What is Cold Email, is it spam and is it legal?

What is Cold Email?

So, what is cold email? Think cold calling, but rather than hitting phone, your sending out emails. Cold emailing is sending an email to someone you don’t know, and they don’t know you, in other words an unsolicited email.

Companies in the B2B sector are generating leads using cold emails, the amount of companies using this lead generation strategy are growing every month, which proves just how well this works, if done properly. If you have not heard that much about cold email for lead generation then I suggest reading ‘How A Filipino Company Earned $726,000 In New Leads In 25 Days Using Cold Emails‘.

Definition of Spam

Is sending cold emails spamming? The technical definition of spam according to Spamhaus is:

“An electronic message is “spam” if (A) the recipient’s personal identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients; AND (B) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it to be sent.”

If done properly cold email is not spamming, that said most countries have their own laws on what they consider spamming, but before I go into more detail, lets cover some basics.

Email Marketing

I think it is important to understand what is opt-in and what is opt-out? When somebody opts-in, they are giving you permission to send them marketing emails (aka consent) and when they opt-out they are telling you that they no longer want to receive marketing emails from you.

Typically, when you collect details from your website (lead generation) you would have an opt-in check box, where the prospect grants you permission to email them.  A pre-ticked opt-in checkbox (consent by default), in Australia, Canada and soon, in Europe, does not represent consent.

Other ways of obtaining consent including filling in a form (hard copy), via the telephone, face-to-face and exchange of business cards, providing that the prospect knows that they are giving consent. For example, if somebody gives you a business card, you can’t and should not add them to your monthly newsletter.  In some countries, you might be able to ask for consent as part of your first email of your cold email outreach strategy, providing that your email:

  1. does not directly promote commercial content
  2. is targeted at the person you are sending it too
  3. the person has not already opted-out – see ICO fines Flybe, Honda for breaking data rules

If you do decide to ask for consent as part of your cold email strategy then pay attention to local laws.

To comply with most anti-spam laws, the burden of proof of consent is on you, so you will need to keep proof that the prospect gave you their consent, when and how they consented and what they were told.

In terms of opting-out, typically an unsubscribe link is included at the bottom of marketing emails, especially when sending newsletters or other bulk marketing emails. When cold emailing, prospects aren’t subscribed to a mailing list, but they should be able to opt-out of future emails. Providing clear instructions on how to opt-out is usually sufficient alternative to an unsubscribe link. For example, you can include text in footer, “If you want to opt-out of future emails, then reply to this email with the word “opt-out” in the subject line”.

A point which often causes confusion is bulk email, so I want to explain this. If you are sending email in bulk that means you are sending many emails at once, but the term bulk email is used to describe when sending the exact same email to many people.

Another thing to understand is the difference between personal prospects such as some.user@gmail.com, Business-to-business (B2B) prospects some.user@company.co.uk and generic addresses such as info@company.co.uk.

Anti-Spam Laws

You will need to know where your prospects are based and then depending upon the country, you will want to make sure that you comply with the laws.

From May 25th 2018, The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect into Europe (including the UK), which will harmonise the laws across 28 countries, and this will affect how you process (use) peoples data, however this does not mean this is the end of cold emailing or cold calling, it will still depend upon how each country implements this. There  seems to be a lot of misinformation online on how GDPR will be the end of sales and marketing. A PDF of the agreed text can be found here.

In the UK and Ireland, you can email B2B prospects which have not opted-in, provided that the business is not a sole trader or partnership since these are considered as individuals rather than businesses. A few other countries have laws which don’t cover B2B prospects, such as Finland, Hungry, Norway and Russia.

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) cover sending marketing emails in the UK.

Emailing generic email addresses should be avoided as part of cold email best practices.

We have included some key points from anti-spam laws to help ensure that your cold email outreach campaigns are legal. Note, you will also need to make sure that your emails are in compliance with the email signature laws in your country.  In Europe, the EU Directive 2003/58/EC states that at the minimum, corporate email signatures should include the company’s registration number, the place of registration and the registered office address, and depending upon the country that you are in, additional information might need to be included.

United States: CAN-Spam Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act)

  • Clearly identify yourself and your business
  • Consent (Opt-In) not required
  • An option or information on how to unsubscribe
  • Your mailing address

Canada: CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Law)

  • Clearly identify yourself and your business
  • Consent required (Opt-In) for commercial emails with an exception, if the prospect is engaged in business activity and the nature of the email is an inquiry or if the email address is public and there is no mention that they do not want to receive marketing emails
  • An option or information on how to unsubscribe
  • Your mailing address

Note that emails containing requests for consent is considered a commercial email in Canada.

UK: PECR / GDPR from May 2018

  • Clearly identify yourself and your business
  • Consent (Opt-In) not required for B2B prospects
  • An option or information on how to unsubscribe
  • Link to privacy policy or disclaimer which includes who processes the data and how it is processed etc

Bottom line is before you start a cold email outreach campaign, make sure you know what the local laws are.

There are other cold email rules as well that you will need to pay attention to, these include:

  • Don’t use false or misleading From, To, Reply-To address and name information
  • Don’t use deceptive subject lines – e.g. RE: your missed call, $1,000 for 5 minutes of your time
  • Be truthful in your advertising
  • If a prospect has asked to opt-out of future emails, then don’t email them anymore. In some countries there are laws on how quickly you must process opt-outs and unsubscribes.

Spam filters and deliverability

Whilst so far, we have talked about the anti-spam laws affecting cold emailing, the technical aspect should also be considered, as this will protect your domain reputation in the market, prevent your domain from getting blacklisted and it will also ensure that your cold email campaigns will get better deliverability.

You have probably heard that including words like free, make money or using ALL CAPS in the subject will trigger spam filters and whilst this is correct there many other factors which can trigger anti-spam filters, including sending only html messages, including too many images, an incorrect configured server are just a few that immediately come to mind.

Sending irrelevant emails to people will more than likely make people report your email as spam which can result your domain getting blacklisted, so paying particular attention to your prospect research can help reduce this possibility.

Good cold email outreach practices include:

  • Don’t send cold emails from free email accounts such as Gmail – there is no reason to do this, domains are cheap and from a customer perspective you will just come across as a scammer and spammer and they will not trust you
  • Keep the emails personal and relevant, addressing the email to the right person rather than just hello or dear sir, don’t send an email offering surgical equipment to a recruitment company
  • Don’t send out cold emails relating to personal products to business addresses, e.g. pharmacy products, family holidays etc.
  • Don’t buy email lists which have been harvested from the web, make sure you have first name, last name and other data etc.
  • Don’t send bulk email (sending the exact same email to many people)
  • Be careful when sending email in bulk, if you try to send too many emails at once or too quickly then your ISP could ban you. G-suite limits paid accounts to sending 2,000 emails per day or 500 if it’s a trial account

If you have enjoyed reading this article, or you have found it helpful, then please help spread the word and share it.

Disclaimer: This information in this article is for information purposes only and should not be used as legal advice. Legal advice is something you pay for, this content is provided for free. You should seek advice from a solicitor.