CAN-SPAM Requirements Every Marketer Should Know

can spam requirements cover image with a can of spam

The CAN-SPAM Act governs the use of commercial email messages in the United States — it establishes requirements for the content of such messages, grants recipients the right to unsubscribe from mailing lists, and outlines significant penalties for non-compliance.

The CAN-SPAM Act lays out rules for all email senders, ensuring they don’t send spam to email users. Not adhering to this law can result in huge penalties and, in extreme cases, imprisonment.

If you’re wondering how this law came about and how CAN-SPAM requirements affect you as an email marketer, this article has all the answers you seek!

What is Email Spam?

Email spam, also known as junk email, refers to unsolicited, high-volume email messages sent to a large number of recipients. It’s typically sent to promote products or services, but can also contain malicious content or scam recipients.

Typically, email spam has these characteristics:

  • They’re unsolicited: The recipients did not request or consent to receive the email.
  • Sent in bulk: The email is sent to a large number of recipients, often using automated methods.
  • Typically deceptive: Spam emails often use misleading subject lines, forged sender information, or false claims to trick recipients into opening them.
  • Irrelevant: The content of the email is typically irrelevant to the recipient and may be offensive or inappropriate.
  • Occasionally harmful: Spam emails can contain malware or links to malicious websites that can steal personal information or harm your device.

Clearly, spam is a major nuisance for email users; it can also be a security threat. 

Spam Emails Have Been Around for a Long Time

The history of email spam is a long one, dating back to the early days of the Internet itself.

The first known spam email was sent in 1978 by Gary Thuerk, a marketer at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), to promote a new computer model. This event, while technically the first instance, was largely considered inappropriate and didn’t lead to widespread spam for some time.

In the mid-90s, spam began to rear its head. With the rise of commercial internet usage, it became more prevalent — marketers and others saw the potential of email for reaching a large audience and began sending unsolicited messages.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, spam had become a major problem, with the volume of unwanted emails exploding. The lack of established regulations made it easier for email spammers to operate.

The first step against spammers appeared in 2003 when the CAN-SPAM Act was passed in the United States. It set the first major legal framework for regulating commercial email. 

While the CAN-SPAM Act helped, the fight against spam continues today with the development of more sophisticated spam filters and international efforts to create regulations. However, spammers also adapt accordingly, using techniques like phishing, malware distribution, and botnets to bypass filters and reach users.

Spam remains a persistent problem, although its volume has decreased somewhat compared to its peak. Email providers and organizations continue to develop new methods to detect and block spam, while users also need to be vigilant and aware of the different types of spam messages to stay safe. 

Mailbox providers like Gmail and Yahoo have also rolled out guidelines for bulk email senders to help them escape spam folders. But which emails exactly fall under the spam umbrella?

Types of Email Spam

What kind of emails are classified as spam? Technically, any unwanted commercial email is spam, but there are a few popular types.

The most common spam messages fall under these categories:

Type of SpamWhat they doExample
PhishingTries to steal personal information by pretending to be a trusted source.Email seemingly from your bank asking to update your login details.
SpoofingDisguises the sender’s identity to appear trustworthy.This message appears to be from your boss but is actually sent by a scammer.
Malicious Delivers malware to your device through attachments or links.An email with an attachment titled “Important document.doc” that actually contains malware.
ScamsPromotes deceptive schemes to trick you out of money or information.The Nigerian Prince scam, for example.
ProductsAdvertises products or services, often unrelated to your needs.Email promoting a weight loss supplement you never heard of.
Chain emailsAsks you to forward the email to others, often with false promises.This message claims you’ll receive good luck if you forward it to 10 friends.
Adult/Smut contentPromotes adult content like pornography.Email with a suggestive subject line and link to inappropriate content.
Email Spam: Different Types

Once mailboxes started filling up with these messages in the late 90s and early 2000s, the U.S. government stepped in and passed a law that would deter spammers and email scammers.

Let’s now discuss the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 in detail.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act?

The CAN-SPAM Act, which stands for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing” Act, is a United States law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, and gives recipients the right to have businesses stop emailing them. 

The CAN-SPAM Act mainly states these points:

  1. No misleading headers: The law prohibits the use of misleading or deceptive information in the headers of marketing emails.
  2. Subject lines: The subject line of commercial emails must accurately reflect the email content.
  3. Explicit advertising: Commercial emails must be clearly identified as advertisements. Additionally, the sender’s physical postal address must be included in the email.
  4. Opt-out options: The law mandates that commercial emails must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how recipients can opt out of receiving future emails from the sender. Senders must also honor opt-out requests promptly — within 10 business days.
  5. Rules for third parties: Companies that hire third-party marketers to promote their products or services through email are still responsible for ensuring those marketers comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
  6. Penalties for non-compliance: Violations of the CAN-SPAM Act can result in significant penalties, including fines of up to $51,744 per violation.

While the CAN-SPAM Act regulates commercial email, it does not apply to transactional emails or relationship-based emails, such as those that provide updates on a previous transaction, information about an ongoing subscription, or account statements.

The CAN-SPAM Act provides recipients with more control over the emails they receive while also establishing guidelines to deter deceptive practices in email marketing.

CAN-SPAM Act: What Was the Need for It?

The excitement of a new medium of communication — email — quickly turned into frustration for many users as the volume of unsolicited commercial emails began to skyrocket in the early days of the Internet. This rapid rise of spam created an urgent need for the CAN-SPAM Act.

The main drivers for the release of the CAN-SPAM Act were:

  • Unwanted and vulgar content: Spam emails flooded inboxes with irrelevant and often offensive content, significantly impacting user experience. Users were bombarded with advertisements and promotional messages they never signed up for, disrupting their email usage and wasting their time.
  • Deceptive messages: Spammers implemented deceptive tactics to mislead users, such as using misleading subject lines, forging sender information, and mimicking legitimate businesses. This created a sense of distrust and frustration among users.
  • Productivity issues: The overwhelming influx of spam emails clogged inboxes, forcing users to spend significant time sorting through unwanted messages and deleting them. This impacted productivity and hindered efficient communication.
  • Lack of regulation: The CAN-SPAM Act would be the first law of its kind; before it, there was no comprehensive national framework regulating marketing emails in the United States. This allowed spammers to operate with impunity, leading to an uncontrolled growth of spam activities.
  • Growing public concern: As the volume and impact of spam increased, public outcry grew. Users demanded action from the government to address this growing problem and protect their inboxes from unwanted and intrusive messages.

While the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t completely eliminate spam, it played a crucial role in establishing essential regulations and giving users more control over their email experience.

The CAN-SPAM Act: Objectives

The CAN-SPAM Act emerged as a solution for the above issues. 

These were its goals: 

  1. It aimed to empower users by giving them control over their inboxes through opt-out mechanisms. 
  2. Increase transparency by requiring senders to identify themselves and accurately represent their messages. 
  3. Establish fair practices by prohibiting deceptive tactics and unfair business practices in email marketing. 
  4. Reduce the overall volume of spam by imposing penalties on violators.

CAN-SPAM Requirements for Marketing Emails 

The CAN-SPAM Act, established in 2003, outlines regulations for commercial emails sent within the United States. But what does this law mean for email marketers

Here are the key requirements for marketing emails under CAN-SPAM:

  • Identification,
  • Content,
  • Easy unsubscribe options.

CAN-SPAM has specific rules for each of these categories, so let’s review them. 

CAN-SPAM requires bulk email senders to identify themselves clearly:

Identifying informationWhat it means
SenderThe email must clearly identify the sender, including their name and business name.
Physical addressA valid physical postal address of the sender must be included somewhere in the message.
CAN-SPAM ID Requirements

Your content can’t be spammy; CAN-SPAM insists you follow these rules for content:

Content requirementsWhat it means
Subject lineThe subject line should be accurate and reflect the content of the email; deceptive subject lines are prohibited.
Identification as an adThe email must clearly identify itself as an advertisement.
CAN-SPAM: Content Rules

All emails must offer clear opt-out options to recipients:

Opt-out rulesWhat it means
Unsubscribe optionsYou must include an easy-to-use opt-out mechanism allowing recipients to unsubscribe from receiving future marketing emails. 
ValidityThis unsubscribe option should be valid for at least 30 days after the email is sent.
Processing opt-out requestsOpt-out requests must be processed promptly, typically within 10 business days.
CAN-SPAM: Opt-out mechanism

Besides these rules, using false or misleading header information, such as the “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” or routing information, is prohibited.

CAN-SPAM Act and Mandatory Opt-Ins

If you’re wondering where the mandatory opt-in rule for new subscriber signups is — the CAN-SPAM Act has no rule in place for subscribers opting in. This means you can technically send marketing emails to anyone who has not explicitly opted out, as long as you comply with the other CAN-SPAM requirements.

We still recommend following the opt-in process, though. It is a best practice and aligns with other privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. 

Opt-in additionally offers these benefits:

  • Increased user trust: People who actively opt in are more likely to be interested in your messages, leading to higher engagement and better reception.
  • Lower chances of spam complaints: Sending emails to those who haven’t opted-in can lead to spam complaints, potentially impacting your sender reputation and deliverability.

Remember, complying with CAN-SPAM is crucial to avoid legal repercussions and maintain a good sender reputation. It’s also important to note that these are just the key requirements, and other best practices exist for responsible email marketing, like the ones below.

Best Anti-Spam Practices For Email Marketers

Effective anti-spam practices for email marketers are crucial for maintaining a positive reputation, maximizing deliverability, and ensuring compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act. 

These 8 best practices will keep you in the clear.

1. Get Consent

Only send emails to recipients who have explicitly opted in to receive communications from you. This reduces the likelihood of being marked as spam.

2. Double Opt-In Process

Implement double opt-in procedures where users confirm their subscription by clicking on a verification link sent to their email after signing up. 

3. Branding is Critical

Ensure your emails are easily recognizable and reflect your brand identity. Use consistent branding elements such as logos, colors, and voice to establish trust and familiarity with your subscribers.

4. Don’t Trigger the Spam Filter

Avoid using spammy language, excessive punctuation, or misleading subject lines that may trigger spam filters.

5. Track Your Metrics

Regularly monitor key metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, bounce rates, and spam complaint rates. 

6. Unsubscribe Options are a Must

Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from your emails by including a visible and user-friendly unsubscribe link or button in every email. Honor unsubscribe requests promptly to maintain trust and compliance.

7. Security Protocols are Your Friend!

Implement email authentication protocols such as
SPF (Sender Policy Framework),
DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and
DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance)
to verify the authenticity of your emails and prevent spoofing or phishing attacks.
BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification) is another upcoming security protocol you should be implementing in the near future.

8 Create a Schedule to Clean Email Lists

Regularly clean your email list by removing inactive or invalid email addresses, as well as subscribers who have not engaged with your emails for an extended period. This helps improve deliverability and ensures your messages reach active and interested recipients.

Following these best practices ensures you align with CAN-SPAM rules — but the biggest benefit is a stronger relationship with your subscribers.

Ignoring the CAN-SPAM Act Can Have These Repercussions

The CAN-SPAM Act’s jurisdictional reach extends to marketing emails sent from within the United States, regardless of the recipient’s location. It also applies to commercial emails sent to recipients located within the United States, regardless of the sender’s location.

Spammers who disregard the CAN-SPAM Act expose themselves to several potential consequences, including:

  1. Penalties: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the CAN-SPAM Act and can impose significant fines for violations. Each individual email sent in violation can incur a penalty of up to $51,744, and the total amount can quickly escalate depending on the volume and nature of the spam campaign.
  2. Legal action: In addition to civil penalties, the FTC can also pursue criminal charges against individuals or businesses engaged in widespread violations. These charges can result in imprisonment and further legal repercussions.
  3. Poor brand reputation: Being labeled a spammer can severely damage a company’s reputation. Negative publicity and consumer distrust can significantly hinder legitimate business activities.
  4. Reduced deliverability rates: Email service providers (ESPs) and mailbox providers actively combat spam. Non-compliance with CAN-SPAM can lead to email blacklisting, significantly impacting a sender’s ability to deliver messages to intended recipients. This can render spam campaigns ineffective and hinder legitimate communication channels.
  5. Wasted resources: Spammers often invest in techniques to bypass spam filters and reach inboxes. However, these efforts can be ineffective in the long run due to the evolving nature of spam filters and the potential consequences mentioned above.

Failing to comply with CAN-SPAM can also lead to civil lawsuits filed by individual recipients who have been harmed by spam emails. It also invites increased scrutiny from law enforcement and regulatory agencies.

In a worst-case scenario, you could even end up getting incarcerated.

These CAN-SPAM Violations Can Land You in Jail

It’s not all monetary penalties with the FTC; certain actions can get you locked up.

Breaking these laws could lead to imprisonment:

  1. Using someone’s computer to send spam without permission.
  2. Registering for multiple email accounts/domains using false information.
  3. Participating in the relaying of spam emails to mislead authorities about the origin of the message.
  4. Using dictionary attacks (when spammers send emails to addresses made up of random letters/numbers to reach valid ones).
  5. Accessing open relays or open proxies without permission.

In short, the cons of spamming far outweigh the benefits. It’s fairly simple to adhere to the CAN-SPAM rules and is the smarter choice in the long run.

Campaign Refinery: Strictly Against Spam!

At Campaign Refinery, we’re 100% against sending spam — this is why we are exclusively a permission-based email marketing platform.

This is why we have an approval-based system to join Campaign Refinery. Post onboarding, we continue to monitor our servers for any suspicious activities, as explained in our acceptable use policy.

Our policy dictates:

  • That you follow our content rules.
  • You can’t send malware.
  • No adult content or get-rich-quick schemes.
  • That your open rates must be above 10%.
  • Your bounce rates can’t exceed 10%.
  • Complaint rates over 0.1% can lead to the termination of the account.

In return, we help our clients achieve the best deliverability rates in the market today. 

Take, for example, our automated list-cleaning tool. It scans your email list for any invalid emails and removes them. This reflects positively in your engagement rates as well as the deliverability rates, as mailbox providers appreciate clean contact lists.

Another step that helps our deliverability rates is that we require all clients to have SPF, DKIM, and DMARC implemented on their domains before they send emails

If elite results are what you seek, you’re in the right place — apply to be a Campaign Refinery customer today!

Similar Posts