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

how to ensure your email message gets delivered

I met a woman at a networking event last year. I’ll call her Nicki.

Nicki and I chatted for a few minutes, and she struck me as smart and motivated. I liked her.

That was six months ago, and now Nicki’s emails are driving me insane.

After that networking event, Nicki added my name and email address to her mailing list. She didn’t ask if I wanted to join her list — she just added me.

And since then, about once a month, Nicki has been copying me on bulk email messages she sends to hundreds of people using her email’s “BCC” field.

None of Nicki’s emails have an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom, so I can’t opt out of these emails without personally writing to her and saying, “Please stop emailing me!”

Nicki’s email marketing strategy is a CAN-SPAM nightmare. She’s breaking the law on a regular basis, and I’ll bet she has no idea she’s doing it. It even gets worse.

Nicki’s emails are also so annoying that I’ve decided I’m never doing business with her or sending her any referrals. She’s lost a potential relationship with me by breaking email marketing regulations.

Nicki could be charged thousands of dollars for every email she sends that isn’t CAN-SPAM compliant. The way I figure it, Nicki could be charged more than $95,000 just for the emails she’s sent me in the last six months.


Don’t become a CAN-SPAM nightmare. When you follow these simple regulations from the government, you’ll make your prospects happier and steer clear of email-related legal problems.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act, and why is it so important?

George W. Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law in 2003, and its regulations establish how we can build our email lists and distribute commercial email messages. CAN-SPAM stands for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing.”

The penalties for not following CAN-SPAM regulations are steep. You can be charged up to $16,000 for every email you send that’s not CAN-SPAM compliant. This is not a law you want to gamble with.

CAN-SPAM regulations give email recipients the right to ask businesses to stop emailing them and outline harsh penalties for marketers who don’t comply. They also forbid marketers from misleading or deceiving the people on their email lists.

Now, before we cover basic CAN-SPAM law requirements, please note that I’m not a lawyer and this article does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions about CAN-SPAM regulations, please consult the Federal Trade Commission’s website and/or your attorney.

CAN-SPAM basics for content marketers

I highly recommend reading the full description of CAN-SPAM rules on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, but here’s the CAN-SPAM Act in a nutshell.

To comply with CAN-SPAM laws, you absolutely must:

  • Tell your subscribers where you’re located. You need to include your physical mailing address on every email you send. It can be your current street address, a post office box, or a private commercial mailbox.
  • Provide an easy, free method for opting out of receiving future emails from you. Every message you send to your list must include a clear and easy-to-read explanation about how to opt out. Preferably, this explanation includes a link labeled “Unsubscribe.” Whatever your method, make sure it’s not hidden or misleading. Reputable email service providers offer a way to take care of this for you.
  • Use clear language in the “From,” “To,” and “Reply to” fields. Don’t make any false claims about who the email is from. Long story short: don’t say you’re Leonardo diCaprio if you’re not.
  • Honor opt-out requests within 10 days. If someone says he wants to be removed from your list, you must remove that person within 10 days of his request. Email service providers will automatically remove a subscriber from your list when someone makes an opt-out request — so if you use one, you’re all set.
  • If someone sends email messages on your behalf, monitor those messages carefully. If you have a virtual assistant or partner who sends out emails under your name, it’s your responsibility to supervise all email activities and immediately correct any problems.

You absolutely must not:

  • Add anyone to your list without permission. For example, if you meet people at conferences and exchange business cards with them, you cannot add those folks to your list. You also can’t add previous business contacts or colleagues, even if you personally email them on a regular basis. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution, and never add people to your mailing list if you haven’t expressly received their permission to do so.
  • Share or sell the email addresses on your list. The people who signed up for your list trust you to keep their information safe. Don’t betray that trust by sharing or selling the contacts on your list.

(Quick reminder: Using an email service provider can help you comply with many of these items. You can find out more about selecting an email service provider here.)

Why you absolutely, positively cannot cut corners when building your email list

As a smart content marketer, you know your email list is one of your most important business assets.

But many marketers are in such a hurry to add email addresses to their lists (and start promoting their products and services) that they either don’t learn the critical CAN-SPAM laws that can keep them out of legal hot water or they learn the laws — and then ignore them.

In order to build a loyal list of subscribers, you must follow the legal regulations that govern how we behave when communicating via email.

Remember: Don’t be like Nicki. Don’t randomly pick up business cards at events and turn those potential contacts into email hostages.

Review these CAN-SPAM rules, and make sure you follow them to the letter. You’ll keep your subscribers happy, and you’ll sleep better at night knowing the Federal Trade Commission is not going to come knocking at your door with a big bill.

Read other posts in our current email marketing series

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The post CAN-SPAM 101: A Crash Course in Bulk Email Regulations appeared first on Copyblogger.


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