Feel Free To Share!
Simple, Affordable, Practical
Small Business Marketing

Does your email marketing break the law?

Several times in the past year, I’ve had the following conversation with various small business owners:

Me: “Email marketing will produce by far the best return on investment of any form of marketing a small business can invest in.”

Biz owner: “Yeah, we’ve got an email newsletter already.”

Me: “That’s great!  What service do you use to send it out?”

Biz owner: “Oh, we just use gmail.”

At this point, I wince inwardly, because I know that the business owner is probably in violation of the CAN-SPAM act, and is risking fines of up to $16,000 per email without even knowing they are breaking the law.

What is the CAN-SPAM act?

If you’ve never heard of the CAN-SPAM act, you’re not alone.  Most small business owners are blissfully unaware of it, but ignorance of the law has never been an excuse for breaking it, so it’s time you studied up on the laws relating to commercial email.  The CAN-SPAM act is designed to prevent people from getting commercial emails that they don’t want.  According to the law, a commercial email is one that has a primary purpose of “the advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”  If your business has an email newsletter (which it should), it probably falls into this category.  That means that it must comply with the following main points of the CAN-SPAM act:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information:  this includes the “From”, “To”, and routing information
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines:  you have to say what the email is actually about in the subject
  3. Identify the message as an ad: don’t try to disguise it as a note from a friend, or anything else
  4. Tell recipients where you are: the email must include a mailing address registered with the U.S. Postal Service
  5. Tell recipients how to opt-out of receiving future emails from you
  6. Honor all opt-out requests promptly
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf: if you hired someone to do your email marketing, YOU are responsible for making sure they comply with the law.

For more detailed information, you can download the official CAN-SPAM act Compliance guide published by the FTC, including a list of frequently asked questions.

How to ensure compliance with the law

This brings us back to the beginning of the post and the conversation I’ve had with several small business owners who were using gmail to send out an email newsletter.  The reason that these businesses were probably breaking the law is that an email sent via gmail does not automatically give people a way to remove themselves from an email list, and it also doesn’t automatically include a physical address of the business.  Unless the business owner was aware of these requirements and manually adding those elements, their emails were breaking the law.

The good news is that there is an easy way to comply with the CAN-SPAM act, and that is to use an email marketing service like Constant Contact, Aweber, or Mail Chimp to send out emails.  All of these services will guide users through the process of CAN-SPAM compliance, and will automatically include things like your address and an opt-out method in every email.  You’ll also be able to see who opens your emails, which links they click on, and many other statistics that will help you improve your email marketing.  Most importantly, you won’t have people on your email list who don’t want to be there, and who might file spam complaints with the FTC (which could lead to those nasty fines).