Updated June 2023
Is cold email legal?
The short answer is yes; cold email is legal.
However, cold email is often confused with spam email, which is illegal in most cases. Spam is defined as "unsolicited bulk email". Spam email is often not relevant to the recipients and not personalized.
Most countries have introduced anti-spam laws such as CAN-SPAM ACT & GDPR to prevent people from sending spam emails. This is why it’s important for sales professionals to know the difference between cold emails vs spam emails.
Cold email, when done correctly, is not spam. As long as you comply with anti-spam laws, you can send cold emails legally.
In this article, I will explain the difference between cold email and spam email, which laws apply to cold emails in different jurisdictions, and finally, I will give four tips on how to send cold emails while remaining legally compliant:
Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not be up-to-date with current laws in your jurisdiction.
Cold emailing is not illegal in most jurisdictions.
However, many people confuse cold email with spam email, which are not the same thing.
Governments in different countries have introduced laws to regulate spam emailing. This is why it’s important for sales professionals to understand the differences between cold email and spam email.
The key difference between cold emails and spam emails is that cold emails are sent to a targeted and specific audience, while spam emails are sent indiscriminately to a large number of email addresses.
Spam emails almost always land in the spam/junk folder. Whereas cold emails, when sent correctly, land in the primary inbox of the recipient.
Spam email characteristics:
Cold email characteristics:
When done correctly, cold email is legal. However, it is important to review the relevant anti-spam laws in the countries that you intend to send cold emails to, to stay on the right side of the law.
Cold email is legal in the United States.
However, it is important that you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
The CAN-SPAM Act outlines the legal requirements for all commercial messages (emails) that are sent to advertise or promote a product or service.
The CAN-SPAM Act states that recipients have the right to opt-out of receiving emails and includes penalties up to $50,120.00 USD for violations. This law applies to all commercial email messages, and is not just applicable to bulk emails.
You must use accurate header information. Your “From”, “To” and “Reply-To” must be accurate and not misleading.
Your subject lines must not be deceptive and must represent the true content of your email.
State what your email is about. You must mention that your email is an advertisement.
Mention your physical location. You should add this to your email signature. This can be your street address or your post office box that you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service.
Tell the recipient how they can opt-out of receiving future emails from you. You can read my other article to learn how to do this without using an unsubscribe link.
Cold email is legal in the United Kingdom, however, you should be aware of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
In the United Kingdom, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) requires businesses to obtain prior consent before sending unsolicited commercial email to individuals.
PECR also requires businesses to include a valid contact address so that recipients can opt-out or unsubscribe.
You might be thinking, how can you send cold emails in the UK if you need to first receive consent?
You can’t send cold emails to private individuals, but you can send cold emails to businesses.
You are allowed to send commercial emails to people that have given you consent first through a third party.
For example, a re-seller or a corporation in the same group as yours. An example could be if a potential client has already opted in to receive emails from your parent company, then you can send them cold emails.
Apart from complying with the above regulations, below are some things you can do to stay compliant in the UK:
Cold email is legal in the European Union, but you should be aware of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulates commercial email, requiring businesses to obtain prior consent before sending unsolicited email to individuals.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as when the email is necessary for the legitimate interests of the sender or the recipient.
The GDPR also requires businesses to provide an opt-out option and accurate contact information in their emails.
You can comply with the GDPR's requirements by providing a clear and concise explanation of why you are contacting the recipient and offering an easy way to opt-out.
Also, you must ensure that the emails you send are necessary for the legitimate interests of the sender or the recipient.
Cold email is legal in Canada, but it’s more difficult as you will need to obtain explicit consent first. The law that you should be aware of is the Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL).
In Canada, the Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) also regulates commercial email, requiring businesses to obtain prior consent before sending emails, including cold emails, to individuals.
There can still be situations where implied consent is allowed, for example, if you obtain an email address from a mutual contact that already has a business relationship with the recipient.
CASL also requires businesses to include an opt-out option and accurate contact information in their emails.
After you’ve received explicit or implied consent from the recipient, you should follow the below guidelines to stay compliant:
Each country has its own laws and regulations, but there are still some general guidelines that you can follow to stay compliant:
You should only send emails to people that can benefit from your product or service.
You should not send mass email campaigns to random email lists. You need to be very specific when finding leads.
I recommend that you use our LinkedIn Email Finder Google Chrome extension to find leads and emails on LinkedIn that are relevant to your niche and offering.
All of your cold emails should allow the recipient to opt-out of receiving future emails.
The best way to do this in the context of cold email is to write something like “Let me know if you’d be interested in this” or “If you’re not the right person to contact about this, then please let me know or please forward this email to the right person.”
If the recipient wants to opt-out, they can simply reply with “No thanks” and you can then remove their data from your list and never email them again.
It is important to keep your recipients’ data secure.
Also, if your recipients opt-out from your cold email campaigns, then you must delete their data from your database.
Your subject line needs to be relevant to the content of your email.
For example, if your email is about selling a B2B SaaS product, then your subject line needs to be relevant to this.
I recommend that you read my article 40 Best Subject Lines For Cold Emails to see some examples of good subject lines that you can use.
Yes, B2B cold emailing is legal. However, it is important that you stay compliant with regulations in each jurisdiction.
You are allowed to send cold emails to companies in Europe under GDPR. However, it’s important that you stay compliant by following the guidance in this article.
Sending cold emails is legal, however, it is important that you understand the different laws and regulations in each jurisdiction.
I recommend that you send your cold email outreach campaigns with Emailchaser, since Emailchaser has built in features that automatically make your cold emails compliant in most jurisdictions.
Founder of Emailchaser.
I have been working in the sales & marketing industry for nearly a decade.
When I’m not working on my business, I enjoy eating sushi & doing jiu-jitsu.
Address: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Email: [email protected]
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