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Note: This blog post should not be considered legal advice. For any questions regarding the law, please consult an attorney.
Perhaps it goes without saying: it’s simply good practice to understand the laws that apply wherever you plan to conduct business. This includes understanding privacy and other regulations regarding electronic communications such as email.
Marketers should be aware of the potential pitfalls related to email marketing, and that’s the focus of this post.
Pitfall 1: Not Knowing the Laws that Govern Where you Do Business
In the U.S., the law governing email communication is the CAN-SPAM act.
Other countries have their own laws covering email advertising and communications. So the laws you need to become familiar with depend on which country you’re operating in or sending emails to.
The European Union recently enacted a set of privacy rules related to its citizens known as the General Data Protection Regulation. It covers much more than email communications. Essentially, every company that uses personal data from EU citizens must comply. If you’re collecting email addresses and sending email to subscribers in the EU, you have to comply with GDPR—no matter where you’re based. So even if you don’t have a physical location in one of the EU member countries, you still need to follow GDPR.
Laws change, so be sure to do your research and consult your legal counsel.
Pitfall 2: Emailing Without the Recipient’s Permission
The rules around permissions can vary depending on a particular country’s electronic communications laws. Generally, having a business relationship with the recipient allows you to communicate with them. They may be a member of your eClub or online community, purchased goods or services from you, or donated to your nonprofit. Alternatively, they may have given you explicit permission to email them when when they gave you their contact information via your web site or some other method - for example, signing up for coupons, special offers, or a newsletter.
Pitfall 3: Failing to Identify Yourself
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous organizations and individuals who would try to deceive people regarding the actual sender behind a particular email. To avoid issues, be sure to:

  • Properly identify your organization’s name in the email header.
  • Include contact information. This often takes the form of a footer containing your physical mailing address and other contact information such as a phone number and email address. In fact, email marketing laws in most countries stipulate that you must clearly include a valid postal address for your organization in your campaign emails.
Credibility also comes from using subject lines that are forthright and clear. We discussed email subject lines in an earlier post.
Pitfall 4: Failing to Identify your Email as an Advertisement
Whether or not we want to think of emails as advertisements, that is how anti-spam laws generally define them. You don’t need to explicitly state “This email is an advertisement.” It is, however, important to clearly identify your company or organization in the header including the “From” field. Since you are likely to be marketing or selling your products or services, your subject line and body content will further imply or indicate that your email is a form of advertisement.
Pitfall 5: Leaving out Unsubscribe Link(s)
You have probably seen (and likely have used) this one. It’s a virtually universal requirement that your email campaigns must include a way for recipients to opt out of receiving email from you. It must be clear and easy to use, and may not require any step besides sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website.
Pitfall 6: Not Processing Opt-out Requests Promptly
Laws vary regarding how quickly you must process unsubscribe requests. In the U.S., it’s within 10 business days. You may not charge a fee to remove them or require the recipient to give additional information that identifies them, such as a phone number.
Getting Started
Hopefully you experience the same kind of success with email marketing that many other merchants and business owners have. With some research into laws related to email marketing and some up-front planning, you’ll be well on your way. Applying a few basic email marketing principles, marketers like you can develop and send campaigns that comply with legal standards and bring results for your business.

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