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Guidelines for CAN-SPAM Compliance

The Complete Guide to Email Marketing

Spam Violates Federal Law
The CAN-SPAM act is very clear in that you are not to harvest email addresses and send bulk emails to people who don't want them. It goes further in regulating the types of commercial messages you can send so as to not be deceptive or misleading. Buying email lists, borrowing email lists, and making lists from people with whom you don't have a relationship puts your company at tremendous risk. Beyond that, it is just plain rude and the reason the CAN-SPAM act was written.

If you're going to start email marketing, you should really visit the government's site and have a read yourself. There are rules for the types of things you can and can't put in headlines along with other important information. We'll offer you some informal help here:
Guidelines for CAN-SPAM Compliance and Our Best Practices
We're not attorneys, so don't take this as your legal advice. We can just tell you some situations that are red flags for us:
Don't use purchased email lists
It doesn't matter what it cost you. If your company didn't get permission directly from the people on this list and you send out bulk emails to them, you're spamming. You have no way of verifying that these addresses are truly opt-in. Think about it: why on Earth would anyone want to sign up to be on a for-sale email list with no control of who can fill up their email inboxes?
Don't use third party email lists
You belong to an organization or you have a relationship with another company that has passed on their email list to you. Oh, it's tempting, but don't do it. We don't allow it on Benchmark and any respectable email marketing provider won't either. You might think it is appropriate because you and the third party are similar, so their members would probably like to hear about your offer. Sorry. If you send out mass messages to them as a list, it is either legally spam or someone will view it as such and report it. Our reputation section below will clearly illustrate why this is bad for you.
Don't formulate an email list from people's business cards
Just because they tried to win a free lunch or innocently gave you their business cards one day, it doesn't mean they want to subscribe to your newsletter. Could you email them individually with a personal message? Sure. You might also consider sending them an email asking for permission to put them on your bulk mailing lists. But automatically putting them on list without permission is a quick trip to Spamville.
Don't trick people into being on your list
If someone does a transaction on your site and physically checks a box that says, "Click here to receive email offers," that's acceptable. If you precheck this box so that they might miss it, or if you make the box say, "Click here if you DON'T want email offers," then you're being a bit aggressive. People could possibly get irritated and report you for abuse, which is not good for your reputation.

So if you have to ask "what if?", then you probably shouldn't do it. - Remember that the spam tag isn't decided by you. It's the perception of the recipient and the server administrators that counts.

Again, it's so simple that we'll repeat it: Don't send email marketing to people who haven't asked for it specifically from you. Common sense might tell you not to bombard the people who have given you permission. Crafty people might see some loopholes in the law, but there's more to consider than just the law.
What If My List Isn't Legally Spam, Just Questionable?
Even if what you're doing isn't legally spam, it still might be perceived as spam. It only takes one person to hit the "report spam" button and your email could start the ISP abuse investigation process. What happens then?
You Don't Have to Break the Law to Suffer Lethal Consequences
The Internet isn't regulated by the federal government. Internet Service Providers are private companies who will act swiftly and severely to deal a death blow to anyone who is merely perceived as spamming. There are a host of horrible consequences that can happen to anyone who doesn't honor email marketing best practices:
Getting Blacklisted
This is the thing you absolutely don't want. Server administrators hate spam and track the domain names and IP addresses of the servers who send spam (even legal communication that appears spammy can get you blacklisted). If you end up on one of these lists, it's very hard to get off, and you'll not be able to send out any emails because blacklists are shared and distributed across the Internet. All your subscriber lists should be opt-in only (better still is double opt-in) and you should have proof that they are just in case.
Your Email Newsletters Go Undelivered
Many email software packages have bayesian filters installed. These monitor what users classify as junk or spam. Over time, the filter learns what users define as spammy by assigning a score to certain terms or design cues. Further filtering can happen if a domain name is identified as having a higher propensity for sending items that end up in the spam folder.
Your Brand's Image is Tarnished
This might be the most important of all. Email marketing is meant to increase your brand's presence and establish your company's quality. If you follow spammy practices, your company and its products are devalued in the eyes of the recipient.