Are Cold Emails Illegal? What you need to know

Are Cold Emails Illegal? What you need to know

Uzair Rasheed

A picture showing a blindfolded lady with justice scales.

One of the most frequently asked questions about cold emails is whether cold emailing is legal or not. Since cold emails are being sent out to people with no prior contact, most of them aren’t very welcoming to them.

Having said that, cold emailing is still considered one of the best ways to grow your business and bring in new customers. Think about it. All your customers were once cold prospects for you. So, that’s exactly the audience to approach and find new customers if you want to grow.

A lot of people think that cold emails are actually spammed messages from people you don’t know and that they are illegal. Spam emails are very much different from cold emails. They are sent out in bulk with no prior research on prospects and try to sell you things that you aren’t really interested in.

On the other hand, a cold email is intended to find the right prospects that match your business profile and the whole purpose is to add some value to your prospect’s business or lives by providing them with a solution that they were already looking for.

In this blog post, we will answer whether cold emails are legal or not and will also give you tips on how to save your emails from getting classified as SPAM emails.

Are cold emails illegal?

The short answer to this question is “No”.

Cold emailing is totally legal as long as you are abiding by the rules provided by the regulatory authorities in the recipient’s region. There are several acts and laws in place to make sure that people aren’t bothered by spam emails.

As long as you follow the rules and regulations and don’t do anything against the law, you are fine. There are several legal authorities that you might want to look into if you have any doubts. There is CAN-SPAM Act in the USA, Canada's anti-spam legislation, and European Union’s GDPR for example.

Violation of laws set by these authorities can result in hefty fines and other legal trouble. Therefore, you must make sure that your cold email campaigns are going by the rule book and aren’t violating any laws.

One of the most common rules I have found almost in every rule book is an easy way to opt-out of your emailing list. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an unsubscribe link. It can just be a one-word reply from your prospect saying “Unsubscribe” or “Stop” and you must ensure that you don’t send any further cold emails after that.

What is CAN-SPAM act USA?

The CAN-SPAM act is a law set by Federal Trade Commission that decides rules for commercial messages and gives recipients the right to stop receiving emails whenever they like. Violation of the act can result in tough penalties.

The CAN-SPAM act isn’t only for bulk emails. It covers any electronic mail message that is intended to advertise or promote a commercial product or service. Any email that finds itself in violation of the CAN-SPAM act can be subjected to fines of up to $46,517.

However, following the law isn’t very complicated as long as you meet the main requirements of the CAN-SPAM act. I have written some of the main requirements relevant to cold emails that you may find helpful to stay CAN-SPAM compliant.

1. Don't use deceptive subject lines

The cold email subject line is one of the most important parts of your cold email campaign. Turns out that subject lines aren’t just important in getting your cold email opened. They are also an essential part of the CAN-SPAM act.

Your subject lines must be coherent with the content of your cold email. Avoid using misleading, clickbait, and deceptive subject lines. Ignoring that could result in a violation of the law and get you in trouble. Therefore, never mislead your prospects with a subject line with false information.

2. Authentic Physical Address

According to the CAN-SPAM act, your cold email must contain a legit physical address of the sender's company. This can be a current street address or a post office box that you have got registered with the U.S. postal service.

Authentic physical addresses in cold emails also leave a good impression of you on your prospects. It indicates that you are contacting them on behalf of a legit company. Adding your contact details and business website along with your signature is also a good practice.

3. Clear Unsubscribe Option

Your cold emails must provide an easy way to opt-out of your cold email campaigns. It can be as easy as a reply saying “No” or a visit to a page on the internet website to click the unsubscribe button. You cannot charge a fee to put in opt-out requests. You cannot ask them to take any further action either.

Once they have opted out of your email campaigns, you must take an action within ten business days and make sure that you don’t send any further email messages.

Compliance with GDPR while sending cold emails

General Data Protection Regulation is a legal authority that is created to protect the personal data of EU citizens.

GDPR is not a body that specifically works on cold emails. However, business emails do involve email addresses, contact details, and other personal data. Therefore, we must make sure that our cold email campaigns aren’t violating any laws set by the GDPR.

1. Explain Legitimate interest in your cold email

If your company has a justified interest in cold emailing, then you can reach out to your potential prospects without any prior consent. It means that you must explain legitimate interest when reaching out to your prospects. Spamming random people isn’t allowed under the GDPR rules and regulations.

It is best for you to find the right prospects for your cold email campaigns. Find people who really need your product or service and explain to them why you are reaching out. Sending cold emails to people that aren’t relevant to your niche isn’t a great cold emailing practice anyway.

2. Must be able to explain the Source of the Email address

According to GDPR, the data subject always has the right to object to the processing of personal data for email marketing. To explain a strong reason for reaching out to your prospect, you should also explain where you found the person’s contact details and how you have processed their data.

A personalization statement can be a great way to reach out because that explains where you found your prospects and why you think that they are a perfect match for your business.

3. Easy way to opt-out

By far the most common rule found in all the rule books that I came across is to give people a clear and easy opt-out method. An unsubscribe link at the end of the email will do the job. If that’s something not doable for you, then you must tell prospects that a simple “No” or “Stop” will be good enough for you to get them off your mailing list.

Under the GDPR, you must delete all the personal data of the person who has chosen to unsubscribe and asked you to stop messaging.

Don't make your emails look like SPAM

Rules and regulations are in place to save people from spam emails. My definition of a cold email is to send a short and clear message to educate the right prospects who need your product or service.

Spam emails are sent out in bulk to hundreds of random email addresses without any prior research on prospects and that’s exactly why they are immediately marked as Spam and never make it to your prospect’s inbox.

It is very important to do good research on your prospect and write an effective email copy. Writing good cold emails will not only ensure a good response rate but will also automatically comply with all the rules and regulations mentioned above.

Here are some tips that will make sure that your cold email complies with GDPR and Can-Spam act.

1. Write a good subject line

Subject lines have a huge impact on the outcome of your email campaigns. They decide whether your email gets opened or not. Your emails wouldn’t serve the purpose and will sit in the inbox unopened if you don’t put enough thought into writing the subject line.

Avoid using spam words in your subject line. For instance, “10x your monthly income”, “Hurray! You just won a lottery”, etc. If you want to write subject lines that will get your emails opened, then have a look at our subject lines blog here.

2. Personalize your Emails

Personalization can make your emails stand out from Spam emails. Spam emails are sent out in bulk without any personalized content. Cold emails without personalization have a big chance of getting flagged as Spam.

Not only does the personalization in your emails ensure that you are going by the rulebooks of GDPR and the Federal Trade Commission but also gives you a better chance of getting a positive response.

3. Monitor the source of your data

Lead generation is one important step of cold email campaigns. That’s when you gather contacts and email addresses before setting up your email campaigns. Make sure that your source of data is reliable. Buying lists of email addresses from websites that provide unverified and irrelevant email addresses can get you in hot water.

Your emails will bounce, your reputation as a sender will get hurt, and you are not contacting the right people for your business. Make sure that you have an authentic source of leads.

Gather email addresses from LinkedIn or even google. Google maps can help you find businesses in your area that are super relevant to your niche. You can look at the website and find an authentic email address to get in touch.

4. Don't Send Bulk Emails

If you are someone who has handled cold email campaigns before, then you would know that bulk emails have nothing to do with cold emailing. Cold emails must be limited and the number of cold emails sent from each account can be as low as 10-20 emails when starting up.

Your reputation as a sender gets hurt when you send bulk emails to strangers and that’s why they always end up in Spam folders. Sending hundreds of cold emails per day is an immediate red flag and can get your account banned permanently. If you aren’t sure how many emails you should send per day, then have a look at our blog here.

Provide Real Value to your prospects

Spam emails provide no value as they are mostly irrelevant to the recipients and are written without any research and personalized content. A good cold email will provide some value to prospects. It will have some credibility, a case study, or a solution for prospects that will help them conduct business.

Providing value to your prospects is one simple and easiest way to comply with all rules and get more responses. Not only will it make your cold email campaigns successful but will also automatically comply with all rules and regulations of the European Union, the Can-spam act USA, and other legal authorities.

Wrap up

So, is cold emailing illegal? No.

But it doesn’t mean that you can go ahead and send unsolicited emails to people that don’t need your help at all. Bare in your mind that you must respect privacy and ask for permission before you send any links to websites and times for meetings.

If your prospect doesn’t reply after multiple follow-ups, then you should know that they aren’t really interested in your product. When they ask you to stop, you stop immediately. Rules and regulations around cold emails are different for each region so it’s always good to take a good look before setting up your cold email campaign.

Disclaimer: This blog post isn’t legal advice and is meant to be written for educational purposes only.

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