CAN-SPAM 101: A Crash Course in Bulk Email Regulations

CAN-SPAM 101: A Crash Course in Bulk Email Regulations

Reader Comments (34)

  1. Actually, the last 2 items you list (not adding people to your list without their permission and not sharing or selling their information) are not part of CAN-SPAM regulations at all…. They are definitely considered best practices by most marketers today. But there is nothing in the CAN-SPAM Act that prohibits these activities.

    • Hey Jen – I disagree with you on the first point and agree on the second. Every summary of CAN-SPAM regulations I researched for this article definitely included the first item (not adding people without their permission). But either way, waiting until people opt-in is the right way to run your business.

    • You’re right, but you will be blacklisted.. and your emailing system (ie. Mailchimp) will probably cut you off. Even if the subscribers signed up for your list. This may happen if you have a large amount of unsubscribers or spam notifications. This happened to one of my accounts, because I let the list sit too long before sending any emails.. “old list”..

  2. Hi Beth – I attend lots of conferences throughout the year and find that many of the people I meet are happy to join my company’s mailing list when they’re given the choice. Instead of holding them hostage like “Nicki” does, I send everyone I meet an email reminding them how we met, thanking them for their time, and notifying them that I will be adding them to my mailing list. But I always add that they can unsubscribe at any time and clearly provide the link. Is this CAN-SPAM compliant, or is there another way I should be handling this? Thanks for the advice!

    • Hi Michael –

      Again, I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that you really need to ask before you add them. I also think it’s the best way to do it, ethically – why make people opt OUT, when you can just ensure they really want to be on your list in the first place by letting them self-select? You’ll also get a far more qualified list of prospects that way.

    • Just an additional data point on this, Michael — I loathe when people do this to me, as do most of the professionals I talk with about this issue.

      Email boxes are already cluttered. Don’t add me to something I have weak or zero interest in — even if we had a nice conversation at a conference.

      If someone asks you to add them, then of course that’s a completely different thing.

      • Thanks for the advice Sonia. Yes, I usually ask onsite if they’d like to be added, but still provide the opt-out info in the initial welcome email. Still, after hearing you and Beth talk about this, I’m thinking a better option is to remind them that they were interested in the list and provide them with a link to sign up themselves.

  3. Beth,
    Great article – I’m going to share it with a few companies whose lists I ended up on – without permission! I have come across many Nicki’s and ended up on way too many lists, which is infuriating. This includes huge companies, city chamber offices, and LinkedIn connections peddling themselves. Crossing boundaries like this is not cool. If I want to opt in, I will. People can tell me about their company and even send me a link to their site, telling me why I’d want to join the conversation, but please don’t add me to lists without my permission. To me it’s more than the CAN SPAM issue, it’s just good manners.

  4. I get spam email for different products, notably sunglasses and junk that I’ve never signed up for. When I unsubscribe it does no good because the sender has some sort of a program which then just sends out the same email from the same company but with a different sender name made up of nonsense letters. (wpfgnb, cuiaf, feow, etc.) I think it’s UGG that is the company listed on the ad but the email id is always different. I can unsubscribe as often as I want but I just get another one with a different sender id for the same ad. Any thoughts on how to stop that?

    • Unfortunately no – other than using email filters to put those emails into a spam folder before you ever see them. That’s what I do for repeat offenders!

    • Be careful with this! Sounds like a phishing attempt (where you enter your credit card on a legit looking site, but end up with nothing more than a few surprises on your bank statement). Definitely send these emails straight to spam.

  5. Beth, great article. Thanks so much! Our email provider told us that if someone had done business with us in the last 12-18 months, we could include them on our list. They always have the ability to opt out. This has been our practice for several years, but now I’m reading articles like yours that say people must choose to be added. I’m thinking of handling it like this. Send an email to customers who ordered from us that week but who that did not sign up online and ask them to opt in to continue hearing from us. If they don’t opt in or if they don’t even open the email, don’t include them on our list and don’t email them. We tried adding one of those “do you want us to email you” buttons on our shopping cart, but it crashed the site. Trying to figure out how to ethically stay in touch with our customers who didn’t find our “join our email list” links scattered all over the site. Looking forward to your advice.

    • I’m not sure about this, actually – I normally do put my actual customers on my mailing list, but it’s unclear what the CAN-SPAM regulations are on the subject. I think you just need to use your best judgement, and always err on the side of caution.

  6. Hey Beth,
    Great article — simple and informative. Occasionally out the blue I’ll receive an email in which I’m CC’ed with a LOT of other people. I’ll end up filtering it, but I do feel your pain. Good informative post overall about the CAN SPAM act.

    Thank you!

  7. Great article! I wonder if Email swaps are legal under the CAN-SPAM regulations?? There are hundreds of Email swaps services online where you can give money to other people with an email list in order to promote your website.

    • I don’t know if they’re legal or not, but I’d be very cautious of this. Sounds like a recipe for super (SUPER) low conversion rates, and tons of people getting annoyed and opting out.

  8. Thanks for this. It’s an excellent summary and, opt-in question or no, should be annually required reading as a refresher for marketers everywhere.

    Over the years, we’ve had a couple of clients who were intractable in their attitude toward spamming; and, while I made the same arguments you do against it, I was missing the monetary penalty info. These folks are no longer clients (for obvious reasons) but I daresay $16K per violation would have gone a long way toward snapping them out of their bad habits. Thanks for the added reform incentive we can offer future spammers!

  9. When it comes to email marketing, I’m so worried I’m going to do something wrong, I just do exactly what MailChimp tells me to do.

    It’s kind of frustrating to see all those people who show interest by signing up once, but don’t actually confirm it in the follow-up email. It’s tempting to not do double opt-in sometimes.

    • Following MailChimp regulations sounds smart to me, Brian! And I know it’s annoying to have lots of people fail to confirm, but you are probably getting a better quality list in the long run.

  10. Hi Beth,
    Thanks for this article. I am from a different part of the world where can-spam rules don’t exist. I was looking for a guideline for netiquettes of email marketing and I guess this article hit the right note.

    • One thing to be aware of: You are subject to the spam laws of the country where your subscribers live, not just your own. So if you have US-based subscribers, the US spam law applies to you. And they do sometimes reach outside the borders to enforce it.

  11. Great article, and much needed. As a marketing agency, I get a lot of request to send emails using a non opt-in list. Unfortunately, I have to reject the work because at the end the conversion rate will be horrible and the client will still hold you accountable for the poor performance. If its not opt-in, don’t waste your time or reputation.

  12. Thanks for this not only great but also very informative article Beth. I am going to share this article at different platforms and also with my fellow friends to do best their work and would like to spread the awareness like you did! 🙂

  13. The truth is that all those unwilling subscribers, the people you added without permission aren’t really interested. You are kidding yourself, inflating your email list numbers, and actually driving your open rate and click through rates down as these reluctant contacts ignore or worse yet, report you as spam.

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