Ready for Email Marketing?

CAN-SPAM Compliance Checklist: Close-up Of A Man's Hand Holding Smartphone With Ticked Checkbox And Smile Icon On Screen

So you’ve decided to start an email marketing campaign… Congratulations! You’ve made a really smart choice. Now how are you going to do it? I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there is a right way to approach your campaign. You can give your audience content they’ll love, share the news they’d like to see, and present your company in the most creative, out-of-the-box way you could imagine — but above all else, be polite.

Not sure how to politely do your email marketing? That’s okay, because there’s a guide available to help you do just that – the CAN-SPAM act. This act was signed into law in 2003 to combat abuse of both commercial and private email. Email systems at the time were largely unregulated, so email users were frequently victim to fraud, unsolicited and obscene materials, and predatory marketing. The CAN-SPAM act sets guidelines for commercial email use, effectively protecting the privacy of recipients, while also providing repercussions to those who break this law. 

Now that you know about the CAN-SPAM act, I would hope you’re interested in following it, and I’m going to help you. I’ll touch on the 7 main provisions of this law and provide examples of what to do and what not to do in your email marketing. 

Let’s get started, shall we?

CAN-SPAM Compliance Checklist

Get your checklist ready!

Now you’re probably thinking, “But I don’t have a checklist…” Actually, my friend, you do. Click on the image to the left to download your own PDF of the CAN-SPAM compliance checklist. You can print it off or keep it on your computer. As you read this blog, think about your own email campaign and what you can do to follow these regulations. You can then check off the steps for any requirements you’ve met. Neat, huh?

1. DO NOT use misleading headers.

When you open an email, what’s the first thing you see? It very well might be the header information, which falls within an area of the email that is commonly referred to as the Golden Triangle. This falls around the upper-left hand corner of a piece of media and, according to research, it is the first thing that most people see. It’s essential to use a proper header, one that spells out the “to,” “from” and “reply-to” emails, as well as the domain from which the email originates.

Why is this important? Aside from being the law, having a proper header gives your emails credibility. Always clearly identify your company. If you do good work, wouldn’t you want your audience to know who you are when you email them? Plus, if you don’t have a “reply-to” email, you’re missing out on a large chunk of potential conversations for your business. This rule should be one of the easiest to follow. In fact, most email programs won’t let you send mail without your header set up.

Last, but certainly not least, consider adding an unsubscribe button in your header. This is not a requirement, but it is certainly a best practice. We all hate to see customers go, but it is imperative that we respect their wish to discontinue emails. If you make it easy for them to unsubscribe, when they need a service or product in the future, they’ll be more likely to return to your business.

2. Use accurate and honest subject lines.

Have you ever opened a gift you were lead to believe was one thing but actually ended up being something entirely different? You were probably a little disappointed, right? Maybe whatever was in that box was really nice, but your impression of it has been ruined because the packaging implied it was something else altogether. Something you needed or wanted versus something you don’t like a whole lot. 

Would you wish this upon your email subscribers? This is exactly what happens when emails include deceptive subject lines – people open those messages expecting one thing and see something else instead. Do you think they keep reading? NO! They move on, maybe even delete it. Guess what else? They’re going to unsubscribe too, because they’ve lost their trust in the sender. 

Be transparent when you write a subject line. Let them know how the content of the email will present value, and then actually give it to them. Business Insider has provided a helpful guide for writing effective subject lines.

Do you like to track the effectiveness of your email marketing? If you use deceptive subject lines you can kiss valuable tracking insights goodbye. Let me give you an example: Suppose your business is not currently running any deals, but you decide to put “SALE, BIG SAVINGS!” in your subject. What are your metrics going to look like? Let’s see… an open rate of 84% from a list of 1,000 subscribers. That’s great. A click-through rate of 17%. That’s not as great, but it ain’t bad. You got 0 conversions? Well…yeah, that sucks. Oh, and that email had an unsubscribe rate of 36%? You just lost 360 potential customers. That’s what happens when you lie to people. So, ya know, don’t do it.

3. Identify your message as an advertisement.

This step is an easy one. What this means is you must disclose the nature of your email to its recipients. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling anything or not – if you are promoting your business in any way, the rule applies. 

Let them know that they are viewing promotional material, and do so in a clear and conspicuous manner. Avoid using complicated language, hard-to-read fonts, or poor placement for this disclaimer. Chances are viewers can tell it’s an advertisement already, so you may as well be upfront about it.

4. Include a physical address.

Commercial emails are required to include a mailing address that is linked to the business. This must be a physical address that is capable of receiving old-fashioned mail. Remember paper? It’s still a thing, believe it or not. So whether you work out of an office building, out of your basement, or use a P.O. Box, include your company mailing address in your email (usually in the email footer).

Why is this necessary? First off, it’s a requirement set into law in an effort to prevent email spamming and scamming. By including a physical address, the sender further accepts responsibility for whatever comes from sending you the email. This requirement also serves as another measure by which authorities can detect fraudulent activity. Don’t go using a fake address either — you could receive a fine of up to $42,530 per individual email (Yikes!). Furthermore, an actual valid business address gives you more credibility and builds trust with your customers.

5. Give your recipients an opportunity to opt-out.

You work hard to deliver consistent email content to your audience, and it sure took a long time to collect that mailing list. I understand how soul-crushing it is to see that someone doesn’t want to receive emails from you, but it happens. You are required by law to provide a straightforward means to opt-out of emails. If you don’t, you are risking a lot: fines, blacklisting, and alienating your customers.

There are a number of reasons why subscribers opt out from your emails. Maybe they’re tired of the clutter in their inbox… we’ve all been there. Or maybe they just don’t need your type of business right now. They might need something down the road, and you could be the first company to come to mind. If they have a bad experience when trying to unsubscribe, do you think they’ll come back to you later? Forget about it. Respect your audience by giving them an easy way out.

When including these opt-out opportunities to your emails, there is some room for creativity. Your use of size, color, and placement can make these easier to find. Consider including more than one opportunity, such as an unsubscribe link in the header. 

Due to the limitations of emails, these opportunities would link out to another web page or platform where you manage your lists and campaigns. If you have a website this page should be part of your domain. If you operate through an email marketing service, they provide an unsubscribe portal.

If you provide multiple types of email communication, you can give un-subscribers the ability to opt-out by category. The takeaway: make it easy to opt-out, and you will be rewarded with future business.

6. Honor opt-out requests promptly.

Sadly, it’s not enough to provide opportunities for opt-outs. You must honor these requests in a timely manner. By law, you must provide a minimum of 30 days for recipients to unsubscribe, starting when the email is sent. Past that point, requests may be voided. All requests made within that window must be processed within 10 business days. Some email marketing platforms will take care of this automatically, but if you don’t have that luxury, make this part of your routine. If you set a small time each week to check for and process these requests, you’ll never miss one.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Once that individual has unsubscribed, you cannot use their email address for any further solicitations. Even more, you cannot sell or transfer this email, even as a part of a list. It is best practice to immediately remove unsubscribers from all mailing lists and programs. 

7. Assume full responsibility for your email marketing.

What does that even mean? It’s common practice to outsource email marketing activities to other companies. We all know that emailing takes time (time that we might not have), and as your mailing list grows, it gets more complicated. We handle email for many of our clients, so they can continue doing what they’re best at. We get it. So perhaps you’ll decide to go through an email marketing service or have a marketing agency take care of it for you. 

Now, let me explain. When you have another agency handle your company’s email marketing, the legal responsibility that goes along with it is not solely in the hands of this provider. Instead, the liability is shared between both parties. That means if someone else is violating the law while running your email campaign, even if you have no knowledge of it, both of you may face legal repercussions. This is not to scare you away from hiring people for your email marketing. Just make sure you’re working with a reputable company that will observe the law.

So how’s that checklist looking?

I imagine you’ve already checked off some of those boxes. If not, I hope this blog post has provided you with valuable realizations for your campaign. From here, you’ll need to get creative with how you will meet CAN-SPAM requirements, but I know you can do it, because no one knows your business like you do. 

It is important to remember the extent of the law and how it impacts your marketing activities, but ultimately you should follow the CAN-SPAM act because of your subscribers. They’re people, and they matter. Show them they matter through polite email marketing. Are you ready to comply?

More about the Author

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Jacob Dulany

Jacob Dulany is recent intern-turned-MayeCreator. Jacob received a degree in Business Administration from the University of Missouri, and sought a career in digital marketing. He now works at MayeCreate, where he enjoys interacting with client accounts, writing blog posts, and a little bit of something new each day.

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