In our blog series kickoff article, we outlined twelve tips to improve your email deliverability. Tip #3 is to shorten your footer info. But before we do that, we need to familiarize ourselves with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Commercial communications (including your email newsletter) are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to its website, the FTC has a “dual mission to protect consumers and promote competition.”
The FTC’s regulation on email is outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act. It details the definitions, requirements, and penalties related to commercial email. Each separate email infraction is subject to fines up to $43,792. That’s a hefty penalty, but thankfully the rules are clear and simple to follow.
Okay, that sounds important. But what does the CAN-SPAM Act have to do with shortening footer content?
If you take a look at your last newsletter, you’ll hopefully see your physical address and a link to unsubscribe from future emails. This information is required by the CAN-SPAM Act, so before you shorten your email footer, let’s make sure you keep it compliant.
CAN-SPAM Act Guildelines
The FTC has a handy CAN-SPAM compliance guideline on their website. They provide seven requirements for commercial email. I quote the enumerated guidelines in bold italics below, followed by my own comments in regular text.
- Don’t use false or misleading header information. Don’t try to hide who you are. Be transparent.
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines. This doesn’t mean you can’t be fun or creative. It means you can’t mislead.
- Identify the message as an ad. We’ll dive into this a bit more below.
- Tell recipients where you’re located. This is generally included in your footer. This can be a street address or a PO Box.
- Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Again, this information is often found in your email footer.
- Honor opt-out requests promptly. This should be handled quickly, easily, and automatically by your Email Service Provider (ESP). Make sure it is.
- Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. You can’t pass the buck to a marketing firm, email service, or administrative assistant. You are explicitly and ultimately responsible for compliance.
These guidelines are explained by the FTC in simple, easy-to-follow language, so I’d recommend giving that a read.
Identifying Your Email Newsletter as an Ad
If you put links to online book retailers or include book blurbs to promote book sales, you’re advertising and you need to notify readers that it’s an ad. The FTC says, “The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this,” but you must do it.
I would suggest adding this language to your signup form and also inserting a short (but personal) notification near the bottom of your email. Perhaps, state this as a thanks or a title. Forbes Councils Member Rebecca Kowalewicz says, “This can be as simple as placing text at the bottom of the email saying, ‘This advertisement was sent by (your business name here).’” Vertical Response says, “The only time you don’t have to warn readers about ads? If everyone on your list has agreed to receive your emails.”
I’m not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I think the point they’re making is that including a consent box on your signup form satisfies this requirement. However, as an author, you may be getting email subscribers through a third-party promotional site, like a giveaway. If you’re not sure those new subscribers were notified they would be receiving marketing advertisements (i.e., links and blurbs that aim at selling your books), you may want to include a short notice at the bottom of your emails to satisfy this requirement…without sounding like a spammer.
What Spammers Do With Email Footer Content
Spammers sometimes stuff email footers with promotional language like required legal disclaimers and links, and spam filters inspect footers for this kind of content. Instead of sounding like a marketer, trim down your footer content and make it sound like it’s coming from a person, not a business.
Be sure to stay compliant by including a physical address and an easily identifiable way to unsubscribe. Use the brief space next to the unsubscribe link to remind readers why they signed up in the first place. Be friendly and personable.
A Warning About Blog Subscriptions
Before we wrap this up, here’s something to be aware of when automating your email process. The FTC explicitly states that commercial email also includes “email that promotes content on commercial websites.” I would take this to mean your automated blog subscriptions. If you use a plugin that allows people to subscribe to your website content (blog posts) via email, make sure you can customize that email notification with your physical address and an easy way to unsubscribe.
If your plugin doesn’t keep in line with FTC compliance, search for another plugin or, better yet, use the RSS feature of your ESP. You can send these automated subscription emails through MailerLite, Mailchimp, and most other reputable ESPs.
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Heather is a freelance marketing specialist and author. She writes a weekly blog for AuthorCompany to help Christian authors navigate marketing technology and engage their target readers. She lives in sizzling Louisiana but dreams of mountains, chilly days, and a little snow wouldn’t hurt, either.