Do you remember when you got your driver’s license?

I do! I was 16 and I thought I knew everything. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel, squeal my tires, and hit the road. I was aware of speed limits and traffic laws. I knew there were penalties (if I got caught). But I have to admit that these “legalities” were not necessarily at the top of my mind. I just wanted to GO!

Email Marketing: Rules of the RoadIn my last article, Email Marketing: Classic or Clunker?  I told you that, in the 1990s, email marketing became the hot alternative to expensive advertising. Well, the email marketers of the time were like a new teenage driver – full of ambition and low on consideration. In fact, they inspired a new 4-letter word – SPAM. Businesses (legitimate and not) flooded people with messages they did not ask for and did not want.

In response to the SPAM problem, the U.S. government began to regulate commercial email marketing through the CAN-SPAM Act. This law included these basic email marketing requirements:

  • Accurately identifying the sender
  • Using subject lines that match the email content
  • Including the sender’s location
  • Giving recipients an easy way to unsubscribe
  • Honoring unsubscribe requests promptly

Following the basic CAN-SPAM rules may keep you from getting a ticket and paying a fine, but they won’t necessarily allow you to keep your email marketing “license.” Even if your emails comply with the letter of the law, you may run into other issues that wreck your overall email marketing efforts.

Email service providers (like AOL, Gmail, and Hotmail) give their customers tools to report spam. I’m sure all of us have hit the SPAM button once or twice (or more?). This means there is not a straight-forward, simple definition of SPAM. It is defined by the person who receives it – your intentions don’t really matter. It’s like driving in traffic. If the person in front of you is only driving 35 MPH, you can’t go 45 MPH without crashing, even if 45MPH the legal speed limit. Instead of following the traffic rules, you have to follow the rules of the road!

What are the road rules for email marketing?

Be specific.
Design value based messages that appeal to your target audience. Focus on information that addresses their needs, concerns, and interests. Make sure you set good upfront expectations about what you are going to send and how often you’ll send it. A monthly or quarterly email newsletter is an excellent way to nurture relationships. An educational series of emails is better for converting prospects to clients.

Get permission.
Don’t assume that everyone who gives you their email address wants to receive email marketing from you. You need to ask for permission. If you want to send emails to an existing list of clients, partners, and prospects, you should reach out to them and invite them to subscribe. You can make this easier by integrating a web form with your company website (to attract prospects). You can even link that form to your email signature so all of your email contacts see it.

Get confirmation.
After someone subscribes to your email list, send them a confirmation message. This email serves as a reminder and gives the new subscriber a chance to unsubscribe (“opt-out”) if they’ve changed their mind. Remember, you only want to send email marketing to people who truly want it.

Keep your promises.
Respect your email subscribers. Send what you said you would send, when you said you would send it. Be consistent so they don’t forget about you. If you decide to offer something new or send emails more frequently, start the process over again…ask for permission.

Don’t SPAM (!)
Let’s be honest…if you send email marketing to a list you bought or one that was given to you by someone else (like a colleague or organization) you are spamming. Just don’t do it!

What are the consequences if you don’t follow these “rules”?

Although you might not face federal fines and penalties, you’ll probably suffer these other consequences.

Lost privileges.
Industry standards say it is OK if 1 out of 1,000 people report your email as SPAM. If there are any more, then you risk losing privileges. Email marketing software providers, like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, etc., must ensure top-notch deliverability for all of their customers. They monitor SPAM complaints on a per customer basis. If they see you are blatantly spamming or have a recurring issue with SPAM complaints, the provider must cancel your account.

You may not use a service, but instead simply send email marketing through Outlook. It doesn’t matter. If a lot of people report your messages as SPAM, then email service companies (like AOL) will block all email coming from you. If that happens, no one will get your email messages.

Lost effectiveness.
Even if you don’t run into SPAM complaint issue and every single email message gets delivered, your email marketing efforts may become ineffective. Some people will unsubscribe. Some will simply ignore your messages. Others will quickly delete them. These aren’t the responses you want!

Driving a classic car is a treat. Even the 16 year old version of me would have been a lot more careful with driving a ’65 Mustang than I was with driving my (year not mentioned!) Apollo. There’s no way I would have wanted to be responsible for a ding or a dent. Treat your email marketing efforts with this same type of caution and you’ll be on the road to success before you know it.

Dee Allomong - Director of Marketing for LandlordSource

Dee Allomong has over 10 years of experience in Internet technology and strategic marketing. You can reach her at 

Disclaimer: LandlordSource does not represent the article content in this website as legal advice. It is shared information only and up to the reader to use this information responsibly, seeking legal advice as necessary to their business.