Are you unintentionally sending email spam? Have you ever wondered if your email marketing tactics are all legally compliant?

With an increasingly strict stance on email spam (with a focus on commercial emails), there’s plenty to be aware of before you send out your next email blast to a list of unsuspecting contacts.

Read on for a simple summary of the laws surrounding emails sent in the USA, and easy ways to ensure your next message won’t be marked as email spam.

If you’re already familiar with the law, scroll to the bottom for actionable suggestions for both your everyday employee email and emails sent through a service, such as MailChimp and ActiveCampaign.

What email spam related laws exist in the USA?

The major law governing commercial email in the USA is the CAN SPAM Act 2003. Most of the old state laws related to commercial email have been superseded by this Act so you can generally refer to CAN SPAM for all your answers.

What is the CAN SPAM Act?

The CAN SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) is a law passed in 2003. It sets the rules for commercial email in the USA, including both individual and bulk emails.

Does this apply to every email my company sends?

To fall under the Act, your email must have “the primary purpose of commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,”. Basically, you’re sending this email to market something.

If your email is transactional, relationship content or something other than commercial, the only part of the CAN SPAM Act that you must comply with is “…it may not contain false or misleading routing information…”. So be truthful in all your emails.

What is the penalty for breaking this law?

Penalties of up to 40,654 USD can apply for breaking this law.

What are the rules of the CAN SPAM Act?

There are seven rules that you must follow under the CAN SPAM Act to avoid your email being considered spam.

1. Don’t put false information in your header

Your ‘From’ field must be accurate and identify you, the one sending the message.

2. Don’t lie / deceive in your subject line

Your subject line must accurately reflect the content of your email.

3. Identify the message as an ad

You must let the recipient know that your email is advertising, very clearly.

4. Include your actual location

You must include a valid physical postal address – this can be a post office box or physical place.

5. Tell them how to opt out

Make sure that every recipient knows exactly how to opt out of your email marketing. Your unsubscribe mechanism must be clear and obvious, and a joy to click on (contact us if you’d like a nifty unsubscribe mechanism on every company email).

6. Quickly process their opt-out requests

Your opt out mechanism must remove the un-subscriber from your list within 10 days. The mechanism in the email must still be usable for 30 days. You also cannot require anything from the un-subscriber e.g. information, payment, to opt them out. That means no requiring them to tell you what they hate about your newsletters.

7. If your name is on it, you’re liable

Even if you hire another company to send emails for you, you are still liable. Both you and your contractor could be penalized, so take care.

So, what does this mean for my email marketing?


1. Email Marketing with an Email Marketing Service Provider

email marketing service provider logos

If you’re sending out bulk emails through an email marketing provider, such as Mail Chimp or Active Campaign, you’ll find it pretty simple to tick all the boxes and keep your emails legal.

Email Header Info

You can ensure that your header information is correct by checking that the person you’ve chosen to send as, i.e. whoever you place in your ‘To’ field and ‘Sender Name’, had given you permission to do this. Also, double check that you are not adding a click-bait style subject. Although “Win an Amazon Echo!” may get a higher open rate than “Attend our Event this August”, it is likely to also suffer from a lower click rate, and higher unsubscribe rate than if the subject line reflected the content, as well as being legally iffy.

Let them Know it’s an Ad

Letting them know your email is an ad is a little more complex. The law only states that it must be “clear and conspicuous”. We’ll leave this one up to you, as the law gives a lot of flexibility on this.

Physical Address and Opt-out Mechanism

Providing recipients with a physical address and opt-out mechanism is also easy through an email marketing service. Both can be placed in your default footer and added to every email – easy! These email marketing services also generally provide an instant opt-out for those that click subscribe so no need to set aside a time to manually unsubscribe people unless you have multiple contact list tools.

2. Email Marketing in Everyday Employee Emails

gmail and outlook email logo banner

If you’re sending out commercial emails from Outlook, Gmail or another email provider, being legally compliant with the CAN SPAM Act can get a bit more complicated.

Email Header Info

You’re in control of each header so your subject line and ‘To’ field shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re sending from a fake account (stop right now if you are, as you’re already breaking the law).

Physical Address

Your physical address can be added via an email signature with your preferred software / using the built in email provider tool. If you’re looking for a tool to consistently display this and intelligently apply it according to your needs, our product Crossware Mail Signature can help.

With Crossware, you can show different branch addresses to different recipients automatically, show different addresses to internal / external recipients and more. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.

Opt-out Mechanism

Traditionally, implementing unsubscribe mechanisms in everyday emails are no simple task. Generally, a company’s best effort is including text asking the subscriber to reply with unsubscribe if they’re no longer interested, while simultaneously hoping they don’t read that bit. You can add text at the end of each email or a link in your email disclaimer.

Crossware Mail Signature allows you to add your own customized unsubscribe mechanism for everyday employee emails, just like you can in MailChimp and other email marketing services. The mechanism can be sleekly tucked away in each email footer and design is up to you.

Adding a Legal Disclaimer

Although legal disclaimers are not required under the CAN SPAM Act, they are extremely useful for protecting your confidentiality, and ensuring legality. In your disclaimer, you can include anything you’d like. We advise seeking legal advice to ensure that everything you say is enforceable.

They are also easy to add through Crossware Mail Signature and can be applied with rules such as only appearing on external emails or not on replies.

If you’d like to learn more about Crossware Mail Signature and the power it has to ensure that your emails are not considered spam, get in touch with our friendly team ?

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