If you send emails to or from the United States, then you may need to comply with the anti-spam requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act). This article contains the basics of what a small business owner or internet marketer needs to know to get started with their email compliance.
If you are sending “commercial” email to more than one person at a time, you must comply with these rules. What does “commercial” email mean? Short answer — if you are a business, group, association, or anyone who has the potential to make money off of this email (even indirectly like via referrals or advertising), then it’s commercial. If you are in business, just assume you meet this requirement.
If you are sending a one-to-one email to a client or customer about your transaction with them, you only need to make sure you are sending an email with accurate information, such as using the real “from” address. The more specific rules apply when you send emails to multiple people and/or not involving a transaction:
You must not be deceptive in the header (return email address, domain name, IP address) or the subject line. You must give a method for the recipient of the email to opt-out of being on your list or from receiving any future emails from you. You must process their opt-out within 10 business days. You must maintain this opt-out list. You must include your physical mailing address in your emails. The email must be identified as an advertisement. You don’t have to put it in the subject, but you must contain the name of the business and/or other identifying information showing that the email is commercial in nature. You cannot harvest email addresses from web sites, directories, membership databases, or any other service/website that prohibit taking of email addresses. You may not guess at email address (for example, send to every firstname.lastname@example.org email) to send mass emails.
Ironically, the spammers who really are the problem do not comply with any of these rules and are probably not going to get caught, typically because they hide behind shells or are outside of the United States. It’s all of us small business owners who are at risk of non-compliance.
The easiest way to comply with these rules is to go with a major commercial mass email service provider. I use aweber.com and 1shoppingcart.com to send out emails — both maintain and administer my opt-in/opt-out lists for me. And, since they don’t allow spammers to use their service (or contaminate their servers), my emails get through to my list.
Best practice — only send emails to people who specifically tell you (or sign up) for your eZine (not just hand you their business card). Better yet — have them double-opt-in (sign up and then confirm their signup by clicking on a link in an email).