Email marketing rules, regulations and best practice in the UK

Apr 12, 2017 · 4 min read

There’s been a lot in the news recently about anti-spam law. Whilst this has mostly been directed at telemarketing, email is already regulated, and is coming under more strict regulation. If you’re an email marketer, it’s important that you stay ahead of the curve and think of new and innovative ways to follow the rules in a way that will ultimately be beneficial for your strategy.

The “anti-spam” law

The Information Commissioners Office explains that “spam emails are generally, but not always, marketing emails send to you without consent’. However, confusingly, it also states that “not all marketing emails sent without consent are spam emails”. This second statment looks at companies who gained “opt-in” through third-party services or strategic partners, and then send emails based on this. I’ll come on to best practice on how to deal with this later…

There is a separate rule for corporate subscribers, you are able to email business who haven’t opted-in when marketing to them regarding business services or requirements (ie. don’t try to sell them a personal loan, to their business email, this will still be viewed as a spam email).

How is the law implemented?

If you send a one off email to a few people that haven’t opted in, chances are that you won’t hear too much about it. However, it’s best to avoid this at all cost. If you continue to consistently send unwanted emails to consumers and the ICO is notified, they’ll assess the damage caused and you could be receiving a fine. Recently Flybe was fined for sending 3.3 million unwanted emails. Oops!

Best practice

Let’s take a look at the ways you can use the law to your advantage, and get a better reward for your hard work. I know you read it all the time, but following best practice really is the best way to do email. I increased my open rate by 33% by only emailing the most engaged subscribers in my email list. This also lead to an increase in leads for the company, and more revenue. It’s better not to ‘spray and pray’.

Opt-in best practice

Double opt-in is a great way to create a squeaky-clean email list. The double opt-in will increase the likelihood of a person remembering that they signed up to your emails, and they’ll be super engaged with what you have to say. If you receive emails from a partner, or third-party service where a person has agreed to be contacted by other services, then make this really clear. eg. “You are receiving this email as we are a partner of “Example Company” and we think that you’ll really like what we have to say. If you don’t want to hear from us, you can unsubscribe at anytime.” This type of message will give your email context and give the person a chance to opt out if they wish.

Unsubscribe best practice

Just make it easy. Like, really easy. List churn is a natural part of email marketing. You’re going to win people, you’re going to lose people. They key is to do it in the right way. The key is to change your mindset, people unsubscribing isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s making your marketing more healthy. Rule #1. Never hide the link, put it at the top and bottom of the email. Rule #2. Don’t make people log-in, click another button or anything. Clicking the link in the first place should be enough. Rule #3. Ask for feedback on why they want to opt-out, you might learn something! Or, give people an option to “opt-down” aka. get less emails from you. Rule #4. Remind people politely in the footer of your email why they’re receiving the email in the first place eg. “This email was sent to because you optedin when you first bought a “company” product”.

TL;DR allowing people to unsubscribe will maintain your send reputation as they won’t mark your mail as spam. Therefore the 1,000s of other people that actually want to see your email will receive them in their inbox and not their spam box!

List maintenance best practice

In an ideal world we would all be growing our email list, maintaining exceptional open rates and seeing a heap of reward from doing so. However, many companies fail to nail the basics. Email providers are constantly improving the ways they only show the content that recipients want to see in their inbox. Different providers have got different strategies. Typically, they look at a combination of how many emails are sent, how many are opened, how many unsubscribe and how many are marked as spam. Rule #1. Don’t email addresses that have bounced. Rule #2. Don’t email addresses that have never opened an email, or haven’t opened for a reasonable amount of time. Rule #3. Assess whether or not you should be emailing role-based accounts eg. Rule #4. Follow opt-in best practice.

Be aware of GDPR

Yes, Brexit. However, for the next 2 years at least the UK is part of the EU and if you have email subscribers and customers in the EU you need to be aware of GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new privacy law from the EU that looks to unify how consumer data is used and accessed across countries. It will be enforceable from May 25, 2018 however, it’s a good idea to prepare and start following the privacy law as soon as you are able. There are a few things that it will affect but the main ones are:

  • Stricter opt-in and consent
  • Tighter consent record keeping
  • Ensure your existing list complies with GDPR

GDPR also brings tougher penalties to those who don’t follow the rules, including fines of up to €20 million or 4% of a brand’s total global annual turnover. So don’t get caught out!


Follow best practice for email marketing and don’t break the law. The rewards are an engaged subscriber list, revenue, and getting those emails straight to the inbox (where they belong!).

All the information below is true as of 12/04/2017, but regulations can and do change so please stay aware.

Amelia emails

Nail the basics of email marketing, one topic at a time.