What is Spam and its link with cold emails?

what is spam in email

The question is not that simple and full of confusion. Many people have the misconception that any cold or uninvited email is classified as spam and that spam is not legal.

However, there are some essential points that you need to know to reach a conclusion. Here we will kick off the things by clarifying that if all cold or uninvited emails were unlawful, businesses wouldn’t be driving fruitful email marketing campaigns worldwide.

Further Reading: Templates for LinkedIn Outreach

To begin with, let’s discuss the notable difference between spam and illegal emails. Remember that “Spam” is not a legal word, and its meaning varies. A spammy message might not be illegal, and an illegal message might not be classified as spam as per many definitions.

According to Spamhaus, an unsolicited or uninvited message will be said as spam if “the receiver’s personal identity and email’s context are inappropriate as the message is applicable to other recipients.”

It is evident from the definition that if you are an email marketer, NEVER send spam. Effective sales and marketing teams approach specific people for particular reasons and with clear messages.

But is Spam Illegal?

Spam states impersonal solicitations for various things such as medical, weight loss products, or investment openings. We all see these in our mailboxes or in our spam folders.

If a message is spam does mean that it is illegal. Not many know that spam is legal in the USA. Hence, whether or not your email is solicited or unsolicited, targeted or not, it has nothing to do with legality as per the current USA law. The act that endorses it is The CAN-SPAM Act.

Further Reading: Email Outreach Tracking

However, companies and businesses need to comply and follow specific rules and regulations when sending unsolicited emails. If they are unable to comply, the penalties can be extremely harsh.

If you are among those, who sent unsolicited emails to others, follow these straightforward guidelines, and stay on the right track as defined in the CAN-SPAM Act.


The CAN-SPAM Act was passed in 2003, and it establishes requirements for commercial emails and messages. The act provides receivers the right to stop you from emailing them, and there are severe penalties for violations. The Act is applicable to all electronic mail messages, the main purpose of which is the advertisement, marketing, or promotion of any product or service.

The requirements that all marketing and advertising firms need to fulfill are as follow:

The “Opt-Out” Method

The first condition of the CAN-SPAM Act is that receivers must have a practical way of opting out of these emails and messages. An opt-out option can be as simple as unsubscribe web link. Or you can ask the receiver to send an email stating to remove your email from the list. 

Whatever the opt-out way is, it should inform the recipient that they can do something if they don’t want to receive these emails and messages.

Opt-Outs Must be Addressed Within 10 Days

If someone opts out of these messages, businesses should honor the request in 10 days and remove them from the email list. If you are emailing multiple prospects, it is highly recommended that you include the unsubscribe link in each message. 

This will allow your recipients to easily remove themselves from future mailings or updates without having any difficulty whatsoever and continue receiving relevant information via another channel.

No Misleading Titles or Subject Lines

Would you rather have a high open-rate for your email marketing? One way is by using spam subject lines and titles such as “URGENT: Updated news about your father’s health.” This might be appealing but keep in mind such titles violate the CAN-SPAM Act.

However, you can be crafty and creative. Some of the best titles and subject lines are deliberately brief without being deceptive. You can try these:

Fun: “Best of Groupon: The Pacts That Make Proud (Unlike Our Niece, John)”

Personalization: “Hey Sandra – Around 91% of Advertisers are Leveraging Data; what about you?”

Urgency: “I called, but You didn’t pick.”

Try To Be Yourself

Ensure that your “From:” and “Reply” fields truly represent you and your brand. It is not advised to pull tricks such as using multiple generic domains to hide your original identity or to avoid email filters.

Mention Your Official Business Address in the Email

To remain compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act, you must mention your business’s physical address at the end of your message. This can be your registered post box address.

This is not a full list of rules and requirements defined in the CAN-SPAM Act; thus, you should dive into the act or consult the matter with your legal team before launching your email marketing campaign. The key point is: You can send cold email messages, but you will have to follow the rules defined in the act.

Furthermore, the CAN-SPAM Act is only applicable in the United States. If you are sending cold or promotional emails to other countries, read the laws of that country before launching the campaign.

If you want to launch a cold email campaign in Canada, think twice. Canadian laws are complicated regarding commercial and promotional emails. Similarly, rules in Germany are not that flexible for cold email outreach.

Bounce Rates and Email Deliverability

Even if you follow all the set rules by various authorities, you should be extra careful about how you send these emails.

Though it is not a lawful requirement in the USA, many Marketing Automation Tools and Email Service Providers need users to send emails to people who have signed up for email communication with you. So read the terms and conditions of the tools before starting a cold email campaign.

Marketers need to understand why some email marketing tool have defined these rules. The reason is simple conventional unsolicited lists have too high bounce rates.

Is Cold Emailing Effective?

Usually, cold email lists are cheap and known due to their poor quality. Similarly, most of them are outdated and contain only invalid emails.

The best cold email lists have a bounce rate of up to 10%, but some have a bounce rate of up to 25%. At those bounce rates, you might face reputational deliverability issues.

And when you are using lists that have a high bounce rate on a shared IP address, they can damage your brand’s reputation. At the same time, you will be damaging the reputation of others that are using the same IP address.

Use the right tools to reduce these bounce rates.

First, you need to ensure that you are using the services of a reliable data provider. Secondly, you should use email cleansing tools as they confirm that your campaigns always end up with adequate bounce rates. Reduced bounce rates are dependent on precise data gathered from machine learning, third-party partners, and researchers.

So with accurate data and reliable email hygiene tools, you can easily avoid reputation issues and enjoy successful email campaigns.

If you are not using an effective outbound strategy, consider it as soon as possible. Sending relevant emails to the relevant people always works. And you will be safe from various issues.

To sum up, in the USA, cold emails are absolutely legal and works if managed correctly.

Co-founder and CEO at Closely – Lead Intelligence and Sales Automation Platform.