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The CAN-SPAM Act and Beyond: Improving Email Compliance, Deliverability, and Readability

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The CAN-SPAM Act and Beyond: Improving Email Compliance, Deliverability, and Readability

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: May 5, 2009


is possibly one of the simplest forms of government regulation with

which businesses of all sizes can achieve quick compliance.


we all know that SPAM laws are deliberately broken each day - you only

have to look at the volume of SPAM in your Inbox (currently increasing

at an average of 1.2% per day according to a Google report)

- it is actually the act of non-deliberate spamming that is putting

many a small business at risk of non-compliance and hefty fines.

The CAN-SPAM Act - More than Just Preventing Junk Mail


CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and

Marketing) Act of 2003 regulates more than just what we typically

consider electronic junk mail. For example, did you know that if you

fail to include your postal address on a commercial email (HTML or

text) then you could be fined up to $11,000?

If your small

business sends out email 'whose primary purpose is advertising or

promoting a commercial product or service, including content on a Web

site', you will need to familiarize yourself with online advertising law and the CAN-SPAM Act.


commercial email broadcast software and tools can help small business

owners ease the process of compliance with handy features such as

built-in opt-out tools, list management services, guidance on email

content, etc.

Once you understand the fundamentals, the habit of

applying it to your email marketing will quickly become so ingrained

into your psyche that when email crosses your path that doesn’t comply

- it will stand out like a sore thumb.

Complying with the CAN-SPAM Act


you thought that CAN-SPAM was a tinned meat product, or you have some

awareness of the legalities that govern online marketing practices and

just need a refresher, here are a few simple steps that you can take to

comply with the CAN-SPAM Act:

1. Keep your Email Header Information Honest

- All email marketing headers, i.e. the 'From', 'To' and routing

information (including the originating domain name and email address)

must accurately identify the person or entity sending the email.

2. Don’t Mislead with Your Subject Lines

- Keeping subject lines honest and to the point will also help target

your specific customers pain points and needs. If you put copy in the

'Subject' field that contains misleading information about the contents

of the message, you could be breaking the law.

3. Provide an Unsubscribe or Opt-Out Method

- You must provide a 'clear and conspicuous' return email address or

another online response mechanism that lets the recipient 'opt-out' of

your future mailings.

4. Honor and Manage all Unsubscribe Requests -

Simply providing an opt-out method is not enough. You be able to

process all opt-out requests within 30 days of the original email being

sent, and stop sending email to the requestor’s email address within 10

days of the original request. You are then prohibited from using other

avenues to reach these opt-outs, such as a have another send email on

your behalf.

5. List Privacy - It’s illegal to sell or

distribute the email addresses of people who have chosen to unsubscribe

from your emails to another entity seeking to send email to that party.

6. Include a Physical Mailing Address - All commercial email must contain your business’ full physical mailing address.

Non-Compliance and Blacklists

The CAN-SPAM Act is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission;

the Act gives the Department of Justice the authority to enforce its

criminal sanctions. Other federal and state agencies can enforce the

law against organizations under their jurisdiction.

One of the

most common consequences of suspected SPAM violations is the

'blacklisting' of your email domain by Internet service providers at

the request of your customers or recipients.


occurs when a customer or prospect determines that your email is or has

the appearance of being unsolicited SPAM, they can choose to 'Block

Sender' or 'Report SPAM' at the click of a button.


blacklisted is a big problem for small business that often rely on

email as their primary marketing tactic. First you have to deal with a

perception problem among your 'customer' base and second your email,

once blacklisted, won’t reach those who actually want to read it.

Going Beyond Compliance with Permission-Based Marketing


the end of the day, your best strategy for improving deliverability and

readability of your email marketing is to go one step beyond CAN-SPAM

compliance and implement a 'permission-based' approach. Permission

marketing is essentially when a recipient has provided explicit consent

that they want to receive your email communications - whether by a

sign-up or other opt-in mechanism. Read more about 'The Fundamentals of Permission-Based Email Marketing' (from MarketingProfs.com).

Other Resources

  • Online Advertising Law: A Guide for Small Businesses

    - Business.gov has put together a comprehensive guide for small

    businesses who plan to advertise online. Whether you're buying ads on

    search engines or direct marketing through e-mail, you'll need to

    understand some basic rules.

  • The Federal Trade Commission’s SPAM Web Site - Advice and resources for businesses to achieve compliance, plus reports and insights into all things SPAM.
  • Avoid Email Blacklists

    - Understanding email blacklists and immediate steps you should take to

    reduce complaints, build customer trust, and increase delivery (from

    iMedia Connection).

  • Tools to Check if You’re on a Blacklist

    - Links to free or free trial-based online services where you enter

    your mail server IP address and/or domain name and check it against

    various lists of blocked senders.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley


Wow! There is a lot to adhere to here and the last thing any small business owners wants is to face expensive litigation. Thanks for drawing attention to this.
I had no idea that a small business could be fined so much for not lising their postal address on a commercial email. No business owner should over look this.
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thanks 4 information, and fully agree with DavidP, its too easy to make a rule, when important letters can be moved to SPAM-follder __________________best term paperMessage Edited by NicoleD on 09-30-2009 11:26 AM
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