Let’s go over the Rules of Email

Lets be honest, many people don’t pay too much attention to the rules when it comes to email marketing.

Since you are already here, I’m assuming you want to grow a healthy mailing list and run successful campaigns, and for that reason, it’s important to stay on top of regulations.

I promise to make it as quick and easy as possible… and at the end of this lesson, we’ll give you access to download the PDF from The CAN-SPAM Act.

5 Essential Email Marketing Rules to stay out of trouble

1- Permission

Pay close attention to this: Never add a person to an email list without his/her permission. This is called “Permission Marketing” for a reason. This is probably the biggest no-no in email rules.

Most importantly, if you think about it, the beauty of email marketing is that people that are interested in what you do or offer, has given you permission to send more information via the only communication channel that is direct and private.

If you were to start inputting random people, the quality of your list will drop dramatically and it will pretty much turn into a list of cold leads.

2-Step Opt-in process

Most email service providers offer what we call today as 2-Step Opt-in. I can guarantee you that you have already been exposed to this at least once or twice.

The process is simple:

  • User fills out a sign up form
  • Instead of directly adding that person to the list, an email is sent for confirmation
  • User has to click a confirmation link inside the email
  • And then is added to the list

This process ensures that the person filling out the form is the owner of the email address.

Email confirmation

Doesn’t this make it even harder to get subscribers? Yes and no. But this is not the moment to discuss this, I promise we will come back to this in a future lesson.

One thing I will add now is that this is pretty common and most people are aware of the confirmation process.

2- Do not be misleading

This really applies to all forms of advertising. Email is not the exception.

Here are the 2 main points:

  • All communications must properly identify the sender. We’re talking about the “From”, “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address
  • No deceptive subject lines. In other words, your subject line needs to be aligned with the actual content of your email

3- Clear Opt-Out option

From the user point of view, there is nothing worse than trying to unsubscribe from an email and not finding the option.

This is completely unethical and, to be honest, I’m surprised to see how many people and companies try to be sneaky about this. The CAN-SPAM Act clearly states this should be present and visible.

But that’s not why this is the dumbest thing you can do. Let me explain, this person that one day subscribed to your email list had a value to you, which no longer has today. Sounds a little cold, I know, what I mean is that is no longer considered a prospect for you.

If the person wants out is simply because s/he has no desire of receiving any more information or buying any of your products.

Again, what you want in your email list is only the highest quality of prospects.

Opt-out link

Good practices:

  • The unsubscribe link should read “unsubscribe.” Do not change the wording to “change preferences” or any stuff like that
  • Remind them why they’re receiving your emails
  • Place it right below your email body, don’t try to hide it

4- Never email a person that has opted out

Never. EVER.

When a subscriber has opted-out of your email list, you must never email him/her again. Are you familiar with the “Do-Not-Call” list for Telemarketers? Well, this is pretty much the same thing.

Quick story

I keep getting emails from this company after I tried to unsubscribe 2 or 3 times. It’s strange because their opt-out link is very prominent on all pieces, but they keep sending me emails.

So I replied. I was pretty nice, as you can see in the image below, and got a quick response with an apology and the promise to look into it.

This is a well known company online and I doubt that ignoring my repeated attempts to unsubscribe was intentional. I’m sure this was some kind of issue in their setup or even a technical problem.

The point is that you need to be really careful not to let this happen.

Opt-out issue

5) Physical Address

Have you ever wonder why ESPs make you add a physical address in your emails?

Well, it’s also a CAN-SPAM Act regulation. You must include your street address, post office box or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations

Physical address

Lets make it visual…

This following image points out the ingredients every single piece of email must have before you hit the Send button.

Email rules


This line was extracted from the CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business:

Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly.

Whoa! That’s pretty steep for an email…

Here are the Resources

Click here to download the CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business on PDF format.

And this is the website for the Bureau of Consumer Protection, where you can find more information about the CAN-SPAM Act. You can also download the same document from this site.


Here’s the thing about these rules…

  • They’re pretty easy to follow
  • They’re mostly common sense
  • Although they are designed to protect the consumer, they’re good guidelines to follow in order to maintain a healthy list


Homework is simple, head over to your email service provider and make sure you have all requirements in place:

  • From name and email address
  • Unsubscribe link at the bottom
  • Physical address
  • Make sure there is no room your subject line can be interpreted as “misleading”

Also, don’t forget to download or bookmark the CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business

  • Regarding the “rules” it seems that 4 of 5 rules are included in the CAN-SPAM act but the most important rule (opt in / not spamming) is not actually part of the law. Right? But obviously the ‘spamming’ technique (or buying lists) is banned by MailChimp and ESPs… Also you’ve made it clear and it seems obvious that spamming/buying lists doesn’t do much to support a healthy list or work with the type of engagement you are teaching about. But, i have a client who used to work in marketing in the late 90s and they regularly bought lists and promoted that way at that time (large company). Now she has a small company and feels strongly that she wants to purchase lists to promote her events – for now. I have repeatedly warned her against this, but i am wondering if there could be any scenario where buying a list could be positive or help a company? Her argument is that she doesn’t have the resources to build a list over time the right way or to have a thriving social media presence, so during crunch time, it seems better to buy lists than not to. I am obviously encouraging a vastly different approach overall, but i don’t seem to be “getting through”. What would you say to a client with that line of thinking? Thx

  • Katie Miller

    When I click on the “CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business” links I receive the FTC’s “Page Not Found” message. Can you check the landing page URL?

    • Thanks Katie, I just fixed the links. I think they change them from time to time because this is the second time I have to fix this.