CAN SPAM Laws: Email Marketing

If your business uses some form of email marketing, you should be familiar with the CAN-SPAM Law guidelines that are in place to protect the consumer. We'll give you the information you need and throw in email marketing services you can use!

Elizabeth Lee
October 31, 2022

If your business uses some form of email marketing, you should be familiar with the CAN-SPAM Law guidelines that are in place to protect the consumer. We'll give you the information you need and throw in email marketing services you can use! 

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There's no harm in being extra careful in running your busines especially when doing email marketing. Get to know the CAN-SPAM Law to protect you your consumers! 



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Tables of Contents


What Is CAN-SPAM Act?

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act – otherwise known as the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 – comprises several rules that outline appropriate and inappropriate actions regarding commercial emailing.


In a nutshell, the CAN-SPAM Act allows businesses, consumers, and other internet users to choose whether to receive unsolicited commercial emails from senders (also known as spammers). Spam is a bulk email message advertising goods or services sent to a recipient without prior consent — and without an underlying business relationship from which that consent can be implied. Another way of saying that is that spam is the electronic equivalent of junk mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service daily.


In addition, the CAN-SPAM Act imposes a labeling requirement on emails to give parents a tool for protecting their children from receiving offensive emails. For instance, spammers are required to place warning labels on messages containing sexually-oriented or pornographic materials. If the senders knowingly violate that requirement, they are subject to criminal penalties and imprisonment.


The CAN-SPAM Act applies to any person or business entity that initiates or sends a commercial e-mail message to a business or individual consumer (regardless of whether the message is unsolicited). Commercial e-mail messages must generally comply with the following requirements:


  • No false or misleading header information
  • No deceptive subject lines
  • Inclusion of an opt-out mechanism
  • Inclusion of the sender’s valid physical postal address
  • Identification of the message as an advertisement or solicitation


A commercial e-mail message is defined as any e-mail that has a “primary purpose of . . . commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose).”


The CAN-SPAM Act is enforced primarily by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which can seek civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation (with no maximum penalty). The CAN-SPAM Act may also be enforced, in certain circumstances, by various other federal agencies (including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)), state attorneys general, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). There is no private right of action.


Is Your Email Marketing Compliant With The CAN-SPAM Act?

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Constant Contact's terms and conditions require that your list be permission-based, which means that you already comply with the unsolicited email requirements stated in the law. To ensure that your emails are fully compliant with CAN-SPAM, there are additional requirements:


Subject line - Make sure that your email campaign's "Subject" line is straightforward, not misleading. The Adteractive settlement reinforces the FTC's commitment to enforcing this requirement.


Honoring unsubscribe requests - If you aren't already doing so, any unsubscribe requests that come to you via a reply to your email must be honored within 10 business days of the request. (You can manually unsubscribe a contact by changing their permission to "Unsubscribed" in your account.)


Tracking unsubscribe requests - Unsubscribe requests never expire. You must honor all opt-out requests indefinitely, regardless of future mailing platforms, unless you receive a new explicit opt-in request for that address. (You can keep track of previously unsubscribed contacts by uploading them into your account.)


Physical address - You need to include a physical address in your email campaigns. Constant Contact requires that you add a physical address before you can schedule a campaign. Make sure that this address is a valid physical postal address or PO box for your organization. This address appears in the footer at the bottom of your email.


Recognizable From Name and address - The "From Address" and "From Name" should be clearly recognizable as belonging to your organization.


Valid Reply To address - The "Reply To" address needs to be valid because sometimes contacts reply to the email to ask to unsubscribe instead of using the opt-out link in the email's footer.


Prohibition of incentives to forward - Make sure you are not procuring the "forwarding" of your campaigns by offering any kind of incentive (e.g. coupons, discounts, t-shirts, etc.) to your recipients. Forwarded messages that contain incentives to forward are non-compliant under CAN-SPAM because they are considered commercial messages and won't contain the required opt-out mechanism.


What Are CAN-SPAM Email Requirements?

When it comes to taking a closer look at the “ingredients” of the CAN-SPAM Act, seven is the lucky number. In order to make sure your business is compliant with all parts of the CAN-SPAM Act, it’s essential to understand the basics behind the regulations. Here’s a breakdown of what this law means for your company’s email marketing strategy:


1) Avoid using a misleading header for your emails.

Each email’s header needs to contain the correct information for the intended recipient. An email sent by your company should always address the right person or business who initially started the conversation. This means that your “To,” “From,” and routing information need to be accurate every time you press “send.”

2) Make sure your email subject line matches the content it contains.

Your email’s content should match the subject line you choose. The subject line should always be an accurate representation of what’s to come once your recipient opens the message. Think of the email subject as an appetizer before the main course is served!


3‍) Address the fact that your message is an ad.

It’s important to clearly convey the goal of your content as an ad. At the end of the day, most consumers understand that the goal of your email is to drive them to your company’s website or storefront. There’s no reason to pretend to be something that you’re not.


4) Include your business’s address in all messages.

This one’s simple, yet sometimes forgotten. Be sure to include your company’s valid physical postal address. Make sure your email recipients know exactly who you are and where they can find you.


5) Give your recipients an option to unsubscribe.

Every message you send out must include an obvious unsubscribe link to opt out of future emails from your company. Be sure to craft this in a way that is creative and logical to your audience. It should be legible and easily recognizable!


6) Be sure to actually unsubscribe those who choose to do so.

Any opt-out you offer must be able to process requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. This request must be honored within 10 business days; a solid CRM platform with email marketing automation will be able to handle this automatically. Lastly, be sure you aren’t charging a fee or asking for any additional personal information, and that you do not sell their email addresses in the future.


7) Be wary of what others are saying about your company.

The last thing to be mindful of is to make sure you are monitoring what other people you hire are saying and sending on your company’s behalf. At the end of the day, your company is responsible for the actions and messages that any of your marketing affiliates commit and produce. Both the party responsible for sending marketing emails and the company being promoted are at risk when dealing with law compliance issues.


Does the Law Apply to All Types of Email?

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All US businesses that send commercial emails (or employ third-party services to send emails on their behalf) are subject to compliance.


The CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service”, including email that promotes content on commercial websites.


The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. It does, however, exempt transactional and relationship messages.


What Is a Transactional Email?

Transactional or relationship emails are another category of emails that also falls under the scope of the Act. Transactional emails provide information about a pre-existing transaction or offer updated information about a transaction in which the recipient participated.


The FTC identifies five kinds of content that are acceptable in a transactional or relational email:

  1. If it provides updates about an ongoing transaction;
  2. If it provides information about the warranty, recall, safety, or security information of a product
  3. If it provides information about changes in terms, features, or account; information for a membership, subscription, account, loan, or another ongoing relationship
  4. If it provides information about employment or employee benefits
  5. If it provides information about the delivery of goods or services as part of an ongoing transaction


In the case of transactional emails, all the rules chalked out by the FTC do not apply. However, it is specified that the information in the emails must not be misleading, and the email must not route the recipient to misleading information. If an email carries both commercial and transactional information, the primary purpose of the email determines if the messaging is exempt from the CAN-SPAM Act.


What Is a Commercial Email?

A common misconception regarding the Act is that its rules are only applicable to mass emails. However, the Act covers all commercial emails; i.e., any content that endorses and promotes a commercial product or service. All rules of the CAN-SPAM Act apply to commercial emailing, including B2B (business-to-business) emails.


Top 3 Email Marketing Services

Email is one of the most powerful marketing tools at your disposal. It can drive engagement, build relationships, and deliver a higher ROI than every other type of marketing campaign.


Success with your email strategy starts with finding the right email marketing service. Whether you’re starting a new list from scratch or just need an easier way to reach your audience, here are the top 3 email marketing services you can use: 



Draft engaging, pixel-perfect emails that display flawlessly on all devices in minutes. Messaging is TruVISIBILITY's professional grade email marketing software offering user-friendly design tools, stunning templates, and first-class deliverability. TruVISIBILITY help small and mid-size businesses:


  • Reach the right audience
  • Create compelling content
  • Automate marketing tasks
  • And take data-driven action


Leverage text messages to connect at a personal level, convert better, and achieve your marketing goals. Deliver SMS campaigns, or engage customers in 1-on-1 conversations.

Their Messaging system is built for marketers. No bloated software platforms. No coding skills required.


Start Creating Marketing Emails For Free Here!


2) HubSpot

Hubspot’s tool allows you to quickly and easily create, personalize, and optimize your emails without the need for designers or IT.


Where the software really shines is in the automated workflows. This allows you to easily set triggers for your email subscribers and nurture the leads into customers (or whatever else you want them to do).


Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure journey that you set for your subscribers. Depending on the specific actions they take, you can have them branch off to experience different, targeted things via email.


3) Mailchimp

Mailchimp has the features that most businesses need, without overly complicated or confusing. Businesses can schedule campaigns, A/B test copy, and get reports that include open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribe rates, and more. Plus, it has the most generous free-forever plans of the software we tested. 


Mailchimp’s free plan includes up to 2,000 contacts and up to 10,000 monthly email sends. Its platform is one of the easiest to get used to with drag-and-drop features that allow you to stylize your emails.


Most email marketing tools offer the essentials needed to craft a basic email newsletter, but there are fewer options if you want a range of top-notch features such as complete customization, available support, and data analysis. But ultimately, the best email marketing tool for you depends on your team's goals and particular needs — so, review the options above and the services' product and pricing pages to get started. 


Final Thoughts

The last thing you want to deal with is the potential fines your business can face by failing to follow the compliance terms of anti-spam and data protection laws like the CAN-SPAM Act, GDPR, and CASL.


The bright side to all of this is that compliance ensures that your marketers and sales reps can focus on content creation and outreach which will result in higher response and engagement rates.

By following these guidelines, your team will be able to reach people who are actually interested in your company’s mission. By honing in on the value created by trusted relationships with your recipients, you increase your chances of making a sale or securing a devoted follower of your brand.