Under the CAN-SPAM Act, subject lines of emails must accurately represent the content and should not mislead prospects. The legislation sets national standards for commercial email and aims to protect consumers from deceptive practices.

Failure to follow the rules can result in penalties of up to $51,744 for each deceptive subject line. That’s why you need to understand what not to do in sales and marketing emails. Not only does it erode trust with customers, but it can also deplete your company’s finances.

Let’s explore what types of subject lines are prohibited per the CAN-SPAM Act.

CAN-SPAM and Subject Lines Overview

Emails sent to commercial clients are explicitly prohibited from using deceptive subject lines. It must always accurately reflect the content of the message. And it can be one of the easiest ways to get in trouble with the FTC if you aren’t careful.

Take Jumpstart Technologies – they were fined $900,000 for their subject lines and disguising their promotional emails as personal messages​.

Misleading subject lines can take many forms. For example, a subject line like “Exclusive Offer for Our Valued Customers” could be misleading if they aren’t already clients or the offer isn’t exclusive.

Subject lines that suggest urgency without cause, such as “Last Chance to Save 50% on Your Order,” when there is no deadline, are clear violations of the Act.

However, it’s essential to understand that the goal of all this isn’t to stop you from growing and being successful. It’s to prevent deceptive practices that can harm business relationships and degrade the overall trust in email.

Spam is still an issue worldwide, accounting for 47.3% of all global email traffic. Understanding and adhering to these regulations can help you avoid heavy penalties and establish a positive relationship with prospects.

Subject Lines Suggesting Urgency

Of course, urgency is a powerful and effective tool to get your emails opened. However, it must be done truthfully to comply with CAN-SPAM and maintain credibility. Misleading urgency can harm relationships and result in legal consequences.

Examples of urgency subject lines prohibited by CAN-SPAM:

  • “Immediate Action Required: Your Subscription Is About to Expire” – when there is no real expiration.
  • “Urgent: Last Chance to Secure Your Spot at Our Conference” – if the deadline is not near.
  • “Final Notice: Approve Your Budget Proposal Now” – if there is no pressing deadline for the approval.

Here’s a better way to do it:

  • “Only 24 Hours Left: 20% Off All Enterprise Solutions”
  • “Join Us Tomorrow: Webinar on Industry Innovations”
  • “Register Now: Limited Seats Available for Our Networking Event”

Using genuine urgency in subject lines can significantly enhance engagement. Accurate urgency prompts prospects to act promptly, improving open and response rates without compromising trust.

False Relationship Subject Lines

Leveraging prior connections and your network is an effective strategy to foster relationships with leads and prospects. Mutual contacts or previous interactions can establish credibility and more easily create a sense of familiarity.

However, subject lines that falsely imply a relationship violate the CAN-SPAM Act. They only deceive prospects into believing a pre-existing connection, but they will quickly realize they’ve been lied to.

Here are some examples of doing it wrong:

  • “Re: Our Recent Meeting” – when no meeting has occurred.
  • “Following Up on Our Conversation” – if no prior conversation occurred.
  • “Reminder: Confirm Your Participation” – when the prospect has not been previously engaged.

If you want to do it correctly, here’s how it should be:

  • “Introducing Our New Solution for Your Business”
  • “Invitation to Connect: Upcoming Webinar on Industry Trends”
  • “[Mutual Contact] Mentioned I Should Reach Out to You”

Using true mutual connections and establishing a genuine relationship is the right approach.

Data enrichment tools like Findymail’s Datacare, LinkedIn Sales Navigator or Clearbit can help gather social media information and other relevant data to personalize emails and build authentic connections with prospects​.

Since Findymail works as an API and a Chrome extension, you can seamlessly integrate it with other tools and CRM systems and include it in your automation workflows through Zapier.

Clickbait Subject Lines

Using shocking or interesting subject lines can be an effective tactic for grabbing attention in B2B marketing. They’re designed to pique curiosity and encourage prospects to click on them.

However, there is a difference between engaging subject lines and deceptive clickbait, which can lead to violations of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Here’s what real clickbait looks like:

  • “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next” – if the content is mundane or irrelevant.
  • “Last Chance to Get Free Access” – when there is no free access or the offer is not time-sensitive.
  • “Important Update on Your Account” – if the email is purely promotional and not about their account.

As mentioned, penalties can stack up. Experian Consumer Services faced a $650,000 fine for sending emails falsely claiming to contain important account information while promoting commercial products​.

Try something like this to grab attention while being truthful:

  • “Unlock Your Free Access to Our Latest Report”
  • “We Just Saved [Company] 15%”
  • “Your Account Payment is Due”

To do "clickbait" right in a B2B context, you want intriguing subject lines that accurately represent the content. Here are some tips and best practices:

  • Make sure the urgency or curiosity created matches the content of the email.
  • Use the subject line to communicate a value or benefit to the prospect.
  • Short, punchy subject lines perform better, especially on mobile devices.
  • Avoid spam trigger words like “Free,” “Guarantee” and “Act now.”

With these tips, you can craft compelling subject lines that will grab your target's attention and not mislead them.

False Promise Subject Lines

The subject line of your email can be a powerful tool for engaging potential leads. You might want to emphasize how your product or service can save the prospect money, improve their efficiency or help them achieve specific business goals.

However, it's essential to ensure that these promises are genuine and not misleading – false promises can violate the CAN-SPAM Act and damage your reputation.

Here’s what false promises look like:

  • “Guaranteed 50% Increase in Sales” – when it can’t be guaranteed.
  • “Free Consultation for All Subscribers” – if the consultation is not genuinely free for everyone or has any associated cost.
  • “Your New ERP System is Ready for Installation” if the lead has not expressed interest or initiated the process.

On the other hand, if you can back up the claim, you can use subject lines like these without penalty:

  • “Learn How We Can Help You Save 20% on Your IT Costs”
  • “New Strategies to Boost Your Team’s Productivity”
  • “Get Your Free E-Book on Improving Operational Efficiency”

Subject lines like these effectively communicate the value proposition without making unfounded claims. They set realistic expectations and will build trust when you deliver on the promises.

Bait-and-Switch Subject Lines

Bait-and-switch tactics involve using a deceptive subject line to entice the prospect to open the email, only to find that the email doesn’t offer what it said. This approach is highly unethical and detrimental to long-term trust and engagement.

Some examples include:

  • “Get Your Free Whitepaper Now” – if it requires a purchase or subscription to access the whitepaper.
  • “Meeting Confirmation for Tomorrow” – when no prior meeting was arranged and the email is a sales pitch.
  • “Claim Your Free Trial Today” – if the trial isn’t free or has hidden conditions not mentioned upfront.

Instead, it should reliably have what it offers. So, if you use these:

  • “Unlock Insights: Download Our Latest Whitepaper”
  • “Schedule a Meeting to Discuss Your Goals”
  • “Try Our Service Free for 30 Days – No Strings Attached”

Then, you need to deliver on the subject line. For example, if the email offers a free trial, ensure the trial is genuinely free and that no money leaves the prospect’s bank account.

Bait-and-switch tactics may boost open rates in the short term but erode trust and engagement over time. Instead, focus on crafting subject lines that are both compelling and truthful.

CAN-SPAM Subject Line Best Practices

Here are some best practices to follow when working on your subject lines so they stay CAN-SPAM compliant:

1. Be Honest and Transparent

Honesty and transparency in your subject lines are crucial. Misleading or deceptive subject lines violate the CAN-SPAM Act, penalizing you and damaging your reputation. Ensure your subject line reflects what prospects can expect when they click on your message.

If your email concerns a webinar, use a clear subject line like “Join Our Webinar on Marketing Trends” instead of “Important Account Information” if it's purely promotional.

2. Keep It Relevant

Relevance is key to engaging your audience. Tailor your subject lines to the interests and needs of your prospects. Use language that resonates with them to increase open rates and engagement.

For example, use “How to Optimize Your Sales Funnel” for a marketing audience if you’re a B2B SaaS company that offers that.

3. Get Personal

Personalization is the secret ingredient to email success. Including the prospect’s name or company name in the subject line makes the email feel more targeted and relevant.

“John, Learn How We Can Boost Your Lead Generation” is magnitudes better with the name.

Personalizing your emails isn't just a best practice for engagement – it's a smart strategy for complying with the CAN-SPAM Act. Remember, the act aims to reduce the clutter of irrelevant, unsolicited emails in people's inboxes.

When you tailor emails to fit the prospect – like using their name or referencing their preferences – you're boosting engagement and showing that you're sending emails thoughtfully, not just spamming a list.

This approach reassures prospects that your emails are meant specifically for them and aligns with CAN-SPAM's emphasis on transparency and respect.

4. Leverage Findymail for True Personalization

But if you want to take personalization to the next level, you’ll need the right tools. Here’s how you can do it with Findymail.

Get Reliable Contact Information

Use Findymail to gather up-to-date B2B contact information, including email addresses. Findymail retrieves accurate email addresses from platforms like LinkedIn, Sales Navigator and Apollo and verifies them before you send your emails.

Get Details on Your Leads

Use tools like Sales Navigator or ZoomInfo for lead enrichment. Gather detailed information about your prospects, such as roles, team size, technology used, company news and intent data.

When you use this information to tailor your emails to your prospect's specific needs and challenges, they will be more relevant and less likely to be flagged as spam.

Craft Personalized Subject Lines

Now, you need a cold outreach strategy tailored to different customer profiles. For example, if your CRM data shows that your target audience includes financial services companies seeking growth strategies, you could tailor your emails by highlighting how your consulting services can help them achieve their goals.

Here are some examples:

  • “Joe, Discover How Our Consulting Can Elevate Your Financial Services”
  • “Boost Your Growth with Our Tailored Financial Strategies, [Company Name]”
  • “Learn Growth Strategies for Financial Services Firms (Webinar)”

Following these steps ensures that your emails are engaging, personalized and compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act.

Ensuring CAN-SPAM Compliance with Effective Subject Lines

Crafting CAN-SPAM-compliant subject lines is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your email marketing campaigns and building trust with your prospects.

By following best practices and knowing what deceptive subject lines look like, you can create ones that comply with legal requirements, boost engagement and drive better results.

Plus, you always have Findymail to fall back on to help keep your emails out of the “spam” category. We offer a suite of benefits designed to optimize your email marketing efforts:

  • Accurate and Reliable Email Data: Reduce bounce rates and increase deliverability when you have the most current email addresses.
  • True Personalization: Make your emails more relevant and engaging with high-level personalization.
  • CRM Enrichment: Keeps your CRM data clean and updated with Datacare.
  • Compliance: Craft CAN-SPAM-compliant subject lines with personal and relevant data.

Don’t wait, sign up for Findymail today and take your subject line game to the next level.