recipients from unsolicited and deceptive activities. For email marketers, understanding and complying with the regulations outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act is not only legally obligatory but also an essential measure in fostering credibility, upholding brand reputation, and ensuring the effectiveness of email marketing initiatives.

This guide delves into the key provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act, providing in-depth analyses and useful suggestions to enable email marketers to comply with the law and engage with their target audience via ethically sound and legally correct email communication.

Guidelines for Email Marketers

CAN-SPAM Act covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “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. Business-to-business email communication isn’t exempt from the law. This implies that all emails have to abide by the rules, whether they are announcements of new products or messages to past customers.

Obtaining Permission and Provision of Opt-Out Mechanism

The cornerstone of CAN-SPAM Act compliance and the basis for moral email marketing is obtaining permission and consent in clear and conspicuous language.

CAN-SPAM Act does not prohibit sending an initial commercial email, even in the absence of consent. The CAN-SPAM Act does not require explicit or implicit consent before sending the message. Instead, any commercial message must contain a mechanism — such as a return email address or an “unsubscribe” link — that “clearly and conspicuously” allows the recipient to opt-out of receiving future emails. If, at any time, the recipient provides consent for receiving commercial emails, the sender no longer must notify the recipient that the message is an advertisement or solicitation, but a physical postal address and opt-out/unsubscribe are still required.

As a general rule of thumb and industry best practice, marketers must ensure that receivers explicitly opt-in to receive commercial emails by using transparent and simple methods. This procedure entails obtaining an individual’s affirmative consent before adding them to mailing lists and fully explaining the purpose of the message. The primary objective is to enable receivers to make educated decisions about which emails they want to receive, whether via subscription forms, checkboxes, or other consent methods.

Complying with this industry-wide best practice enables marketers to meet legal requirements and build a customer base consisting of engaged subscribers, which improves long-term relationships and increases the efficacy of email marketing initiatives. Marketers can undertake the following steps to ensure that their communication remains compliant with, among other legal requirements, the CAN-SPAM Act.

Providing Accurate Sender Information

Providing accurate sender information is a critical component of maintaining transparency and trust in email communications. Marketers must ensure that the sender's name and email address are authentic and that recipients can quickly identify the sender.

Additionally, it is mandatory to include a physical mailing address. This could be the sender's current residential address, a post office box officially registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail-receiving agency authorized under Postal Service regulations. In addition to ensuring compliance with legal standards, this simple practice enhances the email's credibility, fosters positive brand perception, and empowers recipients with a sense of security throughout the correspondence.

Honoring Opt-Out Requests

In accordance with the CAN-SPAM Act, email marketers are required to respect recipients' choices by honoring opt-out requests.

Marketers must ensure that recipients can easily opt-out of receiving future emails by providing simple and readily accessible methods, such as an unsubscribe link. The opt-out system must be able to handle requests to opt-out for at least 30 days after the email is sent. Under the Act, senders have up to 10 business days to process opt-out requests.

Marketers must refrain from charging a fee, requiring the recipient to provide any personally identifiable information (PII) other than their email address, or requiring the recipient to perform any additional action beyond replying to an email or visiting a web page as a condition for opting out.

Once individuals express their desire not to receive further messages, the organization is prohibited from selling or transferring their email addresses unless transferring to a company hired to assist in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act.

Avoid Using Deceptive Subject Lines

The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.

Monitoring Third-Party Affiliates

Email marketers must monitor third-party affiliates to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, underscoring the obligation that goes beyond direct communications.

Marketers need to monitor affiliates' activities while they market their goods or services to ensure that they follow the guidelines outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act.

Maintaining oversight of third-party partnerships enables marketers to mitigate legal repercussions and ensures that the entire marketing ecosystem, including affiliates, complies with legally correct and ethical email practices.

Providing Accurate Sender Information

Marketers must disclose clearly and conspicuously that the message is an advertisement.

Best Practices for Email Marketing Compliance

Navigating the CAN-SPAM Act’s complex requirements can be challenging for email marketers. To ensure email marketing compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act and as a general rule of thumb, implement these best practices:

Transparent Sender Information

Email communication should contain accurate and transparent sender information, including the sender’s name, a working email address, and a physical postal address.

Efficient Opt-Out Mechanisms

Provide an unsubscribe option that is clear and simple to find in all marketing emails. Assure subscribers that they may quickly and easily unsubscribe from your email list by exercising their right to opt-out.

Regular Compliance Audits

Conduct regular audits to ensure your email marketing activities comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, such as reviewing opt-out choices and verifying sender data is updated.

Education and Training

Educate all stakeholders about the CAN-SPAM Act’s requirements and its implications. Ensure that each individual understands the significance of adhering to regulations and has received training on how to conduct ethical email campaigns.

Monitoring Third-Party Activities

If you use third-party affiliates to boost your marketing campaigns, monitor their actions closely. Ensure they follow CAN-SPAM requirements to reduce the risk of non-compliance.

Keep Records

Ensure that you have detailed consent documentation, i.e., opt-out statuses and related activity. Keeping comprehensive records is beneficial for compliance and shows that you are dedicated to using ethical email practices.

Stay Informed About Regulations

Stay informed of any changes to the laws governing email marketing and update your strategies appropriately.

Customer Education

Provide subscribers with a clear explanation of your email policy. Inform them about the intended use of their data and the type of content they can expect, and clearly explain how to unsubscribe if they choose to do so.

Responsive Customer Support

Provide prompt customer service for any questions or issues related to email correspondence. A proactive and encouraging response may address problems before they escalate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Cold emails are unsolicited correspondence sent to prospective clients who haven't shown interest in receiving them; they're usually used to start business partnerships, promote products or services, or reach out to new customers.

No, sending unsolicited emails is against the law and violates laws like the CAN-SPAM Act. Sending unwanted emails without obtaining consent may result in legal repercussions, such as penalties.

No, the CAN-SPAM Act applies to all commercial emails, not just mass emails. It establishes criteria for delivering any number of electronic communications that are primarily intended for commercial promotion or advertising.

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