If you are new to email marketing (or have been at it awhile), you might be unaware of rules and regulations that come along with managing a mailing list and launching campaigns.
Though you may be eager to get things up and running, you should know about certain legal guidelines before undertaking any email marketing effort.
In 2003, President George W. 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 must be handled.
More recently, the European Union ratified the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), its data-protection law, which also sets forth requirements for email marketers. It’s important that you know about this if you’re reaching out to consumers abroad.
Let’s walk through the essentials of all the relevant laws so 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 car and then have body copy that never mentions it.
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 that “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 post office box—in the email footer. It has to be a valid address for your business, too. So if you’ve moved recently, add the email footer 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 strict rules about how to handle unsubscribe requests.
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 must 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 this information must then be maintained by you, and if they do revoke consent at any point, you have 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 gaffes when it comes to adhering to the laws.