Written October 2004, updated March 2012.

Last year I wrote on the many great uses of email marketing, but since many of you may send emails now or are hesitant because of CAN-SPAM laws, I've created a quick primer on what could be holding back your mailings:

Taking effect on January 1, 2005, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2005 was meant to drive down dreaded spammers. Very little email is complying to this law, but if you comply to the rules now, you'll not only keep happy subscribers, but avoid any possible government action. The main aspects of the law are:

  • Banning of false or misleading header information.Always identify the person initiating the email, the "to" subscriber's information and routing information, meaning the domain name and email address.
  • Subject lines cannot be deceptive. The subject of the email and the content must match up.
  • Recipients must have an opt-out option. You must provide a return email or another internet-based response mechanism that allows a recipient to ask you not to send future messages to that address, and you must honor the requests. You must process opt-out requests within 10 days after you send your commercial email. It's illegal to sell or transfer emails of those who choose to not receive your emails.
  • A commercial email must be identified as an advertisement [if it is indeed an ad] and must include your physical mailing address.

Penalties for violating these laws include fines up to $11,000, but deceptive advertising can also fall under false or misleading advertising. Other fines can be levied for harvesting emails off of websites, especially those that prohibit transferring emails in this manner.

Of course, you can do all this and still not get past spam filters. I have no more than 6-8% bounceback on my list, and the numbers are improving. I stick to these guidelines:

  • Pick a good broadcast ping service that will not allow you to send emails without complying to the above rules.
  • Try to get "white listed" by AOL and other ISPs. You may not get past filters with AOL anyway, since it considers certain mailers blacklisted, and they are trying to resolve the issues themselves.
  • Check that you aren't using words like "spam," "special," or "free" [of course, they are ok if not used in full, such as "sp*m"] anywhere in the email, including the from line.
  • Write your subscribers directly and tell them to put the email you send from in their address books, or to set up a rule to specifically let it through. I recently received a text email from a provider saying that my emails have bounced back as spam [not spam, it'll bounce back to you!] and to add them to my address list if I want to receive their emails.
  • Read your bouncebacks carefully, because some may have changed emails or exceeded limits. Finally, test out your email's content with ContentChecker before sending.

It also doesn't hurt to work with an emailer who understands the laws and can help you put your best foot forward with content and design. In that case, my contact information is below!