The CAN-SPAM Act, signed into law in 2003, outlaws certain commercial email acts and practices. Section 7704(a)(1) of the Act prohibits transmission of any email that contains false or misleading header or ‘‘from’’ line information. Section 7704(a)(2) prohibits the transmission of commercial email messages with false or misleading subject headings. Section 7704(a)(3) requires that a commercial email message contain a functioning return email address or similar Internet based mechanism for recipients to use to ‘‘opt out’’ of receiving future commercial email messages. Section 7704(a)(4) prohibits the sender, or others acting on the sender’s behalf, from initiating a commercial email to a recipient more than ten business days after the recipient has opted out. Section 7704(a)(5) prohibits the initiation of a commercial email message unless it contains three disclosures: (1) clear and conspicuous identification that the message is an advertisement or solicitation; (2) clear and conspicuous notice of the opportunity to decline to receive further commercial email messages from the sender; and (3) a valid physical postal address of the sender. And section 7704(b) specifies four ‘‘aggravated violations’’ — practices that compound the available statutory damages when alleged and proven in combination with certain other CAN-SPAM violations.
There are no restrictions against a company emailing its existing customers or anyone who has inquired about its products or services, regardless of whether or not these individuals have given permission, as these messages are classified as "relationship" messages under CAN-SPAM.
In addition to sometimes heavy civil and even criminal penalties for violating the CAN-SPAM Act, there are other problems with sending 'bulk' email, even if you're not a commercial enterprise. There are dozens of "spam databases" that blacklist servers that have been identified as the source for spam and other unsolicited email. For example, if you send email that's determined to be spam from your home, your ISP's mail server may well be flagged by one or more spam databases, and subsequent email sent to subscribers of those databases will be flagged 'spam' even if the actual content seems legitimate. Most ISP's subscribe to at least several spam databases, so if your ISP's servers are blacklisted, chances are that much - if not all - of your outgoing email will never reach its destination. The process for removing a server from a blacklist is tedious and time consuming. And not only would your blacklisting affect your own outgoing mail, but everyone else using that ISP's mail server would encounter the same problem.
This is why ISP's often scan all outgoing email to ensure that it complies with CAN-SPAM guidelines before sending it. You may receive a notice from your ISP saying that your email was determined to be spam and that it will not be sent. And if you're found guilty on multiple occasions, your account with the ISP may even be terminated. And the same considerations that apply for ISP's also apply for hosting services: if you send spam email through your hosting service (like StevesIdeas) you could cause the hosting service's mail servers to be blacklisted, which would kill mail from everyone using that service.
Spam is serious business, so you have to take care to stay out of trouble with CAN-SPAM and the spam databases.
There are "newsletter services," some of which are free, that will send your newsletter for you. But remember - a newsletter isn't instant contact. The newsletter services that I've seen will send once per day or once per week, not on-demand. On-demand email requires a 'bulk email' provider, which can be rather expensive.
StevesIdeas has a mechanism for sending newsletters via email to a limited list of subscribers. The mechanism was initially developed for church websites, which send their newsletters to members of their congregations and therefore do not fall under CAN-SPAM regulations. However, the newsletter module is being used by a few commercial enterprises to provide information to their clients, which definitely do fall under CAN-SPAM guidelines.
Administering bulk mail so that it complies with both Federal laws and spam guidelines from spam databases is such a daunting task that most hosting services have totally discontinued the practice of providing newsletter/bulk mail modules. At this time, StevesIdeas technology partner is evaluating various approaches to the problem, but in the meantime, there are several very good alternatives that you might want to try.
First, there is a service called Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com) which will allow you to establish a mailing list and then send unlimited emails to that list. There's a mechanism for your subscribers to sign themselves up, as well as what's called "double opt-in," which ensures that you're in compliance with Federal laws. When a new subscription is entered, an email goes out to the email address of the recipient, asking him to confirm his subscription. If no confirmation is received, the subscription will not be activated and will be discarded. In addition, each email contains very clear instructions and a link to be used to un-subscribe. And finally, certain aspects of the content of the emails will be analyzed to ensure compliance.
Constant Contact also provides email templates and image hosting, which can make your emails more interesting for your subscribers.
We used the predecessor to Constant Contact a couple of years ago, and they did an excellent job for us. Unfortunately, unless your mailing list is generating revenue, the cost of Constant Contact might be prohibitive. Pricing is determined based on the total number of subscribers. The minimum (500 subscriptions) is priced at a reasonable $15/mo, but the next level is 501-2500 subscribers, which is priced at $30/mo. And 2501-5000 subscribers is priced at $50/mo. These prices may seem high, but when you consider the complexity of maintaining strict adherence to CAN-SPAM and spam watchdogs, the price isn't off the mark. When you see that commercial bulk mail providers charge as much as $150/mo or more to send bulk email, you'll understand why most hosting services have discontinued providing the service free of charge.
There are, of course, other bulk email providers, but be careful to check their prices carefully. Many of them charge PER EMAIL, which means that if you send mail to a list of 500 people several times a day, you might be sending 60,000 emails a month, which could cost you $200 or more. As far as I know, Constant Contact is the only service that allows unlimited emails to your mailing list, and is priced solely on the number of addresses on your list.
There's another alternative to using a bulk email provider. It's a little more complicated, but we're using it at LMTalent and it seems to work well, although it's a newsletter solution, not an on-demand email method. This works best with a StevesIdeas website, although it also works with a Blogger blog. I'll explain how to set it up using your StevesIdeas website:
First, you'll need to set up a "Blog/FAQ" page on your website. The Blog/FAQ page format allows you to publish a number of items with a title and a body - we usually include the date the item was posted in the header, so that we can easily prune the list of expired bulletins. To add a new entry, simply fill in the title and the body of the entry as shown below (click the images to see them full-size):
You can include a picture with the post if you wish. When you click "Update FAQ," the entry will be saved in the order you specify (most blogs place the most recent entries at the TOP of the page). If you scroll down the FAQ/Blog page, you'll see all the entries you're displaying at the time (see below). You can delete entries, edit them or change their order by clicking on the icon next to the entry.
Note that there are some old entries in the list. Even though you'll want to prune your entries so that items that are no longer important drop off, you may want to keep some items indefinitely.
Now that you've set up the FAQ/Blog page, you need to make one more change to it: you need to syndicate the content of the page. Notice at the top of the FAQ/Blog page that there's a place where you can specify that you want the contents to be syndicated (see below).
All you have to do in order to syndicate the page with RSS is to check the box. That's all it takes, and now people can subscribe to your Blog/FAQ page with any syndication reader, Microsoft Outlook, etc.
But here's something even cooler: if you publish your feed with Google's Feedburner service, you can do even more. Feedburner is a free service, and is the easiest way to publish your feed so that people can easily subscribe. Here's how you do it:
First, go to Feedburner.com and set up an account. If you already have a Google account (Gmail, Adwords, etc) this will suffice. Sign in and you'll be given the opportunity to 'burn' a feed. You simply go to your Blog/FAQ page (this is easier using Internet Explorer 8 or Firefox 3, so that you can have several 'tabs' open with different websites in each tab) and hold your mouse over the RSS icon - then RIGHT-click on the icon and select "copy link location" (Firefox) or "Copy Shortcut" (Internet Explorer). This will copy the URL of the actual feed. Then paste this URL into the box in the Feedburner page (see below).
Now, you can have Feedburner set up email notifications for you. Click on the "Publicize" tab of the Feedburner window and pick "Email Subscriptions" (see below)
That's all there is to it. You can sign up subscribers yourself, although it's best to allow them to do it. Remember, an email will be sent to each new subscriber, asking them to confirm their subscription (double opt-in). And you might want to place the link to the Feedburner Email Subscription form on a "hidden" page or one that's password-protected, so that you can control who has access to your subscriptions.
Remember, Feedburner isn't used for instant communications - updates are emailed once a day, in the time period you specify. But of course, if your clients subscribe to your feed with a syndication reader or Microsoft Outlook or Juice, they'll get updates as soon as you make them.
Both of these methodologies will work for large mailing lists. While Constant Contact can be pricey, it's an excellent means of getting information to a large number of email addresses in a very short time. If your content isn't that time-sensitive, using the Feedburner Email Notification methodology may fit your needs very nicely.