Our Definitive Guide to Email Marketing Rules and Regulations

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Of the 319 billion emails sent and received every day, about 14.5 billion end up in spam folders.

Email is the strongest tool in your digital marketing arsenal, but it’s no good if you don’t actually reach and engage your audience.

In this post, we’ll run through the different laws governing email marketing, how to avoid spam filters, and the perfect tool to get you started.

1. What are the different email marketing laws?

Depending on where your business is based, and where your customers are from, different rules will apply.

The two main laws you’ll come into contact with are:

  • The CAN-SPAM Act — USA
  • The GDPR — Europe

These laws were instituted to protect customers from receiving unsolicited emails and inappropriate communication attempts.

While most email spam is not illegal, depending on the content, the context, and the country, sending bulk emails might get you into trouble.

Let’s take a closer look at the different laws you’ll encounter.

1.1. The CAN-SPAM Act


The anti-spam law that affects businesses in the US is called the CAN-SPAM Act.

Passed in 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act applies to all commercial emails, not just those sent in bulk.

Non-compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act can be expensive — you could be fined up to $43,792 per email.

This legislation includes rules that govern your email marketing:

  • No false email header information
  • No misleading subject lines
  • Advertising via email must be identified
  • You must indicate your business’ location
  • Explain how to opt out of receiving your emails, and quickly honor those who unsubscribe
  • Monitor any email actions done for you by other parties (affiliate marketing, 3rd party services, and referrals)

While transactional emails don’t necessarily fall under the CAN-SPAM Act, they still may not include any false or misleading content.

1.2. The GDPR


The main anti-spam legislation that affects Europe is called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and has been in effect since May 2018.

It’s one of the toughest sets of laws around, regulating the protection and privacy of all personal data, not just email marketing and spam.

Infringing on this data protection act could see you fined up to 20 million euros (that’s roughly $22,5 million).

Here are the 7 GDPR principles:

1. Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency — Clear and accurate communication so that your contacts understand what they’re opting-in for

2. Purpose limitation — Personal data may only be used for what it was collected for initially

3. Data minimization — Data may only be collected for and limited to a specific purpose, and not hoarded

4. Accuracy — Inaccurate data must be updated by the organization responsible for it

5. Storage limitation — Data may only be retained long enough to serve its specific purpose, not indefinitely

6. Integrity and confidentiality — Appropriate security measures to protect personal data must be applied and are the responsibility of the organization collecting it

7. Accountability — Organizations are accountable for the data they handle and for their compliance with the previous 6 principles

This will affect your email marketing in the following ways:

  • Tell subscribers exactly what they get when they opt in
  • You can’t sell or reuse your email list for any other purpose
  • Don’t collect irrelevant data from your contacts
  • Regularly update and clean your email list by letting contacts opt-out and removing non-existent email addresses
  • Don’t keep the details of contacts that opt out
  • Restrict access to your contacts’ details, and protect your database from physical and cyber threats
  • You’re responsible for the security and compliance of your email marketing

Data protection goes beyond just marketing, so make sure that your business as a whole is compliant with the GDPR.

1.3. Other important laws

If you’re aiming to reach an international audience, there are additional laws you’ll need to comply with.

Here’s a list of other data protection and anti-spam laws that might affect your business:

To find the anti-spam and email marketing regulations that apply to your business, look up the rules of the country you’re based in and where your audience is from.

It might seem like there are a lot of legal requirements to navigate, but these email marketing rules are there to protect you too.

2. Why are there email marketing laws?

Why are there email marketing laws?

Email addresses aren’t just contact details, they’ve become part of our official identity because of the online world.

People use their email address to:

  • Access their online banking
  • Submit their tax and legal documents
  • Log into social media accounts
  • Purchase and access digital entertainment
  • Log into their devices and applications

Businesses lose $20.5 billion a year because of email spam, while individuals suffer even more.

Email marketing laws like the CAN-SPAM Act also govern the following common spam components:

These laws protect personally-identifiable information and prevent our inboxes from being clogged with unsolicited emails.

If you want to continue to reach your audience, you’ll have to follow the rules or suffer severe consequences.

3. Top 10 tips to keep you compliant

Staying out of the spam folder shouldn’t be a daily struggle for you and your business.

That’s why we’ve set up this list of 10 tips to keep your email campaigns 100% compliant and how to implement them today:

3.1. Use opt-in forms to grow your list

Use opt-in forms to grow your list

Using an opt-in form is an easy way of getting your contact’s consent to send them marketing emails.

Choose either a single or double opt-in process to get your audience to confirm that they want you to send them your content.

You can do this by creating opt-in boxes with a confirmation link on your landing pages.

The different kinds of opt-in forms available on systeme.io

The different kinds of opt-in forms available on systeme.io

With a tool like systeme.io, creating opt-in opportunities is a simple process.

Once you’ve named your page and selected your opt-in type, you can choose from one of our templates or build your own.

When building your opt-in form, remember these:

  • Don’t use pre-checked boxes
  • Clearly ask for express permission to communicate

Your contacts can then make an informed decision on whether or not they want to receive marketing communications from you.

3.2. Keep your headers clear and concise

Keep your headers clear and concise

Where or who your email is from should represent your company and be accurate.

This means that you’ll need to include the following in your emails:

  • The domain name(s) — Where your emails originate from
  • Email address — The one you’re using to send the emails
  • Company name — Which part of your company it’s from

Setting this up with your email marketing service is pretty straightforward.

systeme.io’s email header set-up

systeme.io’s email header set-up

When you’re creating your newsletter or campaign with systeme.io, simply fill in your details in the relevant blocks — it’ll automatically appear on all of your marketing emails.

By providing clear and accurate contact information to your email recipients, you’ll keep your commercial messages compliant.

Misleading header information and deceptive email addresses will get you into trouble.

3.3. Avoid deceptive subject lines

Avoid deceptive subject lines

Your subject line is the first thing your email recipients see, so you need to make sure it stands out.

Any email marketing efforts will be wasted if all your messages go straight to spam.

Here’s how to keep your subject line on par with spam laws:

  • Match your subject line and content — If you’re offering 10% off, say that and only that
  • Avoid using spammy wordsWords like these will trigger the spam filter
  • Make it clear and concise — A shorter subject line is more eye-catching and less likely to be misleading

You can also use your subject line to follow spam laws by presenting what you send as a commercial email.

3.4. Be honest when advertising

Advertising Via Email

According to spam laws, all commercial email messages must identify themselves as advertising.

Make it clear that your email is an advertisement by:

  • Using your discount in your subject line
  • Using your business’ name as the sender

Deceptively presenting your emails as recommendations or personal emails in a private inbox breaks anti-spam laws.

3.5. Share your location

Share your location

Another requirement of the data protection and spam laws is that businesses must share their physical address in their marketing emails.

This can take one of the following forms:

  • Your valid physical postal address
  • Your business’ current street address
  • Your business’ valid postal address

Not only does this keep you compliant, but it also confirms that you’re a legitimate business.

3.6. Tell people how they can opt out

When creating forms for opting-in, ensure that opting-out is also an option.

If someone no longer wishes to receive your marketing emails, they need to be able to easily unsubscribe from your email list.

Explain to your contacts how they can achieve this.

Depending on the tool you use, you won’t have to put in much effort here.

systeme.io’s email unsubscribe link

systeme.io’s email unsubscribe link

With a tool like systeme.io, you can quickly set up an opt-out mechanism in the footer of your emails so that it appears across your email marketing campaign.

Telling contacts how to leave your email list may seem counterproductive to your business growth, but it’s an important legal requirement.

Once you’ve received an email recipient’s opt-out request, you have to honor it.

3.7. Honor those that unsubscribe

Honor those that unsubscribe

If you receive unsubscribe requests and don’t honor them, anything you send there after will count as an unsolicited email.

Once your contacts have gone through the unsubscribe process, you’ll have to remove them from your email list.

Some email marketing service providers have marketing automation set up to process opt-out requests for you.

There are 2 things you must do when following up on unsubscribe requests:

  • Remove all personal information and collected data on that contact
  • No longer send email campaigns to that private mailbox

If your platform doesn’t have one, you should consider building your own marketing automation process that completes this for you.

3.8. Set up your privacy policy

Set up your privacy policy

Another way to ensure that your audience understands your business’ approach to spam laws and data protection is through your privacy policy.

Make this page easily accessible from your website’s landing page and include all relevant information.

If you’re using a website builder like systeme.io, setting this up is a super simple process:

1. Select your website or sales funnel and create an information page.

Systeme.io’s sales funnel builder

Systeme.io’s sales funnel builder

2. Select our ‘Privacy Policy' template, fill in and alter the page contents to suit your business.

Systeme.io’s Privacy Policy template

Systeme.io’s Privacy Policy template

3. Create a link on your main landing page to your privacy policy.

If your data security practices are compliant, clearly explained, and easy to access, your audience should have little trouble trusting you with their information.

3.9. Check on whoever handles your email marketing

Check on whoever handles your email marketing

If you run a business that’s grown or scaled recently, you’ve probably hired or outsourced some elements of your email marketing strategy.

Whether you have an email marketer or an entire agency looking after that aspect of your business, you’re still responsible for how your email is handled.

That means you’ll need to monitor the following activities:

  • How they collect personal information
  • How they process personal data that’s been collected
  • How they manage the unsubscribe process
  • Whether they clean your list and keep it up to date
  • How they secure the data that’s collected

Remember, once you have someone’s contact details and personal information, you need to keep it safe.

3.10. Don’t forget transactional and forwarded emails

Don’t forget transactional and forwarded emails

Spam laws don’t apply to just your commercial email messages.

While these laws are applied to a different degree here, you’ll also need to ensure the following emails are compliant:

  • Transactional emails — Subject to data protection laws more than spam laws
  • Affiliate emails — Affiliates can’t mislead referrals using your email templates
  • Forward-to-a-friend schemes — You’re still the original source of the communication and therefore responsible for the contents of the email

It might seem like a lot of rules to follow, but they’ll save you from trouble later.

4. What happens if you’re not compliant?

What happens if you’re not compliant?

The specific consequences of non-compliance differ based on what laws were affected, which rules were broken, and how many emails were involved.

However, here’s a list of the different repercussions you might face for sending spam:

  • Fines — Large sums of money to be paid to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or other relevant legal body
  • Email blacklisting — Negatively affects your emails’ deliverability
  • Reputational damage — Few businesses will want to collaborate with you, and potential customers might avoid your business

If the violation goes beyond spam and into data security, the ramifications are more severe.

The best way to avoid infringing on these laws is to follow the rules and partner with a secure and trustworthy platform.

5. Systeme.io: Your partner in compliant email marketing

Systeme.io logo

Systeme.io logo

With a tool like systeme.io by your side, compliant email marketing is easy-to-do.

Here are some of the powerful email features you’ll have at your disposal:

  • Generate opt-ins with our simple drag-and-drop form builder
  • Send unlimited emails to your contacts
  • Build email newsletters with custom fields and unsubscribe links
  • Use our visual or text-based templates
  • Create automated email sequences
  • Integrate your emails with sales funnels and websites
  • Track your metrics and collect data with in-depth reporting and statistics

On top of this, you’ll get tools to run your website, online sales, membership sites, e-learning offers, and more.

Functionality like this is worth its weight in gold — luckily, it won’t cost you that with systeme.io!

There are 4 pricing plans to choose from, including a 100% free option.

Systeme.io’s pricing options

Systeme.io’s pricing options

If you sign up for our Freemium plan, you get access to:

  • Space for up to 2,000 contacts
  • A tag and email campaign to automate your marketing
  • 3 sales funnels with 10 steps to create your forms and pages
  • An automation rule and workflow to run your business on autopilot
  • Affiliate program management to get referrals and grow your list
  • 24/7 email support to troubleshoot any issues you might have

The list goes on!

The systeme.io platform is also completely secure with an extensive privacy policy you can check out here.

Do yourself a favor, and choose a platform that makes it easy to stay compliant with any future emails you send.

6. Conclusion

Now that you know what the email marketing laws are and how to follow them, you’re all set to build compliant email campaigns.

Choosing systeme.io as your email marketing platform is a no-brainer — it has everything you need to run your online business.

Sign up for free today!

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