Is Your Email Marketing Campaign Breaking the Law?

Is Your Email Marketing Campaign Breaking the Law? (Source: - used as royalty free image)

If your company is planning to launch an email marketing campaign, listen up. According to a recent, comprehensive article in HubSpot, some companies are breaking the essential "CAN-SPAM" law with their email marketing campaigns. Now, these companies and individuals aren't doing it maliciously - they're simply ignorant of the rules.

Here's how you can avoid breaking the CAN-SPAM law - and avoid the sizable $16,000 per email fine. (And yes, you did read that correctly.)

What is CAN-SPAM?

CAN-SPAM is the essential law, signed into being in 2003, that all companies must obey when sending emails. Specifically, this law sets all the rules and requirements for commercial email. Most businesses recognize this law as the law mandating that all recipients have the ability to "opt-out" (or unsubscribe) from your email marketing.

There are more complicated rules to the act, however, and you may be breaking them without even knowing them. Here are some of the top CAN-SPAM compliance mistakes that your business needs to watch out for. 

Mistake #1: No unsubscribe button

Not having an unsubscribe button is highly illegal. Ever notice that at the bottom of most of your marketing emails, there is always a mini-link at the bottom that allows you to unsubscribe? While the page it directs you to may use some marketing tactics to convince you to reconsider, there is still nonetheless an obvious, clear way to unsubscribe.

It is important to make sure those who are getting your emails genuinely want them, or else you're just spamming them.

Mistake #2: You keep sending users emails after they unsubscribe

If you make an unsubscribe link, it is essential that it actually, you know, unsubscribes them. If you're dealing with a system that doesn't do it automatically, make sure you unsubscribe them within 10 days of their request in order to be compliant with CAN-SPAM.

Mistake #3: You don't tell your email readers who you are

Your email campaign may look beautiful, but if there is no obvious way for the recipients to tell who sent the email, you're in trouble. It is important that you have this information accurately displayed in:

  • The "from" line of the email
  • The "to" and "reply-to" lines
  • In the routing information
  • It should be 100% clear that you are, in fact, a business getting in touch with them.


Mistake #4: An unclear subject line

Just as you want to make sure your recipients know who they're getting email from, it is also essential to identify the content of the email in a crystal clear way. If you're sending out an invitation to an event, say so in your title: "You're invited to our annual roller derby competition!" This will read more clearly than something generic and inconclusive like "Tuesday, July 29, 2014 8:00PM."

Mistake #5: Your ad doesn't look like an ad

If your business needs to send out an advertisement in an email for goods or service, it must be 100% obvious that your email is intended to be an advertisement. If text is structured in a way that will mislead your readers, your advertisement isn't obvious.

For example, if you are offering a product as "Only $10!" while in the fine print you indicate "Only $10 after a purchase of equal or lesser value", you aren't articulating your point clearly. In the email marketing world, in order to be CAN-SPAM compliant, it is required that what you state clearly is what your audience gets - no fine print reading necessary.

Mistake 6: Your physical location is not stated

Did you know you have to have a valid, physical postal address listed on every email? This catches a lot of companies off guard, but it is a CAN-SPAM requirement. This helps to establish transparency, and must be included.

Mistake 7: You don't monitor your marketing branch

Often times when mistakes are made, it is because companies aren't involved with the marketing that a third party or branch of their company puts out. If something is to go wrong, the mistakes will land back on you as well as the agency, as you are responsible for the representation of your company.

Make sure you are working with a trusted marketing company who is well aware of the CAN-SPAM act and has had a good amount of experience in the field in order to secure the legal aspect of your company.

Note: This post consists of legal information originally presented on HubSpot, which differs from legal advice - the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While we hold this information as truthful, accurate, and useful, if you want true legal understanding about your specific situation, we ask you consult with a professional lawyer to interpret this information to the fullest.

Have questions? Need help with your marketing campaign? That's where Geek comes in! Don't hesitate to send us an email or give us a call!

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Jason Finn

Founder & Chief Geek

Jason has nearly 20 years of consulting experience, predominantly in the technology space. Most recently he was the COO and Director of Technology for Rich Casto & Company, a national training and consulting organization in the real estate industry.
As a consultant for IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Envision Consulting Group (now IMS Health), Jason has served clients of all sizes, including Big Pharma, Fortune 500, and Global 1000 companies:

  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • AOL (America Online)
  • Astellas Pharmaceuticals
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Ford Motor Credit
  • Wockhardt USA (formerly Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals)
  • Norwich Union
  • PNC Bank
  • Reynolds and Reynolds

Sarunas Budrikas

Creative Director

Sarunas is a web design and development expert with hundreds of successful projects in his portfolio. He is passionate about delivering extraordinary user experiences for every client and consistently goes above and beyond everyone’s expectations. As an SEO expert and strategist, he can optimize your website, or app, to get the most out of it, day in and day out. Sarunas holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kaunas Technology University, in Lithuania. Sarunas now lives in Chicago, and calls it home.

Alexandra Olsavsky

Client Experience Specialist

Alex specializes in content generation and social media promotion for Geek | Chicago clients, helping to solidify their presence in the online community. This includes blog writing, graphic design, co-ordination and design of weekly newsletters, and active engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Outside of Geek, Alex is a classically-trained soprano who professionally performs around the city of Chicago (most recently with the Chicago Baroque Band, and with the Rolling Stones for their "50 and Counting" tour).