Understanding Spam

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If you send email in your business, you need to have an understanding of what spam is and how to avoid it.

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act applies to anyone sending commercial email in the in the United States.  Spam is defined as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service”.    Notice that the primary purpose of the email message must be a commercial advertisement.  If your broadcast email is purely relational in nature (say, sending a holiday greeting) then it can never be considered spam.  This creates an enormous legal grey area when a message contains both relational content, like a newsletter, and promotional messages.  An excellent guideline to keep you safe is to treat any email communication that contains even a small amount of promotional content like a commercial email.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can fine you up to $16,000 for each violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, so it’s a very serious matter.  If $16,000 doesn’t seem like a big deal to you… multiple that by each separate email on your list.  That can quickly tally up to a bankruptcy-inducing matter that could put you out of business.

Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to comply with the requirements of the act.  Here are the eight main points the FTC wants you to know.

  1. Don’t send unsolicited email.  Never scrape email addresses from websites or guess potential email addresses by creating a bunch of names and words to place before the @ sign of an address in an effort to discover a valid email address (a practice known as a “dictionary attack”).  Never buy a list and mail to it.
  2. Never use false or misleading information in your email header.  Your “From” “To” and routing information, including the originating domain name and email address, must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  3. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.  The subject line should accurately reflect the content of the message.  Don’t bait the reader with a subject line that promises one thing and gives them another.  While crafty subject lines are key to getting your email opened, make sure they deliver on the promised content.
  4. Identify the message as an advertisement.  Although the law give you a lot of leeway in how this is done, you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
  5. Include a valid postal address.  The message must include a street address, post office box, or commercial mailbox that registered to you or your business.
  6. Give the recipient an easy way to opt-out of receiving future email from you.  You must include clear instructions in the email and the process itself must be an easy one.  This is a great reason to use an email service like ImnicaMail for your commercial emails, as it provides an automated method to opt-out automatically in each email, and keeps opt-in and opt-out data for you in the event you are called on to answer a CAN-SPAM Act investigation.  If you are sending a singular commercial email on a system that doesn’t automatically include an opt-out link, then be sure to include clear instructions on how the recipient can notify you of their desire to cease communication.  If you take them to a website, be sure that the opt in option is there on the first page and don’t require the recipient to log in or navigate through pages to unsubscribe.  Finally, if you use multiple mailing sources (like a email service provider, a shopping cart service, and a personal email service) when someone opts-out of one of those serves you may not continue to mail them with the others.
  7. Honor Opt-Out requests promptly.  Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process the request within 10 business days.  You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond and email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single web page.  Also, you are required by the law to let a customer opt-out for at least 30 days after an email is sent.  Which means if you’re switching email service providers, then you must retain the old one for 30 days after the last email has been sent so that your unsubscribe method works.
  8. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.  The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law.  Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.  This means your affiliates’ actions can get you in trouble.  It’s a good idea to opt-in to your affiliates’ lists as well and make sure they aren’t in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act either.  More than one product launch had been burned by excessive spam complaints.

Notice the definition of spam doesn’t say “BULK” email.  It’s very important to note that a single, unsolicited and personalized email may also violate the law.  Which is why it’s so crucial to use a double opt-in service like ImnicaMail for all of your business mailing needs.   The quickest way to prove that your message is solicited is to show your opt-in data that your email marketing service provider offers.

Now that you know what steps are needed to ensure that your messages are not spam, the next step is to craft a marketing message that doesn’t LOOK like spam to the many spam filter services in existence.  Getting your email marketing message past the filters and into your recipient’s inbox is the subject of our next article.


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  1. Clif Hicks  December 28, 2011

    Okay now, your talking about spam here. If I unsubscribed from one of these unsolicited emails through your site months ago…………..WHY THE F*CK AM I STILL GETTING RANDOM EMAILS!!!! i guess I need to get a lawyer to get taken off your damned lists.

    • Richelo  December 29, 2011

      Actually Clif, all you need to do is ask politely, leaving the profanities at home.

      I checked our whole database, and your email address you used on here is nowhere in the whole database. If you’re receiving on a different email address, please open a ticket at: http://support.imnicamail.com/ and we WILL take care of it ASAP!

      • Jay  July 2, 2012

        A smart gentlemans answer to an assholes question. Very classy and correcting with a touch of
        YOUR LYING, and not stooping to his level. Great job Richelo, its an art to put someone in thier place and make them look stupid with a few words and no swearing!! Bravo chap! The net needs more of you – less of Clif f.


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