5 Email Marketing Rules You Need to Know and Follow

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Spamming is bad practice for email marketers. It’s bad because Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have internal controls that shift these emails from consumer inboxes to spam folders—which means most are never read. It’s bad because consumers are more skeptical and cautious than they used to be—they don’t trust hyperbolic subject lines, and they know that emails from senders they don’t recognize could be part of a phishing scheme.  Equally important, the federal government has rules and regulations which could assess hefty fines on businesses which send spam emails.

The Downside of Email Marketing Automation

The popularity of automation in email marketing has made it easier for businesses, even those which don't intend it, to send spam emails. According to Entrepreneur, in 2013, spam constituted a whopping 84% of all email traffic. Some of these businesses are unscrupulous, fully aware that the emails they send don’t comply with anti-spamming rules and government regulations. Others don’t intend to send spam, but are using inadequate marketing automation software that doesn’t alert them to the fact that the emails they send are non-compliant.


Signed into law in 2003 by then President George W. Bush, the CAN-SPAM Act established national standards for commercial email and empowered the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce those standards. It’s important to note that CAN-SPAM covers all commercial email, not just bulk email, and both business-to-business and business-to-consumer email. Businesses which violate CAN-SPAM and are caught are subject to fines of up to $16,000 for each separate violation.

The Rules of Engagement

There are some simple rules of engagement to ensure you’re in compliance with anti-spamming regulations. Here are the top 5:

  1. False or misleading headers:  the information in your “from” and “to” fields must be accurate. ISPs will identify emails which aren’t from a legitimate source as spam. Mistakes typically occur when a company sends out emails using its own servers, or without the help of a reputable marketing agency which has the tools to establish authentication.
  2. Deceptive subject lines and content:  your subject line should accurately reflect what’s in the content of your email. To avoid being spammed, don’t use special characters which break up words (as in “You*3re a w*nner!), and only link to reputable websites. Avoid designing emails in html, which adds extra formatting that increases your spam score.
  3. Ads disguised as something else:  CAN-SPAM specifically requires that marketers must identify promotional emails as ads.The FTC gives businesses a good deal of leeway in how they characterize their emails, but those which are ads must be “clearly and conspicuously” identified as such.
  4. Lack of a valid postal address:  the FTC wants recipients who try to stop receiving emails or register a complaint with the sender to have some recourse other than simply hitting "reply." For this reason, CAN-SPAM requires that your emails include a valid, physical postal address—either a street address or a PO Box registered with the U.S. Postal Service.
  5. Not letting recipients opt out:  why a business would continue sending emails to consumers who no longer want them is a bit of a mystery—perhaps the theory among these marketers is that, eventually, consumers will come around to their way of thinking and buy their products and services—they don’t. Not letting recipients opt out is not only bad for your business; it could also land you in legal trouble with the FTC. Give recipients a “clear and conspicuous” way to opt out, or unsubscribe, to your emails. Omitting this option, or making it overly difficult to find or use, is a mistake. Federal law requires that you honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days, and prevents you from selling their email address to another business.

Spam emails don’t make business sense, and they could result in hefty fines for those who get caught. It’s important to remember that every contact you have with customers and prospective customers matters:  the sum of those interactions should build trust and loyalty over time. To learn more about the ways our affordable contact management services will help you better serve your customers and grow your business, get started with your free trial today.