The Rules And Laws Of Email Marketing

What are the rules and laws of email marketing? Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

Email marketing has significantly changed over the last few years and new email marketing laws have come into force which can be troublesome if you don’t follow them. To make matters worse, email marketing laws are very confusing with many businesses struggling to know what is legal and what is not.

Here is our quick guide to email marketing laws to help you avoid any unnecessary attention from the authorities.

Can You Buy Email Marketing Lists?

This can be rather vague; there is no definitive statement within the UK law that says you can’t buy a contact database. However, certain email marketing laws do suggest buying such a list is ‘not legal’. For instance, sending emails to individuals requires that they must have given you specific permission to contact them for marketing purposes.

The definition of this does not include pre-ticked permission boxes as these are not the individual selecting the option, but rather your system. In these circumstances, further permission must be sought. You can do this by making it clear that by proceeding they are giving you permission to contact them for marketing purposes or personally contacting them for permission.

In addition, the law states you must have had prior contact with the individual. This could mean that they have visited your site or they have spoken to you on the phone. Cold emailing individuals is not legal in any circumstance under these email marketing laws. In essence, while it is not illegal, email marketing laws suggest it is ‘not legal’.

Are The Email Marketing Laws Different For Those In Business?

Yes. You can technically cold-email corporate clients but only if the email address contains no personal data. This means is not legally allowed without permission but is. Email marketing laws also distinguishes between sole traders, partners and limited companies. These business laws only apply to corporate contacts; others have to be treated like an individual, where cold emailing is not allowed.

What Information Do I Need To Provide Them?

Email marketing laws are very strict on the information provided to the receiver. First and foremost there should be an easy opt-out option on the email. This can be a simple ‘reply here to unsubscribe’ or a link to do this automatically.

Other information that is required should be the sender’s name (company name is justifiable), the company address and any other legal identification (i.e. company or charity number).

What Happens If They Want To Unsubscribe?

If your contact wants to unsubscribe you must to do this as quick as possible. The best practice is to ensure it is done automatically; but the minimum legal responsibility is to do so before the next email is sent by your company.

It is best in these circumstances to not remove them from the list, but to make them inactive (i.e. they don’t receive anything). There is a logical reason behind this, if they then resubscribe to your list it is best practice to advise them that they have once before requested to unsubscribe and confirm their desire to receive more information.

The problem with this tactic is that under the Data Protection Act 1998, you aren’t allowed to keep information which is inaccurate or irrelevant to your business. Having an individual’s contact details when they’ve expressed a desire not to receive information could be in breach of this act.

What Happens If I Break Email Marketing Laws?

Email marketing laws are there to protect digital communication users, no matter who they are. If the data commissioner receives evidence that you have broken email marketing laws you can receive a fine of up to £5000 in the UK and be responsible for any damages, mental or physical, that your communications have caused.

This does not include any legal costs. Therefore, it is often best to not break email marketing laws but rather utilise an opt-in only email marketing campaign and not use email marketing lists. These are also best practices for having highly engaged email marketing campaigns that provide significant returns for your actions.