CAN-SPAM compliance doesn't guarantee e-mail delivery

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As many e-mail marketers know, to comply with CAN-SPAM you must include an unsubscribe link and your postal address in e-mails, as well as make sure your e-mail headers or subject lines are not deceiving.

These are basic tenets of responsible e-mail marketing, but it may surprise you to learn that they in no way guarantee that Internet service providers (ISPs) must or will deliver your e-mails to the inbox.

ISPs filter e-mails — both compliant and non-compliant messages — based on what they feel will best serve their users. According to many ISPs, "spam" is ultimately defined by recipients. If they do not want your e-mail, it is considered spam. When a user clicks on the "report spam" button in their e-mail program, it is recorded and affects how the ISP views your e-mails. As ISPs rely increasingly on this user feedback to decide who makes it to the inbox and who doesn't, how do you ensure that your e-mails get delivered?

As subscribers join your list, clearly set their expectations to minimize spam complaints and ensure deliverability. Tell them what kind of e-mails you will be sending and how often they can expect to receive them. You do not have to be 100% exact, but people should have an idea of how often you'll be showing up in their inboxes, whether it is daily, weekly or monthly. Also let your subscribers know who they will be hearing from by making clear the "from" name and address on your e-mail campaigns.

How often you e-mail your list can also affect deliverability. E-mail too often, and you're a nuisance; e-mail too rarely, and they won't remember they ever signed up. To find your maximum frequency, analyze your click-through and spam complaint rates and see where response drops and spam complaints spike.

When subscribers do want off your list, don't get in the way! Make sure they know how they can unsubscribe. If they want to be removed from your e-mail list and they can't find your unsubscribe link, they won't hesitate to use the "report spam" button. According to MarketingSherpa's 2008 E-mail Marketing Benchmark Guide, 21% of respondents say they use "report spam" to unsubscribe even though the e-mail is not technically spam. CAN-SPAM only requires that you have a working unsubscribe link, but it's a good idea to make it easy to find and use.

By following these and other e-mail marketing best practices, you can help ensure that your e-mail marketing campaigns not only meet CAN-SPAM requirements, but that your e-mail messages actually get delivered to your subscribers.


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