The unsolicited, undesired and often illegal email messages that make up email spam account for 60 percent of all email sent globally, according to an April 2015 Symantec report. This adds up to about 20 billion spam messages sent daily.

Spam spreads computer malware and viruses, reduces productivity and amasses high costs. A 2012 study from Microsoft and Google reported U.S. businesses and consumers spend around $20 billion annually trying to avoid spam.

Thus, CAN-SPAM spells out specific rules to stop companies from dishonest and malicious email marketing or risk stiff punishments that might put them out of business.

CAN-SPAM Compliance

The CAN-SPAM Act regulates all commercial email. Here are email marketing best practices to follow to avoid CAN-SPAM violations and penalties.

1.) Don’t Buy and Sell Email Lists

CAN-SPAM explicitly prohibits the buying and selling of email lists. Although it technically allows for the “renting” of email lists, it’s still risky. Sending emails to people who did not specifically sign up to receive them guarantees a huge unsubscribe rate. Even worse, it sets businesses up for a large number of spam complaints, which triggers an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

2.) Don’t Use False Headers

Honesty is the key focus of CAN-SPAM. All information in marketing emails must provide accurate routing information – the originating domain name and email address – and authentic identities in the “From,” “To” and “Reply-To” fields.

3.) Don’t Use Misleading Subject Lines

Your subject line must not mislead recipients to open emails. The more accurate they are, the less likely you will be investigated. Don’t promise anything “free” in the subject unless you really are offering something free to everyone who receives the email. While “Merry Christmas” might get past spam blockers, “Christmas Sales for Email Customers” is more accurate.

4.) Include Sender’s Postal Address

Your emails must include your valid, physical postal address. According to the FTC, this can be your current street address, a USPS-registered post office box, or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.

5.) Honor Opt-Outs Immediately

You have 10 days to remove subscribers once you receive an opt-out request. You must do this free of charge and without asking for any personal information or selling a person’s information.

6.) Don’t Mix Marketing Lists

Let’s say you want to send a marketing email to someone who has only subscribed to your blog. The main thing to consider is that the focus of any CAN-SPAM investigation begins with determining if the “primary purpose” of the message is commercial.

So if your blog emails are of “commercial content” it is likely also legal to also send non-blog marketing emails. However, while it might be tempting to mix marketing lists, a good practice is to only send emails to customers who have explicitly opted-in to specific marketing lists to avoid any appearance of dishonest behavior.

CAN-SPAM Act Penalties

Every CAN-SPAM violation is subject to a $16,000 fine — for every single email sent. If you have a large email list, that could put you out of business. You may even be sent to prison depending on how dishonest your email marketing tactics are.

You may also be also in danger of other damaging costs, such as:

1.) Being Blocked From the Internet

If your business domain is identified as violating CAN-SPAM, email and Internet service providers will block all your emails, regardless of content. Internet service providers often terminate all Internet services and others will refuse to offer you theirs. Website hosting companies will shut down your website and any other services.

2.) Lawsuits

If found to be an illegal spammer, you open yourself up to lawsuits. While ultimately unlikely to prevail, they are costly and tarnish your brand.

Finally, if any emails end up outside the US, you may be subject to stricter international anti-spam laws. Yet another reason to follow the best email marketing practices if you hope to grow your business.


About the author

Vishal Vibhaker

Vishal Vibhaker

Down by 4 with under a minute left in regulation, Vishal led UpCounsel to victory over Pinterest by scoring the final 5 points, including a buzzer beater, in the first round of the Zog Sports basketball playoffs. When he's not draining game-wining shots, Vishal obsesses over customer acquisition and retention at UpCounsel with a focus on marketing, sales and content.

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