Secrets & lies: The new CAN-SPAM rules

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This week, four new rule provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act went into effect. These rules clarify what’s expected from marketers and make it easier for people who opt in to later opt out.

For example, under the new rules, the opt-out process must be streamlined so people can unsubscribe in one click; marketers can’t ask for additional information or a fee during the opt-out process. The new rules also state that P.O. boxes are now valid as the physical address that must be displayed in e-mail messages. The third rule clarifies that CAN-SPAM applies to businesses as well as individuals by defining the word “person” as “an individual, group, unincorporated association, limited or general partnership, corporation or other business entity.” The final rule relates to multiple-sender e-mails—commercial e-mails that are sponsored, contain advertising, or are written and sent by multiple companies or individuals. In the past, it wasn’t always clear who was responsible for removing opt-outs from the mailing list. Under the new provision, one company is designated the sender and has full responsibility for removing that e-mail address.

Still have questions about the new provisions? Check out the following resources, provided separately by the Federal Trade Commission ( and e-mail service provider ExactTarget (

Of course, there’s more to the CAN-SPAM Act than the four new rules. Here, we look at one little-known CAN-SPAM secret and one common CAN-SPAM misconception.

Secret: The law doesn’t require an opt-in, but sending only to opt-in names improves your deliverability.

You might think you need someone to opt-in to receive your communications, but legally, you don’t. You do have to provide a notice of advertisement, however, which is a line somewhere in the message that explains you are sending a solicitation or advertisement. You’ll also need to include an opt-out link and your physical address somewhere in the text of your message. This means you can legally e-mail prospects who haven’t formally opted in to your list, such as prospects who call your contact center or people who drop their business cards into a trade show fishbowl. You can’t, however, e-mail names harvested on the Web or e-mails mined illegally.

But be warned, said Chip House, ExactTarget’s VP-marketing services: Just because you can e-mail people without an opt-in doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

“CAN-SPAM is a low bar and has very little to do with the effectiveness of delivering e-mail,” he said. “ISPs and anti-spam organizations care very little about CAN-SPAM compliance, but they do care about how users read and perceive your e-mail. CAN-SPAM doesn’t require opt-ins, but ISPs do, and you should, too.”

Lie: It’s OK to wait 10 days to remove someone from your list who has opted out

While this isn’t really a lie—you do legally have 10 days from the time someone opts out until the time they must be removed from your list—those companies that take advantage of this time period may end up doing harm to their brand, said Julie Katz, an analyst with Forrester Research. “If someone asks to be removed, you have 10 days to do it, but from the [user’s] perception, they feel like they should be removed immediately, and if you continue to e-mail them during those 10 days they can get really mad,” she said.

This can be a big problem for b-to-b marketers, Katz said, because there’s a good possibility that someone can ask to be removed from an e-mail list but still have a business relationship with that company. “They might ask to be removed but still wish to be contacted in a manner other than e-mail,” she said.

The lesson in this: Try to remove opt-outs on a daily basis, and don’t be afraid of following up via telephone after the addresses are removed. “You might want to have the sales team reach out and personalize the connection by saying, ‘You opted out from our list, is there anything we can help you with?’ “ Katz said. “Maybe they changed jobs, maybe something else is going on, but reaching out can only strengthen a relationship.”

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