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Cold Email vs Spam: 5 Key Differences + 5 Handy Tips (2021)

spam vs email

Let’s face it; nobody likes spam emails.

And while you probably aren’t sending email spam intentionally, an innocent mistake could land your cold email in your recipient’s spam folder.

Fortunately, once you’re clear about cold email vs spam differences, you’ll be able to improve your outreach efforts with ease.

In this article, I’ll cover the key differences between cold email and spam and clarify if cold emailing is actually legal. I’ll also give you five actionable cold emailing tips to help you avoid being marked as spam.

This Article Contains:

(Click on the links below to jump to specific sections.)

Let’s dive in.

Cold Email vs Spam: 5 Key Differences

Although people sometimes confuse the two, cold email is not the same as spam.
Here are the five key differences between them:

1. What They Are

While both are sent to recipients you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with, cold emails and spam refer to two different things.

Here’s what cold emails and spam emails are:

A. Cold Emails

A cold email is an outreach message you send to someone you haven’t previously interacted with. It’s similar to cold calling for B2B sales — you contact prospects to determine if they’re interested in your product or service, but you do so over email.

However, cold emails are much less intrusive and bothersome than cold calls. As a result, your prospects are more likely to be receptive to your offering if you send them a cold email.

Generally, a sales rep will send cold emails to qualified leads that fit their ideal customer profile. In other words, they’ve researched whether the recipient is a good fit for their offering.

Also, they’ll usually validate the recipient’s email address before sending them a cold email to ensure it’s going to the right person.

Here’s what a cold email looks like:


Interested in learning more about cold emailing?
Check out my ultimate guide to cold email for some useful pointers.

B. Spam Emails

Spam emails are unsolicited emails a marketer or sales rep sends to people who most often don’t want to receive them. Common examples of spam emails include unwanted newsletters, chain forwards, hoax emails, etc.

Usually, the recipients of spam sales emails aren’t qualified leads and don’t necessarily fit the target audience.

These incoming emails are usually promotional messages that advertisers use to promote offerings to people, regardless of whether or not the product would benefit them.

As a result, unlike cold emails, these unsolicited emails are sent to countless email addresses at once. The sender usually does this without researching the target audience or confirming that the email address exists.

Not surprisingly, this type of commercial electronic message usually has a negligible reply rate.

Here’s what a spam email generally looks like:


Want to find out more about spam emails?
Discover what spam emails are and five ways to stop them

2. Intentional Contact and Personalization

Another key difference between cold emails and spam is intentionality.

A cold email makes intentional contact with prospects for a valid business reason. The best cold emails include a thoughtful, targeted email message with a specific value proposition for the right person.

In other words, the sender sends personalized emails to suit various recipients and their individual needs.

On the other hand, a spam email doesn’t include personalized information that’s addressing the recipient’s specific needs. While a cold email aims to start a conversation, there’ll usually be no conversation with a spam email — just a generic advertisement.

3. Buyer-Centric vs Product-Centric

Cold emails typically contain relevant messages that focus on the potential buyer and the value the offering can provide the prospect.

In contrast, spam emails focus on promoting the product rather than focusing on the recipient.

While cold emails involve researching the potential customer and matching the product offering to the recipient, spam emails are usually just one generic mass email sent to hundreds or thousands of people without any tweaks.

4. Honesty About Their Purpose

Another critical difference between cold emails and spam is the straightforwardness about their purpose.

Cold emails are always honest about their intent.
The subject lines of cold sales emails usually indicate their purpose and don’t leave the recipient guessing what the message is about.

Moreover, cold emails aim to build trust with a potential client to start a conversation about how the sender can help with the prospect’s unique pain points

After all, legitimate businesses don’t need to be secretive or hide behind a false subject line. They’ll be direct and transparent about the purpose of the email and their details like contact numbers and addresses.

In contrast, spam emails mostly use ambiguous subject lines and sometimes even deceptive or clickbait subject line ploys unrelated to the actual message. Their aim is just to get the recipient to open the email.

That’s why almost all spam emails often mask themselves as a promotion or “ultimate solution” to some problem.

They usually contain misleading subject lines, gimmicks, flashy words, suspicious links, and other spam triggers. They never tell you how they got your email address or why they chose to email you specifically.

5. How The Sender Obtains Recipient Email ID

Another key difference between spam emails and legitimate cold emails is how the sender obtains recipient contact information like their email ID.

Recipient addresses for cold emails are usually obtained by searching online for prospects who would benefit from the sender’s offering.

You can browse through LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms or even use email-finding tools like Voila Norbert or Clearbit Connect to find a prospect’s email ID.

Once you’ve compiled the list of emails, you can further refine your mailing list and reduce your bounce rate by using email verification tools like Bounceless or Zero Bounce. This will ensure the addresses on the list are functional and valid.

On the other hand, spammers usually purchase mail lists or use bots that crawl the internet and compile lists of random email addresses. Then, they send emails to every address on their list, whether these addresses are functional or not, resulting in a high bounce rate.

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Now that I’ve explained how different cold emailing is from spamming let’s discuss whether it’s actually legal or not.

Is Cold Emailing Legal?


However, each country has different regulations about cold emails, and you should research which laws apply to your commercial electronic message.

For example, in the US you’re allowed to send commercial emails to people you have no relationship with as long as these emails adhere to specific CAN-SPAM Act requirements.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act?

The CAN-SPAM Act is an anti spam law that outlines the requirements for commercial messaging. It gives recipients the right to stop receiving any electronic mail message with a commercial purpose.

And if you’re sending cold emails to recipients in the EU, you’ll need to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements.

Similar to the US’s CAN SPAM Act, the GDPR is an anti spam law that forms part of the European Union’s data protection legislation. It aims to give EU residents more control over the messages they receive.

Here are some general guidelines to help you avoid breaching GDPR and CAN-SPAM regulations:

  • Avoid deceptive subject lines such as misleading clickbait. Instead, you should specify the email content in the subject line, especially if the email contains advertisements.
  • Provide a clear and simple way for recipients to opt-out, such as an opt-out button or unsubscribe links.
  • Honor opt-out requests immediately.
  • Include your company’s physical address and contact details in the email, for example, in the email footer.
  • Don’t use a cold email list that a third party has obtained illegally.

Read more about email marketing and GDPR in my in-depth article.

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Cold emailing is a great sales outreach technique, whether you’re involved in direct marketing or B2B sales.

If you’re a marketer or salesperson, cold emails can help skyrocket your conversions when done correctly.
To help you out, here are five handy tips for effective cold emailing.

5 Handy Cold Emailing Tips To Avoid Being Marked as Spam

If you don’t perform cold emailing correctly, your emails could land in your recipient’s spam folder.
Here are five practical tips to help you avoid this:

1. Don’t Use Deceptive Email Subject Lines

It can be tempting to add whatever subject line you think will hook your prospect when sending your cold emails, but this is actually a terrible strategy.

Remember, the subject line of your cold email should accurately reflect what the email is about.

For example, avoid using a subject line like “free gift awaits you” when your email promotes your offering, and you aren’t actually offering a free gift. Most people won’t even bother opening incoming emails with these deceptive subject lines.

Additionally, phrases like “limited offer” or “urgent” are usually spam triggers, and spam filters could send your email directly to the spam folder.

Here are some great cold email subject lines:

  • “Did you know [the recipient’s competitor] ranks higher than you for ‘[keyword]’? Here’s why.”
  • “A new idea for reaching your target market”
  • “Are you on track to hit your Q3 goals (I have some advice that may help)”

Wondering how to write a good cold email subject line?
Read my post on 43 cold email subject lines that get your emails opened instantly.

2. Remove Inactive Email Addresses from Your Email List

For an effective email lead generation process, you must regularly update your email list. This includes removing all inactive email addresses.

Sending emails to inactive addresses results in hard bounces, which alert spam filters about the percentage of bounced emails you’ve sent. This could cause your future emails to be marked spam and go directly to the spam box, negatively affecting your sender reputation.

That’s why you should identify and remove disposable mail IDs, spam traps, and shared email addresses from your mailing list.

Fortunately, with a cold email tool like GMass, which includes a free email verification service, you can easily verify the addresses in your emailing list. This can greatly minimize your email bounces.

When you use the email verification tool, only email addresses that pass the verification test will receive your cold email outreach campaign.

3. Allow Recipients to Opt-out

It’s essential to allow recipients to easily opt-out of your email list if they aren’t interested in what you have to say or just don’t want to receive commercial emails.

Otherwise, you run the risk of receiving spam complaints in addition to compliance issues.

Most companies usually include a single line underneath their email text with an unsubscribe link or opt-out option instructions. You could also have a line telling recipients to reply to your email and ask to be removed from your mailing list instead.

4. Ensure Your Email Address is Authenticated

To ensure your emails aren’t marked as spam, you need to ensure that your email address is authenticated and verified with SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records.

Here’s what each of these records is:

  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework):  identifies whether the sender used an authorized mail server to send the email.
  • DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail): applies an encrypted email signature to verify whether emails are authentic.
  • DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance): helps the sender validate email protection with SPF and DKIM authentications.

Without these protocols in place, the recipient’s spam filter will find it difficult to verify your email, and it could be flagged as spam.

5. Use Email Outreach Tools

Even if a salesperson does everything right, there’s still the possibility of their emails being marked as spam.
That’s why my last piece of advice is to leverage email outreach tools to streamline your cold emailing efforts.

And the best tool for sending a successful email campaign is GMass.


GMass is a powerful cold email marketing tool that works right inside Gmail.

Due to its advanced outreach capabilities and ease of use, it’s favored by employees of large companies like Google and social media titans like LinkedIn and Twitter. But GMass is also suitable for small businesses, solopreneurs, and startups.

With GMass, you can:

Additionally, here’s how GMass can help your cold emails avoid the spam folder:

A. Spam Solver to Tweak Emails Marked as Spam

With GMass’ built-in Spam Solver, you can safeguard your cold emails from spam filtering and ensure they reach the recipient’s inbox.

It automates email testing right inside Gmail’s compose window, giving you reports on Inbox vs. Promotions vs. Spam placements across 20 Gmail and Workspace accounts. This shows you where your email will potentially land — the recipient’s inbox, promotions tab, or spam folder.

Then, you can use different conditions such as “eliminate images,” “send plain text only,” and so on to improve chances of inbox placement.


B. The Email Delivery Wizard

The email deliverability wizard offers data-driven solutions to improve your sender reputation.

For example, the tool can help you answer questions like:

  • How does verification affect email deliverability?
  • What SMTP services can help you bypass Google’s sending limits?
  • Can delaying your emails increase your open rate?

GMass’s email deliverability wizard helps you answer these questions so you can create effective campaigns with ease.


C. Improve Email Deliverability with Custom Tracking Domain

With GMass, you can set up a custom tracking domain to send cold emails to prospects, safeguarding your mail from the dreaded spam filter.

Why is this important?
Some spam filters catalog domains commonly found in spam messages, so if your emails contain the same tracking domain as a spammer’s emails, your emails can also get blocked.

GMass lets you replace the default domains and use a branded tracking domain name, like, link.XCompany.com. This feature works whether you’re using a Google Workspace or a Gmail account.

Using a custom domain can improve your domain reputation and email deliverability. It can also help your email avoid the recipient’s spam box as you aren’t using a shared domain.

For more information, check out my post on how you can set up your dedicated tracking domain with GMass.

D. Automatic Email Personalization

Remember, the best cold emails are buyer-centric and aim to provide value to the potential customer. They don’t just include a generic, impersonal script.

Fortunately, with GMass, you can automatically personalize your emails in bulk on a recipient-by-recipient basis. You can personalize various parts of your email like:

This way, your emails are more likely to land in your recipient’s inbox, boosting your open and reply rate.


To get started with GMass, simply download the Chrome extension and sign up with your Gmail account. Additionally, Android users can also download the Gmail add-on to stay productive on the go.

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Final Thoughts

When it comes to cold email vs spam, the main difference is that cold emails aim to provide value to the potential client while spam emails don’t.

And while most types of spamming are dishonest and illegal, cold emailing is perfectly legal when done correctly.

Use the tips I covered here to ensure your cold emails don’t land in your recipients’ spam folders. Additionally, with a cold email tool like GMass in hand, you can use the world’s most trusted Gmail IP address to send personalized cold emails!

GMass also offers custom tracking domains, an email delivery wizard, and an automated spam solver to streamline your cold emailing efforts.

Why not try out GMass today to send effective cold email campaigns with ease?

1 Comment
  1. I have found that the tracking to check on whether the email is opened, does not work very well. It will show the odd one or two emails are opened but the majority are not. I have phoned various recipients to check if they have received the email and they have. This is very disappointing on a couple of levels. How can I be sure the email is opened? I only send about 200 emails.
    I have been using the free version but did not get any better tracking when I purchased the paid version.
    Can you explain why I am having this problem?

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