After 40 years, email marketing continues to be an efficient and effective digital marketing channel for a wide range of marketers in the United States and around the world.
As with all marketing channels, an email campaign’s ultimate success or failure relies on a variety of factors. Marketers typically focus on performance metrics like open rate, click rate, conversion rate and, ultimately, revenue and return on investment to evaluate a campaign’s effectiveness. However, there is another key component that is vital to establishing an email program that delivers long-term success: email compliance.
What is email compliance?
Arguably, one of the reasons that email marketing continues to stand the test of time, is that there are relatively clear guidelines for marketers to follow in order to remain compliant in many countries. While the laws and regulations vary by country and region, in the United States, there is a federal law regarding the use of email for commercial and marketing purposes.
Since 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act has provided a set of rules for U.S. email marketers to follow when sending marketing emails to recipients. These rules provide a level of confidence for advertisers in knowing they can leverage the email channel to promote their brands, products and services in a way that is both brand safe and compliant with the law.
At my company, OPTIZMO Technologies, we work within these regulations to help our clients navigate email compliance, and we utilize tools, like email suppression list management, to automate the complex processes to do so efficiently.
Compliance needs to be a foundational aspect of any company’s email marketing program. While there are a number of specific rules set forth in the CAN-SPAM Act, here are three keys to running a compliant email marketing program.
1. Provide a clear and easy way to opt out.
One vital aspect of CAN-SPAM is the requirement that marketers provide a “clear and conspicuous” and easy to use, internet-based mechanism for recipients to opt out of future marketing mailings.
For many years, marketers accomplished this by including an email address for recipients to send a message requesting to have their email address removed from future mailings. Today, most opt-out requests are collected via an opt-out link included in each marketing email.
This link typically takes users to a web page where they can enter their email address and submit an opt-out request to the marketer. The link may also take users to a web page where they are able to manage their preferences for the types of emails they receive from the advertiser. For example, you may provide options for the user to continue receiving an email newsletter from the advertiser, while opting out of receiving special offers or other types of marketing messaging. These types of pages are sometimes called “preference centers.”
2. Honor the opt-out request.
While it’s a key requirement to provide an easy opt-out method, the next step is to collect, process and honor those opt-out requests within the time period defined by CAN-SPAM. The law requires that opt-out requests be honored within 10 business days of being received.
Technology platforms used by advertisers to send marketing email campaigns (email marketing platforms) typically have an automated feature built into their systems that creates an opt-out link for each campaign, includes it in the email content before it is sent, collects the opt-out requests that a campaign generates and then suppresses those newly opted-out email addresses from future campaigns.
Companies that leverage third-parties to send emails on their behalf (marketing agencies, affiliate marketers, etc.) have the added necessity of distributing email suppression lists of opt-outs to those companies. They must also collect new opt-outs generated by those third-party-initiated email campaigns and make sure they’re added to future suppression lists.
3. Provide clear information and don’t be deceptive.
There are a few important aspects here. The law prohibits the use of false or misleading information to be used in the header, from or to lines or in other email routing information. It also prohibits deceptive subject lines. Additionally, regulations require the inclusion of a physical address as well as clear identification that the email is an advertisement.
While there is considerably more to running a fully compliant email marketing program, these are three areas that should be a part of the process for any company.
With that said, I am not an attorney, and I always recommend getting professional legal advice regarding email compliance, especially if you own a company that already leverages email or are looking into adding the channel to your marketing program. By taking this step, you can ensure that your email campaigns follow all of the requirements. You can then look to build a successful, long-term email marketing program.