How Spam Could Put You Out of Business: 9 Ways You May Unknowingly Be Breaking Email Laws

Email marketing is a great way to build a business – or lose one, if you run afoul of the CAN-SPAM law. This regulation doesn’t just cover the proper use of bulk mail, as you might imagine from its name; but, “Any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”

This means the next time you send out an email message to former customers about a new product line, its a good idea to review the rules for commercial email. On its site, the FTC warns that, “Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $40,654.”

Here are nine missteps that can cause small business owners to run afoul of the CAN-SPAM law:

Draw Customers in With a Fake Subject Line.

A subject line that says “You’re a Winner” might get more clicks, but you’re in trouble if the message doesn’t reflect the content of the message. The Federal Trade Commission recently brought suit against a company that sent emails designed to give the impression of a brief note from a friend. The emails read “Hi! CNN says this is one of the best [link]” and “Hi! Have you already seen it? [link].” Even ignoring subtleties can get you in trouble. For example, your subject line can’t suggest you are offering a 75% off coupon if you’re only giving 10% off.

Keep Your Identity Secret.

Sure, a customer might be more likely to open an email they think is from their uncle rather than an ad. However, your “From,” “To,” and “Reply to” elements need to accurately reflect who you are – this includes the person or business sending the message, as well as the domain name and subject line.

Hide the Fact Your Email is an Ad.

You don’t need to label your message “an advertisement,” but you have to come up with a way to communicate
the message is selling something. A “brought to you by” at the
close of the email is often considered sufficient, according to the marketing firm Comm100.

Soft Peddle the Sex.

In the case of commercial email that contains sexually oriented material, the CAN-SPAM Act’s Adult Labeling Rule requires the phrase “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT” to appear in all caps as the first 19 characters in the subject line.

Don’t Tell Anyone Your Physical Location.

Listing a physical address is not only a way to gain recipients’ trust – it’s a legal requirement of CAN-SPAM. You can use a street address, a registered post office box or private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.

Ignore Requests For Opt-Outs.

Emails can be a lot like love: If someone wants to leave, let them go; if it’s meant to happen, they’ll return. Your email must have a conspicuous notice of how to opt-out that the average person can understand. You can include a link to a menu that allows a customer to opt out of some of your offerings. But you must also give them a way of opting out of everything.

Drag Your Feet On Opt-Outs.

After you send any message, the opt-out mechanism must work for at least 30 days. And you must honor the opt-out request within 10 days. You can’t charge a fee, can’t ask for any information beyond their email address, and you can’t ask them to do anything other than send a single email or visit a single web page.

Don’t Monitor if Your Email Vendor is Following the Law.

You can’t contract your legal responsibilities away to a third party. This is where many small business get in trouble. According to the FTC, when it comes to email law, both the vendor and the client can be found at fault.

Forget About the Law if Customers Have Already Given Consent to Contact Them.

While this consent eliminates the need to identify your email as an ad or solicitation, all other components of the act remain in force.

When you think about it, CAN-SPAM is just about respecting your customers. And that can lead to more sales – and can help you avoid fines, or worse, for breaking the nine rules.

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