A Quick Guide to Sending CAN-SPAM Compliant Cold Emails

On December 19, 2023
6min read
Meg Kawalkowska Content Manager @Woodpecker

If you’ve researched a bit about cold emailing, you’ve probably run across some legal nuances that might have made you wonder whether your cold email campaigns will not accidentally break any law.

To dispel your doubts: cold emailing is totally legal provided you stick to the rules set out by applicable regulations. One of the pioneer regulations of this type is the CAN-SPAM act, which set standards for sending commercial emails in the USA.

In this blog post I want to give you a brief walk-through of the rules set out in the act, but I also want to show you that the CAN-SPAM act is not just a set of formalities to comply with. Actually, by implementing and respecting these requirements, your cold emails will simply become better, more prospect-oriented, and more like something your recipients will be happy to get. 

So first let’s have a brief look at the theory and then move on to the actual how-to. 

What is the CAN-SPAM act?

The CAN-SPAM Act entered into force back in 2003, when due to a fast development of email communication and a growing number of unwelcome messages flooding people’s mailboxes, the U.S. government decided to finally set standards for sending commercial emails. 

CAN-SPAM is an acronym derived from the the act’s full name: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. It also happens to be an accidental, but quite clever and on-point play on words: can (to stop) spam. 

“Ok but why should I care?” – You’re probably thinking – “I’m not a spammer. I just want to register a business and start new business relationships. Should I abide by the CAN-SPAM act when sending my emails?”. Let’s see what the law says about that.

Does the CAN-SPAM act apply to cold email senders?

As already mentioned, the act covers all commercial emails that aren’t transactional or relationship messages. Do your cold emails fall under this category?

Well, even if you don’t pitch right after “Hi” which is a huge no-no, still it’s a message you send to a person who never had any relationship with you before and who didn’t opt in to receive this message. The act makes no exception for B2B emails.

So given all that, if you send cold emails to prospects from the USA it’s better you abide by the CAN-SPAM Act. Mind you, and this is important, the act doesn’t ban sending cold emails. However, there are certain conditions that your cold email must meet to be in compliance with it. 

Let’s take a closer look at what these conditions are.

How to make your cold emails CAN-SPAM compliant?

Avoid misleading subject lines

Anything clickbaity or deceptive for the recipient is against the act. So any subject line like “Your business is in danger” or “You’re a winner” (yep, these are real-life examples) fall under this category. Sure, they spark curiosity, but when you open such an email you see that it’s totally not what you expected. You feel cheated. 

That’s why your cold email’s subject line must accurately reflect the content of your message or at least be logically linked to it. Not only for the sake of the CAN-SPAM Act, but also for the sake of your prospects. If you undermined their trust at the very beginning, how can they believe that you’re a credible business?

I know that using a clickbaity subject line may be tempting. After all, the purpose is to catch your prospect’s interest. But luring them with a clickbait isn’t the way to do that.  

Instead, think about a subject line as a way to open up a conversation with your prospects. Much like a key to unlock a door. Kicking your prospects’ door or bumping into it won’t do you much good. That’s what using clickbaity and misleading subject lines looks like. 

Only the right key will open the door. So what does the perfect key look like? How to find it? Or in other words… 

How to write a good, CAN-SPAM compliant subject line?

Make it relevant 

To find the right key, first you need to get to know more about the lock, that is about your prospects. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Discover their business needs and challenges they face. Find out what they care about. And use this knowledge to craft your subject line (and the rest of your email too, by the way).

Imagine that your product is a task management software. Your target group are product managers who want to find a better way to organize work in their team. Here’s an example of a relevant subject line that refers to this need: “There’s a more efficient way to stay on top of your team’s tasks”. Not only is it relevant to products like work management tools, but also quite intriguing. And non-clickbaity at all. 

Make it personal

Mentioning your prospect’s name or their company’s name in the subject line will add another level of relevance to your message. It will make the email look as if it was sent exclusively to this one person. In contrast to generic, mass-sent, impersonal SPAM that floods their inboxes. 

Personalizing a few messages is easy to do by hand, but what if you want to send cold emails on a larger scale? Doing it manually would take ages. But you can use mail merge fields, sometimes also called snippets, to personalize subject lines and email content at scale. Most cold email automation tools, like Woodpecker, Mailshake, or Reply have this feature built-in their email editor. 

So with a snippet added, a subject line that looks like this “Want to scale up your outbound lead generation, {{First_Name}}?” in your email editor, will turn into “Want to scale up your outbound lead generation, Jim?” in Jim’s inbox, and “Want to scale up your outbound lead generation, Teresa?” when Teresa gets the same message. This makes things so much easier, doesn’t it?

Don’t forget you’re writing to a human

Make sure your subject line sounds natural, just like in a regular email to a colleague or a friend. Remember that your email is meant to be a conversation starter, not a sales pitch or a promo offer. Avoid a title case, emojis, exclamation marks or anything that is widely used in newsletters and typical marketing emails.  

Again, using one of the popular cold emailing tools gives you an opportunity to polish your subject line by adding a personal touch. Eventually, it increases the chances to get a response.

Make sure your “from” line is accurate

As specified in the CAN-SPAM Act, the addressee must be able to identify you simply by having a look at the header information. Your “from” line should say who you are, for example, in my case it should be “Meg from Woodpecker” and not, let’s say “Content Marketing Specialist from Woodpecker”. The latter looks ridiculous anyway, won’t you agree?

Give your addressees an easy way to opt out

According to the CAN-SPAM Act, the recipient of any B2B email that includes a commercial offer must be given the possibility to opt-out from further correspondence anytime they want. That’s why you can find an “unsubscribe” link in all the marketing newsletters. 

But “unsubscribe” doesn’t quite fit in the context of cold emailing. Prospects did not subscribe to receive messages from you. Putting an “unsubscribe” link at the end of your cold email not only would be illogical, but also confusing for the addressee. 

So how can you provide your prospects with a way to opt out and avoid using the word “unsubscribe”?

Add a disclaimer at the end of your message. No need to use longish and confusing legal jargon. Make it sound simple, human-like, and well visible (not in fine grey print that’s hard to notice). A short “P.S. If you don’t want me to contact you again, let me know” or “If you don’t wish to receive further emails, please reply with “Opt-out”.” That’s it. 

Oh, and should someone want to opt out, do respect their wish and don’t send them any more emails. That’s also one of the conditions you should meet to be CAN-SPAM compliant.

Include your company’s address

In the light of the CAN-SPAM act you should let your prospects know where your company’s office is located. Your email signature is a perfect place for that.

This also strengthens the credibility of your business. You’re not a fake. Or just a fictional company from nowhere. You have an actual office somewhere in the wide world. If you’re a service offering company targeting local prospects that’s even more crucial to let them know your company is located nearby.  

Bonus tip: Make sure you comply with the latest sender requirements from Google and Yahoo.

To wrap up

I hope this post shed some more light on how to be a CAN-SPAM compliant cold email sender. In fact, all you have to do is take a recipient-oriented approach and focus on building a relationship with your prospects. Make it the essence of all your cold emailing campaigns and you’ll both stay compliant with the CAN-SPAM requirements (but also many other regulations across the world) and create emails that your prospects will be actually happy to get. 

Just one last word: I’m not a lawyer, so don’t treat this post as legal advice. In case you want to dig deeper into the requirements of the CAN-SPAM act, here’s a guide prepared by the Federal Trade Commission, which is the official source of information on this topic.

Article by Meg Kawalkowska Content Manager @Woodpecker

Meg’s passion for writing brought her to become a Content Manager at Woodpecker. She is fueled by tea and good music. She wishes a day was 48 hours so she had enough time for all her hobbies and interests.