According to the Oxford Dictionary, Spam, at least within the context of email marketing, is defined as “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients.”

This post, Spam: The 4-letter Word of Email Marketing, was first published on WebMarketingToday.

For our purposes, we will define spam much more narrowly as “whatever the recipient of your email determines it to be.” Using this definition, anything that is unsolicited, unwanted, or just poorly done qualifies as spam.

Harsh though that may seem, it is an excellent measure of what great email messaging is all about — relevance, timeliness, and clarity — not in your mind, but in the mind of the recipient.

Spam in the Legal Sense of the Word

Email spam is so irritating and unwelcome that there are laws both in the United States and Canada that make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison! That puts a lot of risk and responsibility behind hitting the send button.

In the U.S., the law is called the CAN-SPAM Act or the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act.” The very name alone should be enough to dissuade anyone from sending it.

The CAN-SPAM Act establishes requirements for commercial messages.

The law mainly applies to those who consciously and purposely bury inboxes with junk email and viruses. However, you can easily run afoul of the law by sending to lists that are not permission-based or by ignoring the preferences of your contacts.

Spam in the Practical Sense of the Word

The very fact that you are reading this article is evidence enough that you are not one of those purposeful spammers but are, instead, a conscientious and responsible email marketer.

Our goal is to guide you to not merely avoiding any association with spam but, more importantly, to achieve success in your email marketing. Fortunately, the very approaches that insulate your work from becoming spam are the same ones that make you an amazing email marketer.

Let’s take a look.

Clearly Identify That It’s You

In a recent Web Marketing Today article “5 Ways to Use the ‘From’ Line to Increase Email Opens” we made the case that the number one factor in determining whether your email gets opened is for the recipient to clearly identify who it’s from.

By coincidence, one of the primary rules to avoid having your email classified as spam is to determine clearly who it’s from. And when we say “clear” we mean really clear. A from line like “Charles Gaiennie at The W.L. Gaiennie Company” is far better than “Sales Manager” or “ Customer Support.”

By plainly stating who you are, not only will you be free from spam laws but you will foster real engagement with your contacts.

Don’t Get Puffy in the Subject Line

Hyperbole, grandiose statements, and useless fluff are not only not appreciated and not believed, but they are also like waving a red flag in front of the spam filters.

Spam is such an issue today that every email client (e.g., Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.) and email server is coiled ready to pounce on anything that comes off as too pushy or too flowery.

Important though that may be, the point to email marketers is that too much fluff is a sure way to have your messages ignored, if not relegated to the trash folder. Either would be a sad and disappointing outcome for all your hard work.

Not Only Allow But Encourage Recipients to Unsubscribe

One of the key indicators of illegal spam is the inability to unsubscribe immediately and permanently. Top email marketing vendors display this option prominently in their editing tools, coding their templates so that the unsubscribe cannot be removed.

Making it easy for your contacts to tell you to stop talking to them may seem counter-intuitive at first, but trust us, there is nothing to gain by hitting someone again and again with a message in which they are clearly not interested.

Marketing email vendor Constant Contact expressly references the anti-spam law in its footer options.

Another aspect of anti-spam laws is the requirement to have a physical address. The rule prevents shadow companies from sending with no consequence.

Commercial mailers do get a slight pass on this now, but they must use a valid P.O. Box as the required physical postal address in their messages, as long as it is valid and meets USPS registration guidelines. The rest of us will need a physical address.

Just Be Legitimate and All is Well

The bottom line aspect of spam is the lack of authentic content and a legitimate reason to communicate. As great marketers, you would never send anything that wasn’t authentic, so the chances are good that you will always be free of any issues relating to spam.