An email newsletter is one of the most effective marketing tools for engaging with customers and prospects. If you’re already using this tactic to promote your business or are planning to do so in the future, you should be aware of the rules that apply to email marketing.
Managing a newsletter involves collecting users’ email addresses, and, according to a European government regulation called the GDPR, that’s data collection, and it’s subject to a host of rules.
If your email newsletter will be sent to anyone in the EU, it must be GDPR compliant. This article will clarify what the GDPR is and what you’ll need to do to comply with its rules about email marketing. We’ll go over the reasons why it’s advisable to comply with GDPR regulations and then give you some practical advice about how to do that. We’re pretty sure that by the time you finish going through this blog post you’ll feel much more confident about how you can be GDPR compliant.
Let’s get started with a brief look at what the GDPR is.
What Is the GDPR?
The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is a government regulation that applies to companies operating in the EU and is designed to protect all online consumers in the EU, as well as any EU residents who share personal data online.
The rules are designed to enforce a requirement that websites servicing the EU are secure and follow prescribed data privacy protocols.
GDPR Guidelines for Email Marketing
There are specific GDPR rules related to email marketing. The first step in achieving compliance is to understand what’s required, which we’ll summarize here.
- Get consent. When you ask visitors to sign up for your email newsletter, your form is considered a data collection tool, and for that reason, the GDPR requires that you obtain informed consent from each user before you execute their subscription. Informed consent refers to the process of informing the user and obtaining verifiable consent through positive action.
- Store consent records. The GDPR doesn’t just require that you obtain consent from subscribers, you have to store a record of that consent as proof that it was obtained. Records must include the identity of the user giving consent, the date consent was given, what the user consented to, and other details that we’ll go over later.
- Allow access without opt-in. Access to content cannot be denied because the user refuses to subscribe to your newsletter. That would constitute coercion, which is not allowed. The GDPR says consent must be “freely given.” You can’t compel users to subscribe by making it seem mandatory. For example, if you offer a whitepaper or other gated content, obtaining a user’s email address may be required for delivery of the content, but you have to make it clear that signing up for your newsletter is not a prerequisite for getting the gated content.
- Make it easy for users to revoke permission. The GDPR requires that you give users the ability to withdraw consent. That means you’ll need to add a visible unsubscribe link to your newsletter.
- Make your content honest. The GDPR sets out specific content guidelines that are meant to protect users. For example, a newsletter must clearly indicate the identity of the sender, include a physical company address, plainly identify the nature of the content, and refrain from using false or deceptive messages.
It should be noted that off-loading the execution of email marketing to a third-party does not remove the responsibility that the business owner has to comply with GDPR. If a business uses an application or a service to manage its email marketing, it is that business, the newsletter owner, that must ensure GDPR compliance.
Why Should Your Newsletter Be GDPR Compliant?
Any website that collects personal data from residents of the EU, no matter where the site is hosted, must comply with the GDPR. What sort of personal data does that rule refer to? One example is the email addresses that you’ll collect when you manage a newsletter.
The European Commission wants to crack down on how businesses use people’s personal data because there have been significant abuses. Companies have been misusing users’ personal details and amassing huge amounts of user data without disclosing their purpose. Even when there’s no malicious intent, many companies do not do enough to secure user data from theft.
Unless you run a business serving local customers only, it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to engage with international customers and prospects, so adhering to GDPR policies makes absolute sense.
Another reason to take GDPR guidelines seriously is the big trouble you can get into by not complying. A business found to be in violation of the GDPR could be required to pay a fine of up to 4% of their gross annual turnover, capped at 20 million Euro.
The consequences of noncompliance can also include submitting to investigative data protection audits and agreeing to pay liability damages, accepting separate penalties for violation of service agreements, and dealing with reputational damage caused by publicly reported violations.
How to Make Your Newsletter GDPR Compliant
In this section, we’ll go over some practical ways you can ensure that everything about your email marketing activities follow GDPR guidelines.
Get Your Opt-in Forms Right
Your process for obtaining consent must be straight-forward and present users with a clear “opt-in” action.
An attempt to have your form automatically opt-in users is against the rules. For example, if a checkbox on your form is what indicates that a person is giving consent, you cannot preselect that checkbox, making the default selection be “Yes, I give consent.” The user must be the one that takes the action to give consent.
Aside from ensuring that your form requires positive opt-in action, there’s another important factor to consider when obtaining user consent.
Bundling a request for one permission with that of another is considered deceptive and is in violation of the GDPR. It’s best to use multiple checkboxes as necessary.
One more thing you’ll need to decide when acquiring consent is whether to use a single opt-in or a double opt-in. A single opt-in mechanism for managing email subscriptions involves one form that displays consent details, a place to enter an email address, and a submit button. Single opt-in forms are GDPR compliant, but some businesses choose to employ a double opt-in.
A double opt-in starts with the same sort of form found in the single opt-in method, but after subscription the user will receive an email from your system, requiring them to click a link as the final act needed to give consent.
A double opt-in can help you ensure GDPR compliance because it will create a more complete record of proof that the user gave consent.
Store Consent Records
GDPR requires that you keep a record of user consent. In addition to the identity of the user who has provided consent, the date of consent, and a detailed statement regarding what the user consented to, these records must include a description of what the user was told at the time that consent was given.
The stored consent records must also include information about the methods used for obtaining consent, whether a user who gave consent later withdrew it, and a statement about the legal conditions that were applicable when the user gave consent.
If you don’t have these records, the consent you obtain from your users will be considered invalid.
Adhere to Content Guidelines
The rules set out by the GDPR are, in part, meant to ensure that your content is honest and not intended to mislead users. To that end, there are requirements pertaining to the content of your newsletter.
Your email newsletter must identify the sender and specify a physical company address. It must be straight forward in stating the nature of the message, disclosing the communication’s purpose, and indicating whether it is promotional content. There has to be a clearly visible unsubscribe link in the email, and the contents of your newsletter must exclude false or deceptive statements.
Another important aspect of GDPR content guidelines is that your email must contain only the type of content that the user gave consent for. If you requested and received permission to send users emails about your new products, for example, it would be a violation to send those users a promotional email with offers from a third party.
If you want to send multiple types of email content, you will have to obtain consent that’s specific to each intended use. That doesn’t mean managing an array of different opt-in forms—you can just add multiple checkboxes to one form, labeling the checkboxes to inform users of the intent behind each type of content.
If you adhere to these guidelines, you’ll provide more value with your email newsletter and steer clear of GDPR violations.
Don’t Rely on a Third-party for Compliance
When it comes to managing collected user data, all the responsibility for legal compliance falls to the owner of that data.
If you turned over management of your email marketing to a third-party, whether that’s an application or a commercial service, the third-party will have legal obligations too, specifically, to ensure that all its customers meet regulatory standards, but they won’t be the alone on the hot seat if GDPR violations are uncovered.
Make Unsubscribing Easy and Immediately Effective
It’s required by the GDPR that you make it easy for users to revoke permission. You’ll have to provide an unsubscribe link in the email, and it must be visible and easily accessible.
When a user withdraws consent, you will have 30 days to honor that request. If one of your users receives a newsletter after they have unsubscribed, it won’t matter if it’s been 30 days or 1 day—that user will not be pleased.
If you act on every opt-out request as soon as it’s made, you can avoid alienating users, maintain your relationship with the customer, plus show people that you are always respecting your end user.
GDPR Compliance Helps Everyone Involved
The GDPR presents strict, enforceable rules about how you interact with your users through email marketing. When your business adheres to those rules, it’s better for everyone.
The European Commission gets what it’s after—websites that securely service the EU and follow critical data privacy protocols.
Your business gets to lawfully take advantage of one of the most valuable forms of customer outreach available.
Your customers get transparency, and that leads to a feeling of goodwill towards your business. Let’s not forget, they also get your awesome newsletter!
That’s three satisfied parties. By all accounts, you could say that keeping your email newsletter GDPR compliant is a win-win-win!