You, Sir, Are No Nigerian Prince — Email Marketing Guidelines You Must Follow


tLet’s do a quick run down: Kodak Imaging Network fined $32,000, YesMail fined $50,000, Jumpstart fined $900,000, and ValueClick fined $2.9 million.

tWhat did these successful, upstanding companies do to get hit with these fines?

tThey sent spam.

tWe all get spam email. “Buy this, enlarge that, etc.” It’s to the point where it seems like spammers can do whatever they want. While there will always be rogue Nigerian princes out there, the United States does have laws mandating what is and what isn’t legal for email solicitation. This law is called the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act.

tFollowing are a few simple rules, some directly from CAN-SPAM and some general rules of thumb, to keep in mind when it comes to email marketing. These can help keep you from running afoul of Washington and becoming the next ValueClick.

t1. If you have an agency or vendor handling your email marketing for you, it’s best to know what they’re doing. Just because someone else pressed the send button doesn’t mean you’re not going to be the one to get hit with the fine.

t2. Pretending to be who you’re not or having misleading subject lines is a classic spam routine. Just like in real life, pretending to be someone else can get you in legal trouble. From a business perspective, saying you’re a sexy co-ed is not going to help you sell your product or service. Your misdirection removes all possibility of trust. If you can’t even say who you really are, why would anyone use your service?

t3. Be careful when buying a mailing list. The people on a purchased list usually know nothing about you and they may not have agreed (or opted in) to receive mail from you. Along those same lines, don’t find email addresses online and add them to your list. In both cases, with no knowledge of who you are and why you are contacting them, the chances of the recipient marking the mail as spam goes up significantly. Email programs/services take those emails marked spam and send a message to your Internet service provider. If people perform this action over and over, your IP address may get black listed. No more email for you, mass or otherwise.


t4. Along the same lines as number three, make sure the people you’re sending things to want them. They should have either agreed to get email from you or there should be some sort of relationship in place. Include a line at the end of your email that explains why the person is receiving the email (“You’re receiving this email because you signed up on my website or we have a personal/professional relationship…”) Not having that can lead to possible black listing and ruin your reputation.

t5. You must include a physical address. It might be electronic mail, but that snail mail address has to be included. Why? First, CAN-SPAM requires it, and second, to prove you are real and give your recipients another direct way to contact you.

t6. Let people opt out of your mailing, and when they do, take them off your list promptly. CAN-SPAM requires this. Beyond it being the law, this simply goes back to trust. If your recipient can’t trust you to do the simple task of removing them from your mailing list, there is no way they are going to trust you with their money.

tNone of these steps are particularly complicated. It is common sense if you follow basic business etiquette guidelines: Don’t lie about who you are or what you sell, let people contact you for more information, don’t send things to people who don’t want it, and let them leave if they want to.

tHow do you feel about email spam since these laws were enacted? Is it getting better or worse? Would you add any other email etiquette guidelines?

tThis post was co-authored by Chris Heckman, senior Web designer at Identity.