You’d never intentionally spam anyone. But that may not matter. According to Marketing Sherpa’s 2008 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide, 21% of business professionals surveyed said they use the “spam” button to unsubscribe from lists – regardless of whether they opted in to the list in the first place. And 39% said they use the “spam” button often or very often. So how do you avoid getting reported as a spammer?
What does the law say?
In December of 2003, Congress established the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM). This law identifies practices all commercial emailers must follow, spells out penalties for spammers, and gives consumers the right to ask emailers to stop spamming them. There’s also a bill being considered in Congress that would extend this law to include text messaging on cell phones.
Here’s what you need to know:
- You may not give false or misleading header information. Your email’s “To:” and “From:” lines must be accurate and must identify who is sending the email.
- You may not use deceptive subject lines. The subject line of the email must not mislead readers about the contents of the email. Deceptive emails are also subject to further Federal Trade Commission regulations prohibiting false or misleading advertising.
- You must give readers an opt-out method. You must give either an email- or Internet-based opt-out method, and it must remain open for 30 days following the email. Once you get an opt-out request, you must stop emailing that address within 10 days. You may not sell or transfer opt-out email addresses to any other entity.
- You must identify your email as an advertisement or solicitation. This notice must be clear and conspicuous, and you must let readers know they can opt out of receiving further commercial emails from you.
- You must include a valid physical postal address. This needs to appear in every email advertisement, solicitation, or newsletter.
Note that CAN-SPAM does not regulate “transactional” or “relationship” business emails – defined as those emails that facilitate an agreed-upon business transaction or update a customer in an existing business relationship, other than stating such emails may not contain false or misleading routing information.
Your reputation is also – maybe more – important
One or two recipients clicking the “junk mail” icon might not be a big deal, but if it happens consistently over time, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will notice. According to an article by Constant Contact, a well-known electronic delivery service, most ISPs consider several pieces of information before they identify you as a spammer:
- The number of complaints made against your IP address. ISPs will look at the number of times people hit “spam” or “junk” in response to your emails, and too many is not good.
- The consistency of sent emails. Most spammers send emails erratically, frequently switching from one IP address to another to avoid being detected, so spiky email behavior sets up a red flag.
- High bounce rates. Sending a large number of emails to defunct or unknown email addresses will hurt your reputation.
- Spam trap hits. Spammers will send web crawlers out to harvest email addresses from websites, so the ISPs will set up phony “trap” sites with email addresses that aren’t publicly available. If an IP address sends an email to the trap address, they’ve just been outed as a spammer.
What happens if you get reported?
The FTC and the Department of Justice have the ability to level severe fines – up to $11,000 per violation, which they have done in a few high-profile cases of truly criminal spammers. But assuming most of us won’t knowingly send viruses or pornography through electronic mail, what happens if you unwittingly get reported as a spammer?
- Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may disconnect you. ISPs have their own reputation at stake, and most have strict policies about using their services for sending bulk emails, limiting the number of emails you can send per day.
- Your website hosting company may shut down your site. Like ISPs, most hosting services also have rules against sending unsolicited mail, and if they get too many complaints against you, they have the right to shut down your site.
- Your IP address can get blocked by major internet companies. If you get identified as a spammer, all the major ISPs – AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, and others – will block email coming from your domain name, meaning emails you send to anyone using those services will not go through. And don’t count on getting your blacklisted domain address unblocked; you’ll have to create a whole new online identity for yourself instead.
And of course, if you send email that is considered to be spam by too many people, you’ll lose customers and your reputation. And no one wants that.
How do you avoid sending spam?
Know your customer well enough to never send spam. Do this by keeping a scrupulously clean list – with readers that have opted in and want to hear from you – and by sending consistently relevant messages that are so compelling, your reader won’t even think about reporting your email as spam.