The Email Sender & Provider Coalition (ESPC) Best Practices Guide outlines specific practices recommended for use by the group to improve mailers’ relationships with recipients, reduce complaints and increase subscriber response.
As discussed in yesterday’s post, the ESPC requires its members to send commercial email only with prior affirmative consent according to either the U.S. Can Spam Act of 2003 definition or the European Commission Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive.
The Best Practices Guide adds:
1. The ESPC recommends opt-in permission at the minimum, and confirmed (closed loop) opt-in where appropriate.
Opt-in means a person has asked or agreed to be included in an email list for commercial email.
Confirmed (closed loop) opt-in means that after the person has asked or agreed to be included in an email list for commercial email, a confirmation email is sent to him/her to which he/she needs to reply or take some action in order to be considered confirmed and for his/her email address to be added to the list.
2. The best practice for opt-in consent is to differentiate between Direct and Indirect consent.
Direct consent means a person has requested to be included in a company or communication-specific list. Immediately notify the person that his/her request has been processed and his/her name has been added to the list.
Indirect consent means a person has requested to be included on a non-company-specific or non-communication-specific list such as affiliate programs, list rentals or other third parties. In this case, the mailer should seek to upgrade to Direct opt-in consent as soon as possible.
3. Using opt-out without a prior business relationship is a violation of the ESPC Pledge. Opt-out means a person is added to a commercial email list and has to actively request to be removed from the list.
The best practice for opt-out, even with a prior business relationship, is to notify the person of the intention to communicate with him or her and then to upgrade permission to opt-in status, preferably confirmed (closed loop), as soon as possible.
4. Ensure that the subscriber understands what information he/she is agreeing to be shared with whom, and what he/she is agreeing to receive.
5. To facilitate research, record the subscriber’s IP address, date and time of initial consent and level of permission granted.
5. Set the right subscriber expectations by explaining the scope and frequency of mailings they will be receiving from you. Reinforce this through reminders in your welcome email once they are subscribed.
6. Ensure brand recognition by informing the subscriber of the standard address you will be using and recommending that he/she add it to his/her address book. Reinforce this through reminders in your welcome email once they are subscribed.
7. Send new subscribers a welcome message immediately after their consent or confirmation to aid recall and avoid having your message tagged as spam.
8. For maximum recognition, use your standard brand name in the address and subject lines and in the body of the message. Avoid vague or misleading information in headers.
9. Remind the subscriber of when and how he/she asked to be added to your list, and reassure him/her that he/she can unsubscribe at any time.
10. Make “unsubscribe” information prominent, including the email address used by the subscriber. This will prevent frustration in case the subscriber has several email addresses and has forgotten which one was used in his/her registration with you.
11. For low-security cases, easy one-click “unsubscribes” are recommended, preventing subscriber frustration in having to navigate through multiple pages, and without being asked for passwords or other information.
12. High security cases such as financial relationships may require passwords to authenticate the user. Acknowledge the subscriber and reassure him/her that the request is being processed.
13. Mailers operating more than one list should offer an mechanism for the subscriber to opt-out of all those lists at one time.
14. Provide your physical postal address as required by the CAN-SPAM Act.
15. Send content consistent with the subscriber’s expectations and relevant to the subscriber’s relationship with you.
16. Avoid messages that may not be readable due to security precautions of subscribers’ mail clients. Make sure that compliance information and unsubscribe instructions are in plain text. Also include alternative text that will be shown if the mail client disables images and links.
17. Avoid HTML messages containing only images.
18. In cases of trusted referral, when a person is forwarded commercial email from a third party such as a friend, the best practice is to gain affirmative consent before adding that person’s email address to the list and sending future email.
The list is quite extensive and, hopefully, will inspire compliance even among non-ESPC members.