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Email Marketing Laws

Email is one of the best marketing avenues for your business. When looking at online purchasing paths, email marketing is the third best performing sales channel when the consumer has already interacted with the brand.

In 2013, over 838 billion emails were sent. Not all of these emails conformed to regional or international digital marketing communications regulations. This can be very damaging. Not only can your business be fined, but its reputation can be damaged if contacts realise you have breached regulations.

The biggest problem with email marketing regulations is that many business owners and marketers have no idea what they are. In some cases, they believe actions are legal because they are freely available on the internet or don’t understand legal definitions.

This guide will detail the email marketing laws that you are responsible for and how you can achieve the most from your campaigns without breaking the law.


What Can Happen If You Break Email Marketing Laws?

Email marketing laws are there are there to protect the recipient from unwarranted communications and spam. Most countries in the world have policies in place to protect individuals from excessive or unwanted emails. They also ensure that individuals are able to cease receiving the emails whenever they decide.

When companies don’t comply with the regulations that protect individuals from both of these aspects, authorities tend to fine the offender. This could be several thousands of dollars.


The Definition Of Individuals In Email Marketing Regulations

Before contemplating the regulations of email marketing, it is important to understand the difference between organisations and individuals in international regulations. In email marketing laws, individually owned and business owned emails have different regulations. Yet the regulations to both of these aren’t easy to follow.

An individually owned email address is any email address that has a name attached to it (e.g. or personal data. Those email addresses owned by sole trading companies or partnerships are also counted as individuals. It doesn’t matter whether the email address reads or – the address is still considered to be owned by an individual.

This has significant consequences for your email marketing campaigns, especially if are considering to cold email potential clients.


Can You Cold Email Potential Clients?

This is where the definition of the email address owner come into play. Laws in the UK, USA and other western nations clearly state cold emailing individuals is not allowed. Therefore, you can only cold email those addresses that do not have a specific name attached to them or do not belonging to a sole trader or partnership. This can be very restrictive as, relatively, there are few businesses that are limited. In addition, these email addresses in large organisations generally have low level employees who have limited decision making responsibilities. Therefore, your cold emailing campaigns are probably going to be unproductive.

When cold emailing potential clients you have to consider how you obtained those emails. Most of the time, emails used in cold email campaigns are bought from a third party. While there is no specific law stating that you cannot buy email addresses, there are a number of regulations which hint at the tenuous nature of buying email contact details.

For instance, we have mentioned that sending cold emails to individuals is not legal. This is because regulations clearly state that individuals must have given your business permission to contact them for marketing purposes.

Laws also clearly state that any webpage where the details were collected must not have the permission tick already selected. This invalidates the permission. There is no guarantee that when you buy an email marketing contact list that the contacts on the list have given their permission rather than it being pre-determined for them.

Of course this can be bypassed by clearly stating on a sign-up or data capture form that by giving the details the user is providing you permission to contact them. However, without generating the contact list yourself, you have no knowledge whether this warning was provided or the tick box complied with regulations.

Another option would be to have a second email sent to the contact immediately after the information is captured. This would seek further confirmation of their subscription to your email marketing content. This is called a double opt-in and is considered one of the best practices. Yet this can only be done if they sign up via your site and not when you have bought an email contact list.

There is also another problem with buying contact details for email marketing purposes. Most national regulations state that you must have had prior interaction with the contact before you can send an email marketing message to them. When buying an email database, it is highly unlikely those on the list will have had contact with you previously.

Interaction does not mean that they have spoken to you personally or contacted your business by email before. Their interaction could be limited to them visiting your website or clicking on a social media update.


What Happens If They Don’t Want To Receive Further Emails?

At some point, your legal email contacts may not want to receive any further messages from you. By law, you have to give them an easy option for them to notify you of their wishes and immediately take action so they no longer receive marketing messages.

There are several options to do this. The hardest way is for it to be done manually and ask your audience to contact you via email or phone to tell you they no longer wish to receive anything. The second method is to have the work done automatically through a computer system. This is by far the best route as it allows all the work to be completed and ensures no-one’s request is ignored or forgotten.


What Information Do You Need To Provide In Emails?

Email marketing laws state that you need to provide certain information in your communications. These pieces of information include:

  • Your physical address.
  • Your company name.
  • How to unsubscribe.

Most email marketing programs place this information on your marketing content automatically. However, if you send emails out manually, it is best to ensure that you have this information included in your content.



Email marketing is one of the best ways to reach out to your customers. However, there are also significant regulations and laws in regards to the conduct businesses must follow when contacting potential and current customers. Follow these and your business will perform well; disregard them, and you might end up in court and receive a fine.

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