Cold Email vs Spam

Did you know that the average ROI for cold emailing campaigns is 3,800%? When it’s done correctly, cold emailing can be an incredibly effective marketing strategy. However, when it’s done the wrong way, your cold email’s low open rate might be the least of your worries.
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Worried about your prospecting emails being labeled as spam? You aren’t alone. However, cold email and spam are two separate things. Let’s look into the difference between cold emails and spam emails.

Cold emailing involves a personalized message with the intention of establishing a business relationship. Spam emails, on the other hand, are sent to many people at once without their consent and don’t include personalization or anything of value.

It’s frustrating to open your inbox and see a flood of unwanted and irrelevant emails. As marketers, we need to cater our messaging to make sure we don’t get marked as spam or bulk deleted while the prospect is sifting through their overflowing inboxes.

To make matters trickier, only 24% of sales emails are even opened, according to recent research from TOPO (Source). Breaking through the noise and earning a prospect’s attention is both harder and more crucial now than ever before.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the key differences between cold emails and spam emails, as well as best practices to help you stand out in the inbox and avoid being mistaken for a spammer.

What Is a Cold Email?

Did you know that the average ROI for cold emailing campaigns is $38 for every $1 invested or 3,800%? When it’s done correctly, cold emailing can be an incredibly effective marketing strategy. However, when it’s done the wrong way, your cold email’s low open rate might be the least of your worries. The key is to follow best practices and avoid coming off as spammy in your messaging. 

You might think there’s a fine line between cold emails and spam emails, but there are a few key differences that can help you determine whether an email is worth opening. Cold emails involve researching your prospects to find the ones who fit your target audience and could benefit from what you have to offer. 

Despite the fact that you haven’t established a previous relationship with these prospects, you’re still doing your research and catering your messaging directly to them. Therefore, they’re far more likely to be receptive to your emails. Not to mention cold emails are far less intrusive than other marketing channels, like cold calls.

What Is a Spam Email?

Spam emails are unsolicited mass emails sent to people who usually don’t want to receive them and won’t benefit from your product or service. These prospects are not qualified and they typically do not fall within your target audience. Spam emails usually include messaging that promotes offerings to anyone and everyone.

Essentially, these unwanted emails are sent to countless unqualified prospects at once while the marketers responsible sit back and cross their fingers for someone to bite.

CAN-SPAM Requirements

If you don’t have a previous relationship with a prospect and you send them a cold email, couldn’t that be considered unsolicited?

It depends on a few different factors, including whether you abide by the CAN-SPAM law requirements. These email rules are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission to regulate commercial messaging and, when violated, can result in steep fines (Source).

If email plays a role in your prospecting efforts, you need to know the rules and best practices involved, including the general requirements set by the CAN-SPAM law.

CAN-SPAM’s major requirements include:

  • Do not use false or misleading header information: Your “From”, “To”, and “Reply-To” fields need to have legitimate names and email addresses associated with them.
  • Do not use deceptive email subject lines: Avoid misleading subject lines and make sure they reflect the content of your email accurately.
  • Identify your message as an advertisement: You must disclose clearly that your email is an ad.
  • Tell your recipients where you’re located: Include a physical address for your business. This can be your current street address, a P.O. box, or a private mailbox.
  • Make it easy for people to opt-out: Make sure it’s easy for people to update their communication preferences or unsubscribe entirely from your future emails.



Cold Email Best Practices

We’re not going to lie—running a cold email campaign is no cakewalk. However, there are general rules you can follow to help your emails stand out in the inbox instead of getting lost in the spam folder

Avoid Coming Off as Scripted

Remember not to try too hard when writing your cold email content. The best emails are clear, concise, and conversational. Write as you talk and keep in mind that you don’t need to include fancy words or perfect grammar. Just be friendly and ask yourself: “would I be receptive to this email if it were in my inbox?”

Don’t Send Mass Emails to Purchased Contacts 

Don’t make your bounce rate skyrocket by sending emails to outdated or nonfunctional email addresses. There are countless tools out there that can help you verify the legitimacy of your email address list.

Use Customization and Personalization Whenever Possible 

If you want your cold emails to stand out among the noise, you need to make the prospect feel seen. The more background information you have on a prospect, the company they work for, and the pain points they’re experiencing, the more likely they’ll be open to hearing what you have to say.

Provide Content That’s Relevant to the Prospect 

If you can identify a common pain point your target audience encounters, you can give them the proper resources to address it. Not only will this build trust and brand recognition, but it’ll also increase your odds of getting a yes from your prospects when it’s time to ask them to meet with you.

Include a Clear Offer and Call to Action (CTA) in Every Email

Make sure every email you send aligns the action you want a prospect to take with something they’re trying to embrace or avoid, and make it abundantly clear what you want them to do. Don’t try to mislead your prospects with your CTA text.

Key Takeaways

Despite the perceived fine line, there are some important differences between a cold email and a spam email. While cold emails are sent to people in your specific target audience who have a need for your product or service, spam emails are sent to unqualified prospects and violate one or more of the CAN-SPAM requirements:

  • Accurate header information
  • Relevant subject lines (not deceptive)
  • Visible and functional unsubscribe link
  • A legitimate physical address in email footer


Once you understand the difference between a cold email vs a spam email, you can optimize your messaging and obtain higher open rates.

Still, having trouble reaching your prospects’ inboxes? Check out our blog post on sender reputation and learn what could be negatively impacting your email deliverability.

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