5 CAN-SPAM Rules Small Business Owners Need to Understand

Did you know that there are very specific laws when it comes to email marketing? The CAN-SPAM Act, signed into law in 2003, created a clearly defined set of rules for commercial email. While it's certainly not new any longer, it is surprising how many small business owners are still not aware of the rules when it comes to using email to communicate with current and potential customers.

Not only can it harm your reputation, but violation can also cause penalties of up to $16,000 per email in violation of the law. Not only is your business subject to these fines, but so is any email marketing service you use to collect email addresses and distribute your messages.

Make sure you protect your business by reviewing these important points in the CAN-SPAM Act and ensure you're staying within the law every time you send an email.

NOTE: These rules apply to all email messages that are classified as "commercial content." Commercial content means the message advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose.

1. Headers and subject lines cannot be misleading. The headers of your email messages -- "From," "To," "Reply-To," and the routing information including the originating domain name and email address -- must accurately identify the person or business who initiated the message.

The subject lines of your email messages must also accurately reflect the content of the message and not be misleading.

2. Advertisements must be disclosed. You can do it in many different ways, but if your email message is an advertisement, you must disclose it clearly in your message.

3. A postal address must be included. All commercial email messages must include a valid physical postal address. It can be your current street address, a registered post office box, or a private mailbox that adheres to Postal Service regulations.

This is a requirement of most email marketing services, so if you are using a platform to collect addresses and send messages, your address is typically included automatically by your provider.

4. Recipients must be able to opt out. Your messages must include a clear explanation of how the recipient can opt out, or unsubscribe, from getting email from you in the future. You can do this in a number of ways as long as it's easy to find and easy to understand.

5. Opt outs must be handled quickly. As part of the opt-out process, you must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send a message. Then, you must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days without making the subscriber take any other steps.

The good news is that if you're using a third-party email marketing service, which is a smart move for all small business owners, opt outs are typically handled automatically by your provider.