Nothing is more annoying than an inbox flooded with loads of spam content first thing in the morning. Sifting through emails you never opted-in to, selling products you never asked for, is the last thing most people want to spend their time doing, especially when there is no way to opt-out.
The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act was designed to reduce that flood of unsolicited email, and it covers more than just the frequency of messages. It also places restrictions on what you can say in the title, "from-lines" and body. Penalties of up to $16,000 can be filed for violation of the act and in rare cases, penalties as harsh as $900,000 have been leveled against the law’s worst offenders.
To ensure you are complying with the law, the Bureau of Consumer Protection has broken it down into seven main requirements to test your email against. We discuss them below:
"Don't use false or misleading header information."
Every email you send includes "From," "To," "Reply-to" and routing information, and it's required that it accurately reflects who you are or the person or business that originated the message. Here's an example from Boating Industry's eNewsletter.
The "From" identifies us as the sender and the email address matches the email that is being received. The “Reply” address clearly identifies where it's coming from as well. The recipient should be able to quickly discern where the email is from as well as why they may be receiving it.
"Don't use deceptive subject lines."
The subject of your email should always address the content of the email in an interesting way with a call to action that causes people to want to open it. What an subject should never do is deliberately mislead recipients to get them to open the email and not relate to the content within.
Aside from breaking the law of the CAN-SPAM Act, it's bad practice for any consumer marketing piece because visitors learn to distrust what they see from you. How frustrating is it to open a webpage and be unable to find the information you were looking for?
"Identify the message as an ad."
If your message is an advertisement for a product or service, make sure that it is clearly identified. The spirit of the law is what really matters. Are you trying to trick people into clicking on an ad or link in your email by being deliberately deceptive? If the "average person" glanced at your email, would they know that it was an advertisement, or would they wonder if it was an email from a friend?
What is generally required is that the email is identified as an advertisement somewhere within the body of the email, in plain speak, usually done within the footer.
"Tell your recipients where you're located."
This can be either a current street address, post office box registered with the U.S. Postal Service (in the U.S.) or a private mailbox you've registered with a commercial receiving agency.
Boating Industry includes three major parts of CAN-SPAM Act compliance right at the bottom of the newsletter, where people frequently look for it. The mailing address is clearly visible next to the name of the company, opt-out information (visible at the bottom), is also clearly market at the top
"Tell recipient how to opt out of receiving future emails from you."
As noted above, we made this easy by adding opt-out information both at the top and the bottom of the email so that it can be easily found. It's not required to be found in more than one spot, but just because someone chooses to opt-out, doesn't mean they won't opt back in, unless the process of being removed is particularly painful. If it's a struggle to get out, they're less likely to ever come back.
"Honor opt-out requests promptly."
After someone has opted-out of your newsletter, you have 10 days to remove them from your lists.
You can't charge a fee, require them to hand over any more personal information than their email, or make them do more than reply to an email or visit a single Web page as a condition for honoring an opt-out.
And once a customer has opted out, it's illegal to transfer them off to another mailing list. Once they're done; they're done.
"Monitor what others are doing on your behalf."
Just because you go through an email service provider like Constant Contact, Exact Target or Cheetah Mail doesn't mean you're exempt from what happens in your name on the net. The bigger bulk email programs are generally strict on CAN-SPAM compliance, but if they slip without you catching on or you sell an email list to a third-party who begins spamming consumers on your behalf, you're liable for the damage caused.
As they say, ignorance does not provide exemption from the law.