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Cold Email vs Spam: Navigating the Gray Area 

Cold Email vs Spam

Cold emailing and spam are two terms that are often used interchangeably in the world of email communication. Though they might seem similar — like two peas in a pod — they are as different as night and day. This article aims to dissect the concept of cold email vs spam — helping you navigate this gray area for successful email marketing!

Cold Email vs Spam: What Cold Email Is

Cold email is similar to shaking hands and introducing yourself at a business conference — you have not interacted with the other person, but it is clear that you are reaching out to establish a connection for a possible business deal proposal or a sales pitch, in the future. The intent here is clear and up to the point.


Another example to explain cold emails is a thoughtful guest who brings a bottle of wine to a dinner party, keeping in mind the host’s taste — you seek to add value to their evening while benefiting from a good time yourself.

Cold Email vs Spam: What Cold Email Is Not

Now, imagine crashing a dinner party uninvited, with barely any regard for the host’s preferences or the occasion, disrupting the atmosphere for everyone. This is what spam is — it is the act of sending unsolicited, one-size-fits-all emails, generally of a commercial nature, to many email addresses without consent or the option to opt-out from receiving these emails — the digital equivalent of forcing yourself into spaces you are not welcome.

Major Differences Between Cold Emails and Spam

To put it simply, cold email builds bridges, whereas spam builds walls. A cold email is personalized, targeted, and sent with a pre-determined purpose to prospects who are most likely to find the content relevant. Spam, on the other hand, lacks personalization and relevance, bombarding recipients with unwanted, often misleading content, offering no value.

What is cold email vs spam?

  • Cold emails are always straightforward about their intent, with subject lines indicating their purpose, to build trust with the recipients. Spam emails, in contrast, contain clickbait subject lines and are deceptive, to just get the recipient to open the email somehow.
  • Cold emails contain personalized content sent with the goal of meeting every recipient’s specific needs and interests, while spam emails are general, vague content sent randomly to people, adding no value to their requirements.
  • The recipients of cold emails have the option to opt-out and have usually consented to receive these emails, while spam email recipients have no option to opt-out and have not given any approval to receive emails or shown interest in the offering.

A key aspect worthy of mention in the subject of cold email vs spam, is the way the recipients’ email addresses are obtained for sending them emails. Recipient addresses for cold emails are sourced by surfing online for prospects who have high chances of benefiting from your offering. Common email-finding tools to find email addresses of prospects are Voila Norbert, Uplead, Clearout and Clearbit.


Another effective and effortless way to gather valid, verified, relevant and legitimate email addresses of your target audience is purchasing databases from DataCaptive — a reliable B2B database provider, offering 95% accurate contact information of prospective clients who have consented to receive marketing communication from you! Now, when it comes to spam emails, email addresses of recipients are purchased illegally or through bots that compile lists of random email addresses that might or might not be functional, from the internet. Spam emails almost always end up in the spam folder and have high email bounce rates.

Cold Email Best Practices:

The line that divides a cold email from spam is as thin as paper but as significant as the Great Wall of China — which we are sure you are aware of by now. This brings us to the next part of this article — what are the best cold email practices to incorporate in your email marketing campaign for guaranteed success?

  • Personalize- Craft each email keeping in mind the recipient’s interests and needs, instead of forwarding the same email to everyone.
  • Be Clear and Concise- Make your value proposition crystal clear from the get-go and keep your message brief but impactful, instead of being vague.
  • A Way Out- Provide an easy way for recipients to opt-out of receiving your emails, respecting their preferences and consent.
  • Follow Up, Don’t Pester- Follow-up three times in one-week intervals, but respect signals of disinterest or silence as a cue to step back.
  • Ensure Legal Compliance- Adhere to laws and regulations around email communication, such as the GDPR and CAN-SPAM to avoid legal issues.

Know Email Communication-Related Laws & Regulations:

Now that you understand the concept of cold email vs spam, let us move on to navigating the legal landscape of email marketing, which is risky and demands utmost attention and awareness of laws and regulations governing email communication — which are constantly being updated and added. Non-adherence to such laws and regulations can land you in serious legal trouble!


Read ahead to find out what the two of the most important email communication laws and regulations mean.

  • CAN-SPAM Act- The CAN-SPAM Act is prevalent in the US and sets the rules and requirements for commercial email, giving recipients the right to get you to stop emailing them — non-adherence to which will result in tough penalties for violations. This act mandates transparency in your emails through clear identification that an email is an ad, providing a valid physical mail address, and offering an easy way for recipients to opt out from receiving future emails.
    CAN-SPAM classifies a commercial email as spam if it uses “header information that is materially false or materially misleading” — basically a false or misleading “from” line, email address, domain name, or IP address.
  • GDPR- GDPR is a major European data protection regulation that demands explicit opt-in consent from recipients before you send them any marketing emails — effectively banning such unsolicited emails. As soon as a recipient opts-out, you are obliged to stop emailing them immediately to avoid violating GDPR. The major goal of GDPR is to protect an individual’s control and rights over their personal information and facilitate smooth and safe international business.
What was safe water yesterday might be off-limits today. So, make sure you understand and keep yourself updated, not just on the laws in your own country but also those in your recipients’ countries. Stay updated and stay safe!

Spam Triggers to Avoid:

Navigating the gray area of email marketing requires a keen eye for avoiding the mistakes that can cause spam triggers — sending your email directly to the spam folder, never to be seen by your target audience. Understanding cold email vs spam is not enough, one must learn how to avoid spam triggers to ensure that an email reaches its right destination.

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Misleading Subject Lines-

Avoid misleading subject lines. This means that the subject line of your email should be a clear and honest preview of the content that lies within. If you try to lure recipients with deceptive or overly sensational subject lines, it will be flagged as spam.
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Overusing Sales Language-

You can cause a spam trigger if your email is overly aggressive in its sales pitch with excessive phrases such as “Buy now!” or “Once in a lifetime offer!” It’s better to engage your target audience with content that is value-driven and builds interest and trust.
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Excessive Use of Caps and Exclamation Points-

USING ALL CAPS OR EXCLAMATION POINTS IN SURPLUS!!!! makes it seem like you are shouting at passersby in the digital realm. This approach will definitely send your email directly to the spam folder.
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Spammy Words and Phrases-

Words and phrases such as “free,” “guarantee,” “risk-free,” “special promotion,” and “limited time offer” make your offer seem too good to be true. Instead, direct your focus on crafting messages that offer clear value without sounding pompous.
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Using Too Many Images or Big Images-

Emails that contain large images or more images than text can trigger spam filters, as spammers often use images in an attempt to bypass text-based spam filters. Make sure your emails have the right balance between text and images and optimize images for size.
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Colorful Fonts and Bad HTML Coding-

When you use multiple font colors, sizes, and poor HTML in your emails, the reader will be distracted, and it will also alert spam filters. Keep your emails professionally designed with a clean, straightforward layout with a consistent font style and proper coding.
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Failing to Include a Physical Address-

When there is no physical mailing address in your email, it can trigger spam filters. Including a legitimate physical address in your email footer will add credibility and comply with legal standards.
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Failure to Include an Opt-out Link-

Not providing an easy way for recipients to unsubscribe from your emails is not just a violation of various anti-spam laws but also a huge red flag for spam filters. Ensure an unsubscribe link is clearly visible in your email.


Understanding the cold email vs spam is vital. While one represents a targeted, respectful approach to nurturing new connections and presenting mutually beneficial opportunities, the other is a scattergun approach that’s not just ineffective but illegal and harmful to one’s reputation and business. By complying with email best practices, personalizing your approach, and constantly aiming to add value, cold emailing can be a powerful tool in your email marketing journey. Be a welcome guest rather than an unwelcome pest!


A cold email is a method of reaching out to prospective individuals or businesses that you are not personally acquainted with — for business purposes. These emails are comparable to a first impression.
Cold emails are cold because there has not been any interaction yet. While in warm or hot leads, there has been some sort of prior interaction or relationship established with the prospects.
No. While email marketing is a method of sending targeted emails to a list of people who have subscribed to receive your emails, cold emailing involves introducing yourself to a potential client who you don’t know and try to establish a relationship with them to gradually convert them into a loyal customer.
Personalizing your email content, being clear and concise, providing an easy way to opt-out of receiving emails, following up, and ensuring legal compliance, are some best practices in cold emailing.
Misleading subject lines, overusing sales language, excessive use of caps and exclamation points, using spammy words and phrases, using too many images or big images, use of colorful fonts and bad HTML coding, failing to include a physical address, and failure to include an opt-out link are some of the major spam triggers you should avoid.

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