Sending Legally

If you’re new to email marketing, there are some basic principles to review before you start sending campaigns. We’ll talk about best practices, legal issues, and how to measure your overall performance.

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

The United States federal CAN-SPAM Act became law on January 1, 2004. According to their website, the FTC says that if you violate the law, you could be fined $11,000 for each offense (multiply $11,000 times the number of people on your recipient list). ISPs around the country have already successfully sued spammers for millions and millions of dollars under this law.

We can’t give you much legal advice, but if you send commercial email, you should read through the CAN- SPAM Act of 2003 and understand the rules. If you have a lawyer, consult with her. There are a couple of points we’d like to highlight. If you’re sending commercial email (where you’re selling or promoting stuff), here are a few rules you should know about:

  • Never use deceptive headers, from-names, reply-tos, or subject lines.
  • You must always provide an unsubscribe link.
  • Remove recipients from your list within 10 business days.
  • The unsubscribe link must work for at least 30 days after sending.
  • You must include your physical mailing address in the email (PO Boxes are sufficient).

Double Opt-in

We highly recommend the double opt-in method when managing your email lists. In fact, it’s the only way MailChimp’s built-in list management system will work. Here’s a quick overview of the process:

  • A customer signs up for your email newsletter through a form at your website.
  • She receives an email with a confirmation link.
  • If she clicks the link, she’s added to your list, and you store the IP address, date, and time of registration. Now you’ve got proof of opt-in, should you ever need it in the future (like if you receive a false or malicious abuse report).

If she doesn’t click the link, she’s not added to the list. Double opt-in is fast replacing the single opt-in method, where someone submits a form, and bam—they’re added to a list. There are too many chances for someone to get signed up to a list without her permission, either erroneously or maliciously. And there’s no need to even discuss the old opt-out method anymore. That’s getting phased out, due to all the spam complaints marketers get from people who never saw the opt-out check. Don’t be so desperate to grow your list that you put your company’s reputation on the line.

Permission Reminders

Even when you’re on the up-and-up, take care to avoid violating CAN-SPAM, and get subscribers to double opt-in, you can still run into trouble. This is where permission reminders come into play. People sometimes don’t pay much attention when they sign up, but with a permission reminder in your campaign (“You’re receiving this email because…”), you can let your readers know that what you’re sending is something they actually asked for and want.

Unsubscribe Links

Now, say you did everything above correctly. Unfortunately, you’re still going to get people who lose interest for one reason or another. By providing a clearly visible unsubscribe link, you can avoid a lot of headaches (and abuse reports). Some readers will report you as spam if it’s too hard to find the unsubscribe link, so make it prominent and separate from the rest of your content. Style it appropriately, too, avoiding tricks like making the link a similar color to your email’s background. Spam hounds hate this, and you could get blacklisted.