If you’re just getting into email marketing (or even if you’ve been at it for a while!), you may be unaware of some of the rules and regulations that come along with managing a mailing list and launching campaigns.
While you may be eager to get things up and running, there are some legal guidelines you should know about before undertaking any email marketing.
In 2003, President Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law. The act set very clear guidelines for how marketers are allowed to contact consumers, what information they must disclose in their mailings, and how requests from consumers regarding their personal information is handled.
More recently, the European Union ratified the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), their data protection law, which also sets forth some requirements for email marketers. It’s important that you know about this if you’re reaching out to any consumers abroad.
Here, I’ll walk you through the essentials of all the relevant laws so that you can make sure your email marketing practices comply.
Keep Headers and Subject Lines Honest
The CAN-SPAM Act requires marketers use accurate header information. The “To,” “From” and domain name and email address, must all show the real name of the business or person who sent the message. No pretending to be a celebrity or fictional character in your email address!
Similarly, your subject lines must reflect the actual content of the message inside. You can’t indicate in the subject line that you’re giving away a free car and then have an email body that never mentions it again.
Declare That It’s an Ad
Not every email that you send from your business to consumers will be an advertisement. Some businesses run a newsletter, where they share purely informational content with their subscribers. Others have a need to reach out to customers to confirm shipping of a purchase or to follow up on a customer service request.
If you’re reaching out to your mailing list with commercial content, which the CAN-SPAM Act defines as”[content which] advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose,” then you have to clearly announce within the email that it is an ad.
Include Your Address
You must include your business’s address—either a street address or P.O. Box—in the footer of the email. It has to be a valid address for your business, too. So if you’ve moved recently, add the footer of your email to the list of places where you must update your address!
Allow for Unsubscribes and Honor Requests Quickly
Both the CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR have some pretty strict rules about how you handle unsubscribe requests from folks on your mailing list.
First and foremost, you must give all subscribers the option to unsubscribe. This opt-out messaging must be included in every email you send, and the means for unsubscribing from your list need to be clearly outlined. Additionally, your opt-out process can’t involve carrier pigeons and a scavenger hunt; it must be easy for people to request an end to communications from you.
If someone does ask to be removed from your mailing list, you need to take them off quickly. CAN-SPAM requires that you honor the request within 10 business days.
For GDPR compliance, you must also keep evidence of consent to reach out in the first place. This evidence of consent should cover the who, when, and how of each interaction. For example, “Joe Smith provided consent for us to reach out to him by signing up for our mailing list on our website on June 5, 2019.” You must also indicate the messaging they received from you at the time of consent. All of this information must then be maintained by you, and if they do revoke consent at any point, you need to note that, too.
Know What Others Are Doing on Your Behalf
If you hire a marketer to do your email campaigns for you, be sure that they’re up to date on these laws. If you break any of the rules, you could be hit with a hefty fine. And both the marketer and your company may be held responsible for any gaffs when it comes to adhering to the laws.
Email marketing is a powerful tool for companies wishing to reach prospects and customers. But it’s important that you’re aware of the rules that come along with the medium. As long as you follow these fairly simple and straightforward laws, you can take advantage of this wonderful marketing channel.
If you liked this post, check out our Small Business Guide to Email Marketing.