Email is a bread and butter marketing tactic for many ecommerce companies, however it comes with its own set of risks. Primarily, the possibility of being labeled a spammer. Misleading, deceptive, and spammy email can come with negative sides effects for both your reputation and your legal department.
In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act, prohibits misleading or deceptive commercial email. Noncompliance with the law can bring serious civil and criminal penalties, including fines of up to $6 million and prison terms of up to 5 years for willful violations.
Spam laws are not only a concern for U.S. domestic marketing operations, if your ecommerce company operates internationally you need to learn the ins and outs of spam laws in the other countries you operate. For example, if you do business in Europe, you should understand the European Communications Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive.
Here are some best email practices for avoiding the dreaded spam label, staying on the goods side of the law and most importantly maintaining your reputation with your customers.
Company-Wide Email Policy
Smart ecommerce companies develop a “best practices” policy across all divisions, departments, and marketing groups to help ensure compliance with anti-spam laws and ensure consistency throughout the organization. It is important to include vendors and other third parties you work with in this group. Under certain circumstances, your company could be held liable for anti-spam law violations by vendors who send email on your behalf.
One of the most important aspects of your company policy should be the maintenance and compliance with an opt-out database. CAN-SPAM requires companies to stop sending emails to people who opt out of receiving them, so it’s important that you take all necessary steps to ensure that your customers have the option to opt-out and if they take advantage of it, they do not receive any future emails from you.
Use Due Diligence Before Purchasing or Renting Mailing Lists
Under CAN-SPAM you’re still allowed to buy or rent email lists from third parties. However, the Act still applies to the commercial emails sent based on these lists. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly vet suppliers and obtain sufficient assurance that the list was created in compliance with CAN-SPAM, that people on the lists have been given notification that their email address could be shared, and that people on the lists has not opted out of receiving marketing email. While these assurances don’t release you from liability under CAN-SPAM, they offer recourse if something goes wrong. In short, make sure your social commerce strategy includes working with quality email list vendors.
Avoid Common “Red Flags” That Activate Spam Filters
Once you’re sure your social commerce strategy takes sufficient care to avoid violating anti-spam laws, you still need to ensure your emails won’t trip spam filters. Common “red flags” that trigger these filters include the use of all caps, excessive punctuation and substituting numbers for letters in subject lines.
Vague subject lines, such as “FREE Information!!!”, spelling mistakes, or the addition of “Re:” in a subject line to trick recipients into thinking you’ve corresponded before can also trip a spam filter. MailChimp says the words “help,” “percent off,” and “reminder” generally won’t trip spam filters, but are perceived as spammy and have low open rates. Mequoda offers an extensive list of “trigger words” you should avoid in your marketing emails. These steps not only help reduce the likelihood your email will land in a spam folder, they are also good practices to ensure your emails are perceived as professional and will hopefully increase your open rates.
Links, Images, and Reply-To Addresses
Spammers often send emails with long lists of links and minimal text. If they get past spam filters, they’re often discarded upon being opened. Having links in email content is fine, as long as they make sense in context and don’t make up the bulk of the text. Spammers sometimes use images in special offer emails because spam filters have a harder time reading information in images. Emails containing a large image and minimal text are often flagged as spam, so be sure to try for a balanced text-to-image ratio.
Using a human (or human-sounding) reply address makes a connection with the recipient more likely. eCommerce emails with [email protected] or similar addresses in the “From” box appear detached and uninterested, and turn recipients off. You’re better off using a real company email address that goes to an actual person with whom subscribers can communicate.
Of course, the best way to avoid violating spam laws and alienating customers is by not writing spam. When your emails focus on informing or entertaining your audience, you bolster your social commerce strategy without giving up opportunities for selling. Just because you can craft emails that technically skirt anti-spam laws doesn’t mean you should. This will only annoy recipients and damage your brand’s reputation. Be familiar with both the letter and the spirit of applicable anti-spam laws to ensure your ecommerce marketing efforts stay on the good side of the law and your customers.