Is Cold Emailing Legal?

I was recently asked by a colleague if buying email addresses from a third party was legal and/or ethical to do when trying to grow an list for email campaigns. She has a client that is targeting a specific market vertical, and rather than trying other avenues for growing their email subscriber list, they found a third-party service that makes available for purchase a list of addresses that pertain to this market vertical.

What to do? Is this legal? This third-party company didn’t harvest the addresses, and in fact claim on their website that they were all gathered via publicly available information (e.g. LinkedIn, company website contact pages, etc).

“The Service may contain email addresses found in the public domain and without limiting the foregoing Customer will abide by the guidelines of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, the EU Directive 2002/58, and the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (FISA) when handling such email addresses. We and our Third Party Partners shall have no liability arising out of or relating in any way to any solicitation and/or communication Customer make using the Sites or Service.”

But does purchasing that list of addresses give you the permission to send marketing email to them? Isn’t that spam? Isn’t that what the CAN-SPAM act was signed into law was supposed to prevent?

Not so fast. Sending cold email is legal, and not considered spam if you follow the guidelines outlined here.

So essentially:

“Don’t misrepresent who you are – Your “From”, “To”, and “Reply-To” information needs to identify who you are.

Don’t use misleading subject lines – Using a subject line of “Your receipt” when pitching your product/service would be misleading. Keep it real.

Identify if the email is an ad – If your email is an advertisement or special coupon offer, make sure it is labeled as such.

Include your business address – This can be a PO Box or your physical address, but you have to include it. Ideal placement for this information would be in your signature.

Give them an opt-out option – You don’t have to use an “unsubscribe” link which takes away some of the personal aspects of the email. Instead, ask them, “Please let me know if you are not the right person to contact for this” as a good alternative that keeps things personal.

Honor opt-outs – If they don’t want any future emails, make sure they don’t get any more emails.

Know what others do/send on your behalf – Even if you hire a company to handle your email outreach, you are still legally responsible. Make sure whoever you have working on your email outreach understands and respects these practices.”

When I am asked by my own clients, I send them this PDF, which simplifies it all in a one-pager.

I err on the side of caution, and prefer to warm-email people rather than send something cold have the prospect be turned off, and immediately unsubscribe.

Because once they do unsubscribe, you can’t email them again (at least commercially).