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by Mike Vestil 

Email Marketing Laws – Rules & Regulations To Follow

Understanding email marketing laws and abiding by them is a way for successful organizations to protect themselves and their email marketing efforts.

While some email marketing laws might vary from country to country, some actions will get an email marketing campaign in trouble no matter where it's sent. Even though it’s quite straightforward to get started with email marketing, understanding the rules you have to follow and how to best protect yourself and your business is crucial.

This article will take a closer look at email marketing laws and how they affect the companies that use this channel to communicate with their followers. Following these laws will ensure you make the most of the benefits that email marketing can offer your business. Keep reading to find out more.

Laws That Affect Email Marketing

Let's have a look at the various laws as they relate to email marketing.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR was created to protect the private information of individuals within the European Union. The main idea behind this regulation is that an individual has a right to control what happens with their personal data, especially when moving it outside of the country.

There are many parts to the GDPR, but the one part that could affect your email marketing strategy is the stipulation that an individual's private information can only be sent to countries with "adequate levels of protection".

If you're sending emails (for marketing purposes) to individuals in the EU, remember they may have a right to request what information is stored about them and where such information is being stored.


Image Credit: http://theconversation.com

This also means they can request for their personal information to be deleted from your records.

When planning an email marketing campaign, ensure that you research the countries involved and find out their data protection laws.

Controlling The Assault Of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing (CAN-SPAM)

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 was put in place to protect consumers from unwanted emails called "spam". It's the most lenient legislation passed regarding email marketing laws thus far. There are many components of this law that pertain to how marketers can and cannot use email in their campaigns; I’ve summarized some key points below:

  • Do not rent or buy email lists
  • Your list must include a clear and conspicuous notice about how to opt-in and opt-out of future emails.
  • Do not use false or misleading header information and subject lines.
  • Don't use deceptive content and practices in the body of your email, such as making an offer that's too good to be true.
  • All emails must contain clear unsubscribe links. Marketers must honor these requests promptly (within ten business days).

If you're sending promotional emails (which most marketers do), you'll need to make sure you follow all CAN-SPAM guidelines. If not, your email marketing campaign could be shut down, and you may face legal action.

Canada Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

Canada introduced its own set of anti-spam laws in July 2014. CASL enforces similar rules to the CAN-SPAM Act, so many of these email marketing laws are similar. There are some critical differences between the US and Canada's anti-spam legislation, though.

All messages must include an "unsubscribe" mechanism. Marketers cannot charge recipients for this mechanism or remove them without their consent. There is no commercial email exemption under CASL.


Image Credit: http://termsfeed.com

Unlike the United States, Canada has an anti-spamming act that outlines what a commercial electronic message is defined as, as well as the importance of consent when sending this type of message.

How To Comply With Email Marketing Laws

Here are the main things to do when it comes to being compliant with email marketing laws.

Take Buy An Email List That You Didn’t Build

Buying email lists is something that breaks so many of the above-mentioned laws. Even if you purchase a list and add in your own email subscribers to this list, it will still violate various laws such as the CAN-SPAM act mentioned above.

Ask People To Double Opt In When They Join Your List

When people are about to join your email list, you should add an additional checkbox on the sign up page that is shown before people are added to such a list. Potential subscribers will be able to acknowledge that they are consenting to receiving information from you.

Ensure that by default the checkbox is disabled to ensure that people really understand what they’re getting into.


Image Credit: http://getvero.com

With that said, even if someone ticks a checkbox and joins your list, you can still run into trouble when someone claims that they weren’t aware of what they were agreeing to. Keep in mind that while it's best practice to have such a checkbox, it may not necessarily protect you from legal action.

To further increase your level of protection, you should opt for double opt-in confirmation (sometimes called confirmed opt-in). This requires further email confirmation from the person that just joined your email list. 

Having someone double opt in is the best way to make sure that everyone who signs up to your list knows precisely what they're doing, and it will protect you from any legal action in the future.

Asking someone to click on a link in the first email they get from you (to confirm something that they have just asked to receive) might seem like a hassle, but it's worth it to protect your business.

Re-ask For Permission From Anyone Who's Inactive And Has Been On Your List For An                              Extended Period Of Time

If someone hasn't engaged with you in 12 months (or whatever you decide is appropriate), then they're more than likely not interested in what you have to offer.

This means that their details need to be confirmed again to meet GDPR, CAN-SPAM, and other relevant laws. If you don't want to simply send a dry email reminding them that they're on your list will be helpful, you can also provide something of value or send them something else. 

This can include a discount, a voucher, an eBook full of value, etc.

Accurately Show Your Business Name And Email Address

Any emails sent out must include the name of the organization it's coming from, as well as the sender's contact details. The name must be displayed near the top of the email, in a font size that can easily read and not be misleading or false.

The sender's address must contain a valid reply-to address and give individuals the chance to unsubscribe from your list (more on this later). Email addresses must not mislead recipients into thinking they are coming from another person or organization other than the one that sent the email.

While framing an email as coming from someone else might be a cheap marketing trick to further increase your email open rate, it's definitely not compliant when it comes to email marketing laws.

Emails Should Be Honest And Informative

Emails must not be misleading to the reader, so they need to be honest and accurate. This includes information in both the subject line and the email content itself. 

Subject lines should accurately describe what's inside that email - it might seem like a small detail, but this is one of the biggest reasons people unsubscribe from lists. Deceptive subject lines can lead to legal action, so it's not worth it.

Subject lines should also avoid using spammy words, such as "free" and "sale". In addition, avoid using multiple exclamation marks as this is not considered to be good practice in an email. If you need to use specific phrases for your campaigns (for example, info, free, or unsubscribe) then include these in the contents of your emails and not the subject line.

Any links included in your emails should be also relevant and not mislead people into clicking them by tricking them with fancy language or any other techniques mentioned above. They should give the person viewing the email enough information about where they're going to end up - without forcing them to hunt around for more details within the email.

Sending legitimate emails also ensures that emails you send in the future will have a higher chance of being opened and engaged with. Increasing email marketing effectiveness starts with sending emails that have honest content.

Let Anyone Who Wants To Unsubscribe, Do So

This is one of the most critical email marketing laws.

If someone wants to unsubscribe from your list, then let them go with no questions asked. It's not worth trying to get them back because they're just going to mark any future emails as spam, which means that you'll never get through to them again. It’s simply just not worth it.

You should also include an unsubscribe link in every single email that makes it easy for people to remove themselves from your lists without having to hunt around in their email inbox time after time.


Image Credit: http://sendpulse.com

Make sure that you process opt-out requests quickly and don't send any more messages to individuals who choose to unsubscribe - it's about respecting the individual. Having the right email marketing software ensures that such requests are dealt with accurately and quickly.

Mark Your Email As An Advertisement If It Is So

One critical aspect of the laws mentioned above is that if an email is sent out for advertising purposes, then it should be marked as such. It may seem obvious, but some companies seem to forget about this little detail and pay the price with legal action.

The good news is that the law is very liberal with how an email is to be marked as an advertisement. This means that there's a lot of leeway here, and you don't have to be too strict with how it's done.

This also means that email marketing laws are primarily about information, transparency, and honesty, which can only be good for both marketers and recipients.

Include Your Business Postal Address In The Emails You Send Out

Having a valid physical postal address is an important part of email laws. Including this contact information next to opt-out links is usually a good way to do things.

It's also a good idea to include a company email address that is appropriate for receiving incoming queries. 

A valid postal address also means that you can be contacted by legal authorities if necessary, without them having to search all over the internet for this information. 

If your company doesn't have a physical address and there's no other way to contact you via such an email, then it might be best to list this as information on your internet website.

Segment Your List

When it comes to processing personal data, all of the above should be considered to create different groups within your main list. This is one aspect that many companies choose to ignore (for one reason or another) when it comes to targeting different interests that their subscribers have.

If you have a list of individuals interested in the same broad topic but are even more interested in different subtopics within it, then ensure that you use email marketing segmentation to send people more relevant content based on their interests.

This is an excellent way to keep your readers satisfied with the content you provide and reduces the chance of them marking your emails as spam. By sending them super-targeted emails, you're also increasing the likelihood that they'll open your emails and engage with them, both now and in the future.


There are various consequences when it comes to not following the appropriate email marketing laws. These consequences can lead to anything from a poor reputation to legal action and penalties for your organization, so you must follow the rules outlined above to the letter. 

If you keep up with all of the current email marketing laws, then you'll probably be just fine - however, it’s always good to stay informed. Understanding how new developments affect you as they're revealed and implemented, will ensure that your email marketing campaigns remain highly effective while being within the confines of such laws.

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About the author 

Mike Vestil

Mike Vestil is the author of the Lazy Man's Guide To Living The Good Life. He also has a YouTube channel with over 700,000 subscribers where he talks about personal development and personal finance.

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