The CAN-SPAM Act: Are You Sending Spam?

Aug 18, 2015 | Email Marketing

According to ReturnPath, you can expect 10-20% of your emails to get lost in cyberspace, mostly due to overzealous filters. But sometimes we actually find ourselves breaking a very important law, the CAN-SPAM Act.

Are You Sending Spam?

You spend hours each week crafting the perfect email newsletter to send to your customers. You verify that the subject line is catchy, the links are working properly, and your images are attention-grabbing. After all of that hard work, don’t you want to see that your email was successfully delivered to your customers? Of course you do! But what do you do when you discover that your email was marked as spam? It can happen to the best of us, even those of us that are diligently trying not to send spammy email!

MailChimp defines spam as “unsolicited, irrelevant email, sent in bulk to a list of people”. According to ReturnPath, you can expect 10-20% of your emails to get lost in cyberspace, mostly due to overzealous filters. But sometimes we actually find ourselves breaking a very important law, the CAN-SPAM Act. We are going to help you better understand the CAN-SPAM act so that you can stay in the safe zone of email marketing and avoid any legal pitfalls associated with spam.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act?

On January 1, 2004, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 became law, effectively penalizing any spammer who sends unsolicited email. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, offenders could be fined $11,000 for each unsolicited email (MailChimp). Things to note if you want to protect yourself include:

  • Never use deceptive subject lines, from names, or reply addresses
  • Always include a clear, easy-to-find unsubscribe link
  • The unsubscribe link must work for 30 days after sending
  • Always include your physical mailing address (P.O. Box addresses are fine)
  • Only send email to people who have opted in to your list

In regard to the last point, you must always ensure that your list of recipients have knowingly opted in to receive your emails. The only exception to this, according to the CAN-SPAM Act, would be if you and the recipient have a prior business relationship and you are sending emails that assist in continuing that relationship (GeekArtist).

How Spam Filters Work

MailChimp explains how spam filters work to help you better understand why your emails may be getting blocked:

“Spam filters consider a long list of criteria when judging the 'spamminess' of an email. They’ll weigh each factor and add them up to determine a spam score, which then determines whether a campaign will pass through the filter. They might look for spammy phrases like 'CLICK HERE!' or 'FREE! BUY NOW!' Then they'll assign points every time they see one of those phrases. Certain criteria get more points than others.”

Once a spam score is determined for your email, it will either pass through or go to the junk folder. The passing score varies by individual server administrators so there aren’t any cut-and-dry criteria for determining what gets through and what does not.

Additional Compliance Details

The Federal Trade Commission points out a few other things to keep in mind when complying with the CAN-SPAM Act:

  • If you are sending an ad, clearly identify it as such
  • Honor unsubscribe requests promptly and properly
  • Know what others are doing on your behalf, such as a third-party marketing company that manages your email marketing

If you would like to learn more about the CAN-SPAM act, view “A Compliance Guide for Business”. Informatics works with a number of clients on their email marketing campaigns and fully complies with the CAN-SPAM Act. If you would like to discuss starting your own email marketing endeavors, contact Informatics.