8 Lessons of Email Marketing You Can Learn from CAN-SPAM

The CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law on December 16, 2003. It establishes the United States’ first national standards for the sending of commercial e-mail to customers in the US.

Of the 38 countries in the world that currently have anti-spam laws, America and CAN-SPAM is one of the strictest – you can be fined up to $16,000 for every single email that violates the rules.

And while you will need to obey CAN-SPAM regardless, understanding why can be a huge boon to your email marketing efforts. Read on for the 8 lessons of email marketing you can learn from CAN-SPAM.

But first, when does CAN-SPAM legally apply?

CAN-SPAM is only applicable to commercial emails. Transactional/relationship emails (emails to confirm a purchase, explain safety/warranty information, or further develop a relationship) cannot contain misleading or false routing information, but are otherwise exempt from CAN-SPAM rules.

If your email contains both commercial and transactional/relationship information, figure out what the primary message of the email is – and be honest with yourself. If the email is mostly focused on marketing, you need to comply with all of the CAN-SPAM rules.


Great! So what are these 8 lessons I should be following even if CAN-SPAM doesn’t apply?

1. Don’t use false/misleading header information.

The “From”, “To”, “Reply-to” and routing information in the header of your emails must be accurate.

The lesson: Email inbox providers and filtering companies will penalize your deliverability if your header information is not accurate.

2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines

Your subject line and the majority of your email need to be about the same topic.

The lesson: Again, email inbox providers and filtering companies will run algorithms on your content and prevent deliverability if you fail.

3. Make it clear that the message is an advertisement

You can do this pretty much any way you can imagine, but it needs to be immediately clear that your message is an advertisement.

The lesson: You need to be honest with the recipient. If you try to trick them, you’re only risking their business. And if they mark your message as spam–well, your deliverability is going to plummet.

4. Tell recipients where you’re located

The email must include an accurate physical address for you. This can be your street address or a rented postal box.

The lesson: You should aim to provide as much relevant information about your company as possible – what if they want to contact you?

5. Make sure every email contains some text

Commercial messages must also contain at least one complete text sentence.

The lesson: The best emails are always a mix of text and images. But certain clients, browsers, or individual preferences mean that images might not always show. Your email should always make sense from a purely textual perspective.

6. Make it easy for customers to stop receiving emails from you

Your emails need to include comprehensive directions on how customers can stop receiving notifications from you. You are allowed to give readers the chance opting out of certain types of emails but you must also provide comprehensive directions for them to opt out of all emails permanently.

The lesson: If you keep sending emails to recipients who aren’t engaging, email inbox providers will notice and begin to punish your deliverability.

7. Make unsubscribes valid immediately

When someone unsubscribes from your emails they must be completely unsubscribed within 10 days. That said, if you don’t want to annoy people, you want unsubscribes to be valid instantly.

The lesson: The longer uninterested emails stay in your lists, the more likely your deliverability will continue to suffer. Remove them as soon as they request to maintain the highest quality of your lists.

8. Pay close attention to the emails sent on your behalf

You are responsible for all commercial emails sent by your brand, even if you’ve hired a separate company to do all your email marketing. The company that sends your emails is also responsible, making it big trouble for both of you if they aren’t consistent about following the rules.

The lesson: This is a no-brainer! Your emails are likely your company’s most frequent and widest-reaching mode of communication. You must own that channel and be sure that your emails are accurate.