The Legal Side of Cold Email Marketing: Compliance and Best Practices

Email is one of the most effective marketing channels available today. It’s incredibly quick and easy to start, as modern email marketing tools make it simple for marketers of all levels to create a campaign, upload a list, and send it out. However, before you begin sending out campaigns, it’s worthwhile to understand and ensure that your campaigns aren’t breaking any of the prevailing laws. 

Cold emails can be an effective way for businesses to reach out to potential customers. Still, many businesses hesitate to use this marketing strategy due to concerns about its legality. Email marketing remains a powerful tool for businesses to connect with potential customers. It is crucial to navigate the legal landscape to ensure compliance and protect your brand’s reputation.

Autumn Sterrett – COO at lead generation agency Avadel – uses cold email daily and opined that:

“Not only is cold email legal, but it’s also the most effective tool to generate new meetings for our clients. When done within the boundaries and guidelines of GDPR, CAN-SPAM, and other regulations—cold email is an irreplaceable tool in any company’s marketing tool chest”.

This article will explore cold emails’ legality and the regulations businesses must follow when sending them.

What are Cold Emails? 

Cold emails are unsolicited emails sent to individuals who have not previously interacted with a business. These emails are typically used to promote a product or service and are shipped in bulk to many recipients.

Cold email marketing involves reaching out to individuals who have not expressed a prior interest in receiving emails from your business. Unlike warm leads, cold email recipients are unfamiliar with your brand or offerings. It is important to note that regulations and best practices for cold email marketing may vary by country and jurisdiction, so it’s essential to research and comply with the relevant laws in your target market.

Important Email Laws and Regulations

Depending on the location of the target audience, you’ll need to take a deeper look at these regulations:

CAN-SPAM Act (United States)

The legality of cold emails can be a complex issue, as it depends on the specific laws and regulations in each country or region. In the United States, for example, the CAN-SPAM Act sets out specific requirements for businesses that send commercial emails, including cold emails. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, businesses must include a clear and conspicuous opt-out mechanism in their emails, as well as accurate header information and subject lines. Additionally, businesses must not use deceptive subject lines or false or misleading information in their emails.

The CAN-SPAM Act sets guidelines for commercial email messages sent to recipients in the United States. To comply with this law, ensure your cold emails meet the following requirements:

a. Use accurate and non-deceptive subject lines.

b. Include a clear and conspicuous identification of your message as an advertisement.

c. Provide a valid physical address in your email.

d. Include an opt-out mechanism allowing recipients to unsubscribe from future emails promptly.

While cold emails are legal under the CAN-SPAM Act, businesses must comply with these regulations to avoid penalties and legal action.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (European Union)

 In other regions, such as the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets out specific requirements for businesses that collect and use personal data, including email addresses. Under the GDPR, businesses must obtain explicit consent from individuals before sending them marketing emails and allow them to opt out of future communications. If you send cold emails to European Union (EU) recipients, you must comply with the GDPR. Key considerations include:

a. Obtaining explicit consent from recipients before sending marketing emails.

b. Clearly explain how their data will be used.

c. Providing an easy-to-use opt-out mechanism.

d. Safeguarding personal data and using appropriate security measures.

How can Businesses Mitigate Risks when Sending Cold Emails?

Businesses should build high-quality email lists to target specific audiences to mitigate the risks of sending emails. This can help ensure that emails are more relevant and valuable to recipients, which can increase the chances of engagement and conversion. Additionally, businesses should ensure that they comply with applicable regulations around cold emails, including the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States and the GDPR in the European Union. By following these regulations, businesses can avoid penalties and legal action and build more positive relationships with their audiences.

Cold emails can be a valuable marketing strategy for businesses, but ensuring that they comply with relevant regulations and mitigate risks associated with this approach is vital. By building high-quality email lists and complying with applicable laws, businesses can make more positive relationships with their audiences and increase their chances of success with cold emailing.

Guide to Staying Compliant: Essential Rules

Staying compliant with regulations and laws that apply to your business can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. While regulations can vary between countries and industries, there are some standard rules to keep you safe from email sending. Here are some limitations to take note of and stay on the compliant side of email sending.

Regarding email marketing, there are two types of consent: implicit and explicit. Implicit consent is when a recipient hasn’t explicitly given permission to receive emails but has given some indication of interest. Explicit consent, on the other hand, is when a recipient has permitted to receive emails.

Obtaining explicit consent from recipients is always best to ensure compliance with regulations and best practices. This means providing a transparent opt-in process, allowing recipients to unsubscribe at any time, and recording their consent for future reference.

Purchased Email Lists

Purchasing email lists is generally discouraged, often leading to low engagement rates and potential legal complications. Often, these lists may contain outdated or incorrect email addresses, resulting in spam complaints and damaging your brand’s reputation. It is always better to organically build your list through targeted lead-generation efforts.

Honesty and Transparency

When crafting cold emails, it is essential to be transparent and honest. Avoid deceptive subject lines or misleading claims. Clearly identify your business and the purpose of the email, ensuring recipients can easily understand who you are and why you’re reaching out to them.

Personalization and Relevance

Personalized and relevant emails tend to yield better results. Take the time to research and understand your target audience, and tailor your messages accordingly. Generic and impersonal emails are likely to be ignored or marked as spam.

Opt-Out Mechanism

Include a clear and prominent opt-out mechanism in every cold email. Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from future communications and promptly honor their requests. Failing to provide an opt-out option or ignoring unsubscribe requests can lead to legal consequences and damage your brand’s reputation.

Regularly Review and Update Your Email Lists

Keep your email lists up to date by regularly reviewing and removing inactive or unsubscribed recipients. It is good practice to cleanse your lists periodically to ensure compliance with anti-spam laws and maintain high engagement rates.

Monitor and Respond to Feedback

Actively monitor feedback and responses to your cold emails. Address any complaints or unsubscribe requests promptly. This demonstrates your commitment to respecting recipients’ preferences and can help you identify areas for improvement.


Cold email marketing can effectively expand your customer base and grow your business when done right. However, adhering to legal requirements and best practices is crucial to avoid legal consequences, protect your brand’s reputation, and maintain positive relationships with your audience. 

Remember, the information provided in this blog post is not legal advice. It is essential to consult with legal professionals and experts to ensure compliance with your jurisdiction’s specific laws and regulations.