Have you heard? You NEED to have an email newsletter. Like yesterday. I was late to the the email newsletter parade, but I finally created mine in the fall. There are so many reasons why having an email newsletter is super important and really beneficial for your blog or business. But I’m not discussing those many reasons today (but in case you want to learn more, here are some great posts on email lists: Why You Should Start Building an Email List – Nectar Collective, How to Create a Newsletter for Your Blog – Helene in Between and 16 Badass Strategies for Growing Your Email List – Femtrepreneur).
Instead today, I’m putting on my lawyer hat (would lawyer power suit be better here?) to let you know the important legal stuff surrounding email marketing and newsletters. I’ve seen a lot of information out there on this topic and not all of it is clear or correct. So I’m going to take the lawyer-y stuff about email newsletters and the law and break it down for you.
Is there a law that regulates email lists?
Yep – in the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act is the law that regulates email marketing or commercial emails. The name is a little misleading – it looks like it means that you can spam people. Which sounds like a horrible law. (Or like a cheap canned pseudo-meat.) But it actually means just the opposite and it stands for: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing.
This is a good time to let you know that I am an American based and licensed attorney. So this information is just based on US, but it may also apply to your home country. If you are working or do work outside of the US, check the laws for your jurisdiction. Also, although I’m an attorney, I’m not your attorney. The information contained in this blog post is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.
What types of emails are regulated by this law?
The law regulates commercial emails. Basically, they don’t want you sending mass marketing emails to a ton of people. Because that would be, say it with me now… spam. So if you’re sending commercial emails, the government wants to regulate this.
If you have a blog and you’re making little to no money, you might not think your email newsletter is “commercial.” But the law considers commercial content to be something that advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website that is operated for commercial purposes.
So think of the ultimate reason you’re sending emails. You’re probably doing it to get traffic back to your site, where you might be making some money from ads or sponsored posts, etc. So, if you have an email newsletter, it is likely for a commercial purpose. Which means you need to comply with CAN-SPAM.
This differs from transactional or business relationship emails, which would be the emails that deal with an already agreed-upon transaction or discussions with a customer about an ongoing transaction. You still need to be honest and upfront in those emails (that’s the law and common sense), but these types of emails don’t have to otherwise comply with CAN-SPAM.
The primary purpose of your email (commercial, transactional/relationship or some other reason) will determine whether it falls under CAN-SPAM and if you need to comply with it.
Who can I email?
CAN-SPAM doesn’t have an “opt in” requirement – meaning people don’t have to first opt in for your newsletter before you can send it to them. But it’s an industry best practice to only email those who have opted in or given you permission. (More about this below.)
Can I “buy” addresses or share my email list?
Do NOT buy addresses to add to your email list. By this, I mean, someone or a company has compiled a list of email addresses and you buy that entire list. This is bad for several reasons – 1.) The individuals haven’t affirmatively signed up and agreed to receive emails from you, 2.) You don’t know if they got the email addresses illegally, 3.) The list might include people who’ve already opted out of your list and 4.) What is the point of buying email addresses of random people? If they haven’t affirmatively signed up to get your emails, they probably won’t enjoy getting emails from you out of the blue.
As for sharing email addresses… Rather than requiring people to “opt in” to getting your emails, the main focus of the law is on opting out – you must make it easy for people to opt out and then you must comply and stop emailing them (more about that below). So technically you could share your list, but it’s industry best practice not to – for all the reasons noted why you shouldn’t be buying email addresses.
What do I need to include in my emails?
In order to comply with CAN-SPAM, all of your emails must have a clear and easy way for people to opt out or unsubscribe. (And then you must actually promptly honor all opt outs as well.) You can include a menu of unsubscribe options, if people just want to unsubscribe from certain types of emails.
Your emails must also have a physical address. If you don’t have a work address and don’t want to share your home address, you can obtain and use a P.O. Box. This way you are still complying with the law but retaining your privacy. If you are in the US, you can go here for more information on obtaining a P.O. Box.
You emails also must not contain false or misleading information. Your “from” or “reply to,” originating domain and sender email should all be accurate. It should be clear and accurate who the emails are coming from. Additionally you can’t use deceptive or misleading subject lines – your subject line should be an actual reflection of the subject of your email not something like “you’ve won a million dollars!” All of this should be common sense, but it’s worth noting.
It also must be clear that the email is an ad. The law is pretty flexible on what this means, so there is no clear answer what you need to include, but be sure to make it clear that this is a commercial email rather than just a personal email.
Lastly, if you have someone else doing your email marketing, they must also comply with CAN-SPAM and you will be responsible for any violations.
What are the penalties for violating CAN-SPAM?
So there are pretty serious penalties for violating CAN-SPAM – up to $16,000 per email. Yikes. I know that sounds super scary (and it is), but as long as you are complying with the law, you should be safe.
Ok, I know this is a lot of info! So I created a handy dandy guide for you – refer back to this anytime for a refresher. Just click below to download!
ALSO this weekend I am co-hosting an awesome webinar all about creating content upgrades for your blog in order to grow your email list! As discussed, email lists and email marketing are really important and content upgrades (ahem, kinda like that one right up there which I hope you downloaded!) are a great way to grow your list.
I’ll also be talking even more about the topics discussed in today’s post. So if you’re an audio/visual learner, you can get even more advice on the right way to do your email newsletter this weekend.
Just click below to sign up for the webinar. I’m co-hosting with the amazing Marianna from The Collective Mill and I’m so excited – this is going to be a super info packed webinar – see you there!
(UPDATE: Unfortunately the webinar has passed! But if you’re still looking to grow your blog and learn more, check out my course, Blog While You 9-5! I created the course specifically with my fellow bloggers in mind who are blogging while working their day job or other hustles. Learn more here!)
Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. The author is not liable for any losses or damages related to actions of failure to act related to the content in this article. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.