Question: How do I know if I’m in compliance with CAN-SPAM?

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Answer: Good question. A recent study by Arial Software concluded that corporate America gets an "F" when it comes to following e-mail marketing best practices. Here are some of the most egregious mistakes that 67% of the Fortune 500 companies and other well-known Internet firms are making. And yes, these are violations of the federal CAN-SPAM law that went into effect in January 2004:

  • Failing to provide an unsubscribe link
  • Not requiring a double opt-in
  • Failing to honor unsubscribe requests
  • Not clearly identifying your company in the "From" line
  • And … not e-mailing your opt-in subscribers for periods as long as six months

You can get your grade up to at least an A-minus with little effort. It gets a bit stickier when you have resellers e-mailing on your behalf. It’s harder to keep track of who has unsubscribed from which list and to honor those requests.

But it’s simple to adhere to the basic guidelines. Here are four things you absolutely must do:

1. Use a double opt-in sign-up. This means that new subscribers must confirm their opt in by replying to an automatic confirmation message sent by you. Inside the message is a uniquely coded link. This does two things: It reassures your new subscribers that they have indeed signed up. And it tells you that you’ve collected a new, valid e-mail address.

2. Include obvious unsubscribe instructions. This is so easy to do. If your e-mails are text, include your unsubscribe details at the bottom of each message. If you’re mailing in HTML, create a "subscriber services" box in your layout. In this box, give your readers specially coded links that allow them to unsubscribe, update their e-mail address and other contact information, and forward your message to a friend. And of course, have automatic systems in place to handle your unsubscribe requests.

3. E-mail regularly—and clearly—to your double opt-in list, even if it’s quarterly. If you don’t, you’re striking a major blow to your company’s credibility. And when you do e-mail, be sure it’s obvious who your message is from. Include your company name in the "From" line. Or use your CEO or president’s name if he or she is especially well known.

4. Finally, be sure to include your company’s postal mailing address in your e-mail. You can download a gratis copy of Arial Software’s 2004 CAN-SPAM Compliance Audit at Interesting reading.

Debbie Weil is a Washington, D.C.-based Internet marketing and communications consultant, and publisher of "WordBiz Report." Get case studies, content tips and software recommendations in her Business Blogging Starter Kit at Subscribe fre*e to WordBiz Report at Read her blog at

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