Email Marketing Rules and Regulations Explained By Region

Learn about the email marketing rules and regulations you need to know to stay compliant and build trust among customers.

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$50,120. 

That’s how hefty a fine would be, per email, if you’re in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, as designated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It’s a costly sum to pay, but luckily it is completely avoidable. 

Countries across the world have laws like the CAN-SPAM Act in place to protect consumers from spam, unsolicited emails, and ensure data privacy. Within those laws are rules that email marketers must adhere to when implementing their campaigns.

To avoid fines, and alienating potential customers, follow these best practices to ensure your emails are compliant. 

What are email marketing rules and regulations?

Email marketing rules and regulations are laws that help protect consumers from emails they didn’t opt in to receive. 

These rules are essential because they ensure companies send messages in a responsible and ethical way. Misleading email marketing or unsolicited emails can lead to other consequences besides a fine. For example, sending a customer a product photo that misrepresents the actual product can damage your brand reputation.

Email marketing rules help protect consumers from spam, which often contain links to malware or attachments with a virus. The rules also safeguard consumer privacy by ensuring companies have consent to collect and use customers’ data. 

The three types of business emails

The primary purpose of an email dictates whether or not it has to follow email marketing rules and regulations. Emails can contain commercial, transactional, or other/operational information. 

1. Commercial or marketing

Commercial emails are sent to advertise products and services or promote special offers. They’re usually sent in bulk and are used to generate sales and leads. This type of email is one that needs to follow email marketing rules and regulations; recipients must opt-in to receive them. 

2. Transactional or relationship

Transactional emails go out in response to specific actions taken by a customer. They might be an order confirmation or password reset, and are usually sent to one customer at a time. Other transactional emails include information about a product warranty, product recalls, safety information, or changes in terms or new features in an “ongoing commercial relationship.”

3. Other or operational

These emails are not commercial, transactional, or relationship-based—and are the rarest type. Emails in this category might be an event update, such as an email about the time change of a webinar attendees signed up for. 

Email marketing compliance best practices

All these rules and regulations can get overwhelming when you’re creating your marketing strategy. The best way to ensure you remain compliant is to follow the email marketing best practices required by the CAN-SPAM Act. 

Offer email opt-in and record consent

Before you send an email to a customer, make sure you get their consent to do so. For example, users can fill out a form on your website to subscribe to your newsletter (i.e., a single opt-in). However, a best practice is to use a double opt-in, where you send an email that asks the person to confirm they opted in to receive emails. A double opt-in further protects you from potential violations, as you can show they requested updates from you twice. 

Make sure to document those opt-ins as well. They won’t do you any good if you don’t have the recipient’s consent stored somewhere within your company’s internal documentation or your customer data platform

Always provide an opt-out option and honor opt-out requests

Providing an opt-out from electronic communications gives your subscribers control over the emails they receive. Include an unsubscribe link in every commercial email you send—there’s no hard and fast rule about where this button should be displayed, but it’s usually in the footer. 

If someone does opt out, make sure to process their opt-out request quickly. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, you have 10 business days to remove them from your list. Offering this option also protects you and your sender reputation. If the customer is no longer interested, they can easily unsubscribe instead of reporting your future emails as spam. It also cleans up your email list and helps avoid spending precious marketing resources on people who aren’t interested in your company or products.

Include your business’s physical address

Each email you send also needs to feature your physical address. This practice helps build trust with your customers and gives them another way to contact you. It also has the added benefit of making your business look more legitimate. For this, you can use a physical street address, a U.S. P.O. box registered with the Postal Service, or a private valid postal address properly registered to receive commercial mail.

Use clear and truthful email subject lines and header information

Your header and subject line should clearly communicate the intentions of the email so that the consumer feels informed before opening it. Use an email address that shows your company name and don’t use a deceptive subject line—instead, be descriptive. Are you having a great Black Friday sale? Then make sure it’s clear before anyone opens your email.

Doing this keeps your customer base from seeing your company as misleading. Also, if users don’t know what’s in the email or why they should open it, they might delete it without reading and lower your open rates.

Email rules and regulations by world region

Across the globe, countries have their own rules and regulations around emails to help ward off spam and protect customer data.

USA and Canada

In North America, the U.S. has the CAN-SPAM Act, which regulates commercial emails and requires senders to identify themselves and provide an opt-out option. Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) has similar requirements for commercial emails.

Asia

The Asian continent has different laws across countries. India has the Information Technology Act and the Information Technology Rules, which were revised in 2021 to grant more protection to consumers. Thailand has the Personal Data Protection Act, and Singapore safeguards individuals through the Personal Data Protection Act.

Europe

The European Union privacy laws include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires companies to get consent before they can obtain customer data. There’s also an ePrivacy Directive that has rules for cookies and other tracking technologies.

Australia

Australia has the Australian Privacy Act, which dictates regulations around collecting, using, disclosing, and storing personal information in both the private and federal sectors. There was a bill introduced in 2021 to strengthen the original law, which was made in 1988.

Africa

The African Union has a Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection in Africa, which sets forth rules to prosecute cybercrime. Some countries have adopted it, but not all. Countries like Nigeria and South Africa have their own privacy laws. Nigeria has the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation and South Africa has its Protection of Personal Information Act, which took effect in July 2021.


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Frequently asked questions

Yes, you do need permission to send marketing emails. Make sure you’re getting permission to add people to your email list in a way that adheres to regulations set forth by privacy protection regulations.

There are a few ways you can legally collect email addresses. Add an opt-in form to your company website for users to submit their information. Hold a social media contest or giveaway that requires a customer email. Or host a live event asking people to share their email addresses upon sign-up.

Penalties for violating email marketing laws depend on the location and severity of your violation. In the U.S., you can be fined up to $50,120 per violation. Under the GDPR in Europe, your fine could be up to 20 million pounds or 4% of your business’s annual revenue from the previous year, whichever amount is higher.

Twilio Engage is built on top of a CDP that stores all of your customer data in one secure, centralized location—so you can keep crucial information protected. You can easily segment your audience based on who filled out a double opt-in form, who signed up for newsletters, who recently ordered from you, and more.