If you didn’t already have enough considerations as an email
marketer, there’s a major one you should be aware of. Along with
deliverability, email reputation, and avoiding the spam filter, you
also need to consider how anti-spam laws affect you.
In the EU, pretty much everyone is aware of GDPR. However, in
the United States, the major email law is the
CAN-SPAM act, which can force you to pay a fine of up to
$42,530 if you’re not careful.
To ensure that you never have to go through the hassle of paying
a fine, here’s everything you need to know about CAN-SPAM best
What is the CAN-SPAM Act?
The CAN-SPAM act is a law that was passed way back in 2003. The
acronym stands for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited
Pornography and Marketing.”
As you might have guessed, this means marketers cannot send
commercial messages to consumers without their permission. This
applies to email marketing, as well as to any other form of digital
The CAN-SPAM Act is meant to clear the digital streets for
consumers to move freely, without having to worry about finding
their actual emails under the pile of commercial emails they have
no interest in.
If you’re wondering, there aren’t any exceptions for B2B
What is a CAN-SPAM opt-in?
Among the many directives in the CAN-SPAM act, the most vital is
its opt-in requirement. All this means is that you can’t send
commercial emails to someone without them choosing to receive them
Luckily, this law shouldn’t have any effect on an email
marketer following best practices. After all, one of the tenets of
email marketing is that an email list full of quality
subscribers—those who are engaged with your emails—is far
superior to a list full of subscribers who don’t won’t to hear
from you. In email marketing, quality over quantity is key.
However, this rule is only the beginning of what makes up the
Here are some of the other best practices for avoiding the wrath
of a CAN-SPAM fine.
1. Avoid phony header information
All of the information surrounding the header of your email has
to be true, with no exceptions. This includes the “from,”
“to,” and “reply-to” sections. In other words, you can’t
pretend an email is from a person’s friend and make it sound like
the friend is pitching your service.
All in all, you aren’t allowed to misrepresent yourself to the
That would obviously unethical, and it’s illegal, too.
2. Don’t get duplicitous with your subject line
In the same vein as misrepresenting your header information, you
need to make sure your subject line isn’t duplicitous.
This means you can’t put in your subject line, “Act Now for
a Free iPhone,” then fail to have anything in your email related
to a free iPhone. That’s basically cheating in order to get
higher open rates.
This doesn’t mean you can’t create a cheeky subject line,
just make sure it’s related to the contents of the email. For
instance, a subject line that says, “You’re Not Going to Want
to Miss This,” is vague enough that it could work for most
But if you make a specific claim in your subject line, you need
to back it up.
3. Be transparent
You must tell the recipient of your email that it’s an ad, a
stipulation we’re starting to see implemented in other realms of
digital marketing as well.
This requirement guards against companies sending out emails as
if they were from a third-party—or actually contracting a
third-party as is the case in
influencer marketing—who recommends a company’s products or
services without receiving something in return.
Having the correct header information, using the POV of your
company, and having a footer with your logo/company info should be
enough to let your readers know your email is an add and will have
you CAN-SPAM compliant.
4. Include your company’s address
At some point in your email, you need to include your
company’s mailing address. While you can include this anywhere,
it’s generally put at the bottom with your logo and the rest of
Depending on the nature of your company, this could be a street
address or a private mailbox with a commercial mail agency.
This guideline fits in with the general theme of the CAN-SPAM
act, as it’s about being frank with your mailing list. Veiling
your identity when trying to sell a product online is a big
As you can see in the email below, the address is added at the
bottom in a discreet way that doesn’t conflict with the overall
design of the email.
Really Good Emails
5. Add an unsubscribe option to your emails
According to the CAN-SPAM Act, your emails must include an
unsubscribe option, whether it’s a button or a link. In addition,
you must give the user a clear indicator of how he or she can
opt-out of any future messages.
If you’d like, you can manufacture your unsubscribe process to
include specifics, meaning the user can unsubscribe from a certain
type of email, but stay subscribed for another. Even if you do
that, a master unsubscribe option must still be available.
You may not like having to add an unsubscribe option to your
emails, but doing so can be
beneficial to your email marketing program (in addition to
keeping you CAN-SPAM compliant, that is).
If people who aren’t interested in your content are
unsubscribing, it means you’re mailing list engagement can
actually go up. It’s better to have a smaller, more active
mailing list, then a larger, less active one.
6. Stop sending emails after a customer unsubscribes
As a companion to the preceding practice of adding an
unsubscribe button to emails, you must also ensure that you honor
the customer’s subscription request within 10 days.
It’s also illegal to
attach a fee to an unsubscribe button or to require the
user’s personal information before unsubscribing them. In
addition, you can’t make the user go through a series of hoops in
order to unsubscribe.
It must be a simple, intuitive process, such as clicking a link.
But, like most aspects of the CAN-SPAM Act, obeying the regulations
not only keep you compliant but strengthen your email marketing
program and your brand’s relationship with consumers.
If someone doesn’t want to be on your email list anymore and
unsubscribes, keeping them on your list is disrespectful and
probably motivated by greed. No one wants to do business with a
company like that.
7. Keep your eye on your email marketing service
If you’ve hired an outside email marketing service that sends
out emails for you, you’re still responsible for their behavior.
That means that if they go against the CAN-SPAM act in any way, you
are still responsible and can be fined.
If you want to make sure you’re aboveboard, keep an eye on any
third party email services and make sure they’re following the
CAN-SPAM act best practices.
What are CAN-SPAM text messages?
In case you’re wondering, the CAN-SPAM act applies to text
messages in the same way it applies to email marketing.
When using SMS marketing, you must always be transparent,
include an unsubscribe option, and never send messages to people
who haven’t opted in.
The only difference is that CAN-SPAM doesn’t apply to messages
that come from other mobile phones. For instance, if you’ve ever
received a text from a politician’s campaign during elections,
you’re receiving a text from a volunteer, not a business number,
so CAN-SPAM doesn’t apply.
The only messages that fall under CAN-SPAM scrutiny are those
that are attached to an internet domain.
Is the CAN-SPAM Act different in 2019?
While the act remains largely unchanged 16 years later, there
have been changes in the way people communicate online and in the
email marketing field.
However, the passage of GDPR in the European Union and the
frequency of discussion around privacy and data in the digital
sphere, you can expect to see people’s concern for their privacy
continue to grow in the future.
If you can take the concepts around the CAN-SPAM Act and apply
them to other types of digital marketing, you have the chance to
prove to your customers and prospects that you care about their
privacy and respect their wishes.
Putting transparency, honesty, and respect for customers at the
forefront of your digital marketing practices will only help you
turn customers into lifelong brand advocates.
Email marketing is all about bringing in revenue for your brand,
not losing it. Therefore, you’ll want to avoid breaking any of
the CAN-SPAM guidelines, as they bring with them a five-figure fine
that will counteract months of hard work.
To adhere to the CAN-SPAM best practices, this is what you need
- Don’t lie in your email’s header.
- Keep your subject line consistent with your email’s
- Make sure your clear that your email is an ad
- Include your company’s address with every email
- Every email needs to have an unsubscribe option
- Customers need to be unsubscribed within 10 days of their
- Any emails sent under your brand are your responsibility
All of these directives don’t just apply to emails, but to
text messages, as well. Any kind of digital communication falls
under the CAN-SPAM guidelines.
While the act was passed in 2003, its contents remain largely
the same in 2019, thought the landscape of email marketing requires
some extra supervision.
As long as you stick to the CAN-SPAM act’s simple rules,
you’re free to go wild and create the greatest email marketing
campaign anyone’s ever seen.
Disobeying the CAN-SPAM act is only one of the ways that
email marketers can get in trouble. Here are some other
behaviors you’ll want to avoid.
Source: FS – Email Marketing Blogs!
CAN-SPAM Best Practices for 2019