CAN-SPAM. Some may think it's just a canned food product, but marketers know it's the law we adhere to when sending emails.
Some parts of this law may seem obvious, but others are actually quite confusing. And the stakes are high -- you can be fined $16,000 per email if you are caught breaking it. Yikes.
To help you avoid those confusing pitfalls, here are several ways you might actually be breaking CAN-SPAM without realizing it.
Disclaimer: I would like to stress that I am not a lawyer. This is not legal guidance, and you should consult your own counsel for legal advice on how to interpret CAN-SPAM laws.
1) You Don't Let Recipients Unsubscribe
Did you know that it's illegal to not have a way for your recipients to easily unsubscribe? You may notice that at the bottom of most marketing emails you get, there is a clear button for you to unsubscribe from email communications. Sure, some companies try to find ways to convince you otherwise, but they still let you unsubscribe.
You may have noticed that Gmail is also giving you an easy way to unsubscribe to email communications. There is an Unsubscribe link at the top of some emails, allowing you to unsubscribe to emails in the click of a button.
Allowing people to unsubscribe is an important rule to keep in mind because anyone receiving your emails should actually want to receive them -- otherwise, you're just spamming them.
2) You Don't Opt People Out After They Unsubscribe
Okay, so you make it easy for people to let you know they'd like to unsubscribe from your emails -- but you actually need make sure they're opted out of your emails to be CAN-SPAM compliant. You don't have to do it that day. You don't have to do it that week. But you do have to do it within 10 days of them requesting to be opted out of communications.
Most email service providers (ESPs) that you may use will give you a way to automate the entire unsubscribe process. As you can see in the example below, we have an unsubscribe link in the footer of our emails, allowing anyone to quickly let us know that they'd like to stop receiving emails -- and the HubSpot software actually opts them out of receiving emails.
3) You Don't Make It Clear Who You Are
When sending out emails to your audience, you need to make sure you or your business is clearly identified. This is important in the "From" line of the email, in the "to" and "reply-to" lines, as well as in the routing information -- all of this information must be accurate and identify the person or business that sent the message. That way when someone sees your email, it is 100% clear that you are a part of a business getting in touch with them.
Let's take a look at an example. As you can see in the screenshot below, the email is shown to come from "Diana Urban, HubSpot." It is clear that Diana is sending this email on behalf of HubSpot. Using her name in addition to the company adds another degree of personalization while making sure the person receiving the email knows it's from a business.
4) You Don't Have Clear Subject Lines
In addition to making sure you identify yourself when sending out emails, it's also important to make sure you have crystal clear subject lines. In the same example we used above, the subject line is "Your Guide: How to Use Landing Pages for Your Business." The beginning of the subject line explains exactly what you will receive if you open the email. If it's an ebook, it will say that. If it's a whitepaper, it will say that. And so on.
The second part of the subject line shows the topic of your guide "How to Use Landing Pages for Your Business." This part of the subject takes the explanation an extra step to make sure it is 100% clear what type of guide you will receive.
As you create your emails, think about ways that you can make it clear to your readers what you're sending them. Try to put yourself in their shoes, as someone who may not be as familiar with your business and what you offer, and think of ways you can make sure they understand what you are sending them.
(Note: This is just an example -- you don't need to have a two-part subject line as displayed to be CAN-SPAM compliant, you just need to have clear subject lines.)
5) You Don't Make It Obvious When You Send Out an Ad
If your business is sending out an advertisement for products or services, it needs to be completely obvious that that is the intention of the email. That means there shouldn't be any fine print that skews what the actual ad says. For example, if your advertisement states it is selling a product that you can get for $500, but the fine print says that the cost is only $500 after the rebate, that isn't clear. Make sure your advertisement presents the information as accurately and clearly as possible.
For example, recently I received an email from New York & Company that was clearly an advertisement for a sale they're having. As soon as I opened the email, I understood that I could get $25 off if I spent $60, or $60 off if I spent $125. No fine print. It was all very clear what New York & Company was advertising.
6) You Don't Include Your Physical Location
One of the most important parts of an email is your valid physical postal address. Every business should have a postal address when they are formed. To help maintain transparency about your business when you send out email, this needs to be included somewhere in your message.
An easy way to make sure you remember to include your address is to put it in your email template. As you can see below, HubSpot customers can easily include their address as part of the email template under Email Content Settings.
7) You Don't Monitor What Your Email Marketing Agency Does
You may outsource your email marketing campaigns to an outside agency. If you do that, you are still responsible for the emails that are sent out on your behalf. Both your company and the agency you hired will be held responsible if your emails break the law.
When you work with an outside agency on your email marketing strategy, make sure you are still in-the-know about what they're doing to make sure they are following this law, too. You don't want to be held responsible for something you didn't know about, but for which you'll bear the burden.
This blog post has provided information about the law designed to help our readers better understand the legal issues surrounding internet marketing. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we have conducted research to better ensure that our information is accurate and useful, we insist that you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is accurate. To clarify further, you may not rely upon this information as legal advice, nor as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular legal understanding, and you should instead regard this article as intended for entertainment purposes only.
Originally published Jul 22, 2014 2:00:00 PM, updated August 26 2017