Is Cold Emailing Illegal? Current Rules, Guidelines, And Tips To Keep You Compliant.

is cold email illegal?

Cold emailing is an awesome technique to drive new leads and customers, but is it illegal? Many people have suggested that cold emailing could be illegal in certain situations. But how do you know if your cold emailing is compliant?

Is cold emailing illegal? Cold emailing is legal in the United States as long as you clearly identify yourself, give accurate sender details with a business address, refrain from list harvesting tactics, and provide a clear process to unsubscribe. Rules will vary in other English speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, or Europeans nations.

Whenever you are marketing, you always want to stay on the right side of the law and cold-emailing is no different. You can successfully cold email without fear of legal recourse if you follow a common sense approach to email marketing.

Is cold emailing illegal in the United States?

Cold emailing is legal in the United States. Let’s get that first point straight. You are legally allowed to send emails to business prospects you’ve never met when your recipient/target lives in the United States.

Cold-emailing also applies to mass emails as well or bulk sending. While we aren’t huge fans of bulk emailing, it’s perfectly legal to do so. However, legal cold-emailing doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all.

You can’t send emails any old way. You have to be smart and follow some rules.

Also, there is something you should be aware of: each country has different legislation on cold emailing. Let’s talk about some of these in more detail.

United States

The United States has a fairly liberal cold emailing policy. You can send cold emails to just about anyone as long as you provide them with the ability to unsubscribe, your sender details are accurate, your honest about ads, and you aren’t using a sketchy harvesting list.

Four steps to send legal cold-emails in the United States

  1. Unsubscribe: You need to give people the ability to unsubscribe to your email inside of your email. You can either use a built in button from a mail platform or you can give clear unsubscribing instructions in the email itself. There are plenty of mail services that are great for this, but you generally won’t be using a personal email system like Gmail nor will you use a marketing platform like MailChimp—these are reserved for emailing people who have previously opted in.
  2. Accurate sender details: You are required to send accurate sender details. If the sender field is inaccurate and the subject line is deceptive, you are sending illegal emails. You will also want to provide a legal address of your company in the email to stay compliant (physical address or P.O. Box). In other words, don’t falsify any information and you are good to go.
  3. Advertising honesty: This one is simple, if you are using an ad in your email, you need to come clean about it or clearly identify the ad in the email. Too often people click on what they believe is a legitimate email element only to be taken somewhere completely different. Don’t do this…ever.
  4. Refrain from using harvested lists: A harvested list is a list that was obtained from a second party illegally such as using a bot to crawl websites or trading lists with other persons or companies. Don’t do this. While there are tons of companies on the internet who will do this for you, we recommend you build your own lists organically through social sites (e.g. LInkedIn). You’ll have better results anyway.

If you’d like more information on the specific laws pertaining to U.S. cold emailing, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s stance of cold-email. We encourage you to read carefully.

Failure to comply with these rules can results in up to $42,530 in fines. The rules are cut and dry and we encourage you to stay on the right side of the law.

Let’s look at a few more English speaking countries and their policies on sending cold-emails.

Is cold emailing illegal in Canada?

Canada is not quite as loose on the cold-emailing laws as the United States. The land of great hockey and beautiful mountains draw a hard line in the sand when it comes to cold-emails.

If you are sending cold emails to Canadian businesses or citizens, you need EXPRESS consent first. Express consent means that you can prove that someone requested or approved of your email in the first place.

You only have two options here:

  1. A prospect gives you direct permission: This means that you were told over the phone or in an email, letter, or text that an email is a perfectly acceptable way to conduct business. Is it even a cold email at this point? We’ll let you decide, but Canada has made clear their position.
  2. A mutual client relationship exists resulting in a referral: Don’t get too loose here. Just because you have a friend who works at bank with thousands of clients, doesn’t mean you can now email thousands of clients. If you have a mutual client and they give you a referral at the request of said company, you can email them.

Also, Canada has the same rules as the United States when it comes to email subject, sender, and address accuracy. You need to put the correct information in, remain truthful with all email data, provide a reasonable means to unsubscribe, come clean about in-email advertising, and honor all requests to unsubscribe emails promptly.

Canada means business and you need to be careful in the way you cold-email prospects in this country. We encourage you to find out more here to make sure your Canadian cold-emails are legally compliant.

If you live in Canada, you should be honored your country is respecting your inbox 😁.

Is cold emailing illegal in the United Kingdom?

United Kingdom is on the other side of the fence when it comes to cold emailing—they don’t like it! And by their recent GDPR legislation, we recommend you really do your homework. I’m not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, and try not to be seen with them in public 😏.

Before marching any further, you should read the United Kingdom policy on cold emailing here.

Five steps to send legal cold-emails in the United Kingdom:

  1. Customers give permission first: Customers must make the first move. Whether they give you permission to cold email via fax, phone, post, or email, the ball is in their court first. Not only do they need to give you permission, you need to be able to prove they’ve done this (keep your records people).
  2. Robust opt-out strategy: Don’t be sly, don’t be slick. You need to give a clear option for cold email prospects to opt out. Don’t use funny language or tiny text. Always make your email-opt-out CLEAR AS DAY.
  3. Provide Accurate Address: If you are going to cold-email, you need to provide correct contact information. Use a real address.
  4. GDPR: GDPR doesn’t specifically apply to cold-emailing, but it does apply to how you store information about people (cookies). Cold emailing requires data and if you are collecting user data through email, you need to let people know about it. Make sure you are getting consent to store information.
  5. Accurate sender details: Resist sending emails with deceptive subject lines or incorrect sender details. Make sure the email is coming from a real person with accurate information.

The laws in the UK are slightly different and more aggressive than here. And the penalties are extremely high. GDPR penalties can be as high as €10 million/2% annual global turnover.

We always suggest cold-emailing the legal way. Be authentic, acquire email addresses legally, and opt for 1 to 1 emailing whenever possible.

Is cold emailing illegal in Australia?

Cold-emailing is legal Australia, but you need to follow the rules closely. Australia is much like Canada and the UK in their electronic message policies.

Four steps to send cold-emails legally in Australia:

  1. Customers give permission first (expressed consent): You need to receive permission before you cold email an Australian. Whether you need to pick up the phone or write a letter—the choice is yours.
  2. An existing relationship exists: If you already have a relationship with the prospect, you can cold-email them for business purposes. It’s considered “inferred” consent. Inferred consent could also be sending a cold-email to someone who is displaying their contact information in a way which encourages contact. Whether this is on LinkedIn or their corporate website, you can email them with a reasonable introduction or request.
  3. Accurate sender details: You need to provide an accurate subject line, sender details, and email content. No deception allowed.
  4. Unsubscribe: You need to give people the ability to unsubscribe to your email inside of your email. You can accept a reply or use a custom button, but either way, you need to take them off your list immediately.

If you want to know more about Australian cold-email rules, check here. The rules are cut and dry. You should know who you are sending to and they in return should receive accurate information about you. Give them them the ability to opt out and make sure you have the appropriate consent.

Is cold email even effective?

Understanding all cold-email laws is necessary and time consuming. We are hoping this article helps. But, once you have the green light, cold email can be really effective.

In fact, many people have built substantial businesses from cold-emailing alone.

Take Alex Berman for example. Alex has been been able to build up a substantial seven figure business using high quality cold-email techniques. In fact, I think he is one of the brightest minds on the subject.

There are loads of cold-emailing companies out there who will be glad to take your money, but Alex is a great person to reach out to if you are serious about learning the “skill” of cold-email. He has millions of data points to show his methods work amazingly.

He also has a great YouTube channel and shares tons of free advice. Check out the video above I embedded—these tips are gold.

Cold-emailing isn’t spammy or icky AS LONG AS you have a real solution for your prospect. There is nothing wrong with letting someone know you exist and their problem might be alleviated through your services.

Six rules to writing amazing cold-emails:

  1. Be a legitimate person. Don’t go by a false identity or pseudo-name. Be a real person with a real website and a legitimate LinkedIn profile. Most of your business will result from people reading your email, then researching you, and then reaching out to you. Would you spend money with someone if you didn’t know anything about them? Do them a favor and give them your profile links so they can know more about you.
  2. It’s not about you. Stop talking about yourself and start talking to your prospect. They have needs, wants, fears, problems and it’s your job to find those out. If you don’t know what problem you are trying to solve through your cold-email, you aren’t ready to send cold-emails.
  3. Talk about them first. Sure, you have accolades and your business is amazing and blah, blah, blah, and NO ONE CARES. Your prospect is just like you, they only care about themselves. Do yourself a favor, and write the email TO THEM. This isn’t a biography of your life or a demo of your product. Relate everything you say to your prospect.
  4. Research first. Do some research about your prospect. Do they have a LinkedIn profile? Where are they from? How long have they been at the company? What’s their alma mater? You can use a lot of information to build rapport and build a world-class email.
  5. One at a time. I know there are softwares that will send hundreds of emails for you and customize things like a first-name or a company-name. But guess what? The secret’s out and everyone is bulk emailing. I know the difference between a custom email and a bulk email in seconds. If you think mentioning their name and then giving them a long-list of why you are awesome is “custom,” stop immediately. Look at point three and four again and write each prospect a legitimately custom email.
  6. Short enough. Don’t write a long email. You are asking for a blind-date, not a marriage proposal. Three or four sentences are usually sufficient. Depending on your service and how much research you’ve done, you might require a few more sentences. But, think sentences not paragraphs.

Related Questions

Is it illegal to collect email addresses? The act of collecting email addresses isn’t illegal if the email addresses are public knowledge. For example, it’s fair game if you collect email addresses from company websites, company profiles, LinkedIn, or search engine directories.

On the other hand, if you have purchased a harvested list and then you email the list, that would be illegal. The definition of a harvested list varies, but one example would be using a bot to scan websites and collect email addresses.

It goes without saying that you should always obtain email addresses legally and without the use spam bots.

What is the best software to send cold-emails? We like two different mail systems for two different reasons. First, we like MailShake for sending cold-email campaigns that are primarily text. MailShake isn’t cheap, but it’s really effective at tracking open rates and mail statistics. It’s also great for uploading lists and managing contacts.

Second, we like Lemlist for sending single emails and adding a bit of spice to the email. Lemlist allows you to embed custom pictures or custom GIF’s into the email which adds novelty and increases open-rates. It’s probably our favorite tool right now. You can see below how Guillaume Moubeche of Lemist automatically put the recipient’s name (Robert/Diane) in the picture. It’s really cool technology.

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