Some emails effortlessly land in the inbox, while others find themselves relegated to the junk folder. But what exactly determines this fate?

Inbox-bound emails typically have a verified sender address and relevant content and adhere to email standards. On the flip side, junk-filtered emails feel similar to unsolicited or malicious content. Think: suspicious links, excessive capitalization, or just… generic stuff.

Email providers use sophisticated algorithms to assess these factors and protect recipients from potential threats or spam.

Now comes the burning question: how do you execute a successful email outreach campaign? 

That's where our comprehensive cold email compliance checklist for marketers helps. Read on to dig into popular compliance laws and steps you can take to ensure successful inbox delivery.

Global email compliance laws


GDPR applies to companies processing the personal data of EU and UK citizens, regardless of their location. If your company, even if based in the US, handles data of EU or UK citizens — whether clients, partners, subscribers, or prospects — it must comply with GDPR provisions. 

Now, GDPR permits cold email outreach, but it requires a valid and legitimate reason for selecting a specific recipient for your cold email campaign.

Here's the deal: Legitimate interest means you have good reasons to contact someone, like if your product can help them or they've shown interest before. But, it must respect their privacy rights, and you shouldn't keep their data longer than necessary.

When you write your cold email, tell the person why you're contacting them, how you're using their data, and give them an easy way to opt-out if they want. It's also a good idea to check their LinkedIn or company website to ensure your offering matches their goals.

This way, you're respecting their privacy while still reaching out with a legitimate interest.

Key GDPR guidelines for cold email outreach

  • Appropriate reason and targeting: Select prospects carefully, focusing on those interested in your product. Clearly convey how your offerings benefit the recipient's company, establishing a logical connection with your business activities. Collect only necessary data for the intended purpose.

  • Explain acquisition of prospect email: Disclose the origin of acquired email addresses. Keep detailed records of how you collect and use data. In your cold emails, clearly state why you're reaching out and the legal reason for processing data, like consent or legitimate interest, to be transparent and GDPR compliant.

  • Information duty: Inform recipients in each email about the personal data you process, the purpose, and how they can opt-out or modify their data. This fulfills the information duty outlined in GDPR.

  • Data processing duration: Avoid processing personal data for longer than necessary. While GDPR doesn't specify a timeframe, it's advised to remove non-responsive prospects from your lists within 30 days post a cold email campaign.

  • Unsubscribe and data deletion link: Include an accessible unsubscribe link in all cold emails. GDPR doesn't dictate the specific form of the unsubscribe method but commonly involves an "Unsubscribe" link. Additionally, add a method for total data deletion.

  • Database maintenance: Regularly clean CRM databases of inactive leads. Keep contact records current, tag data for traceability, and notify subscribers when collaborating and sharing subscription lists.

  • Data security: Maintain records of authorization levels for documentation purposes and retain data only as needed. You should also protect stored data during processing, and encrypt/anonymize data whenever possible.

  • Outsourced email lists: Verify that the third-party company collecting data does so legally. Ask them about their data collection methods to explain to prospects when asked.

As for your current subscribers, if you got their permission when they signed up, and they consented to the data processing, there's no need to ask again. But if the purpose or processing has changed, inform them and provide an easy way to opt-out. If initially, they were told about a specific period for data processing that has ended, check if they agree to continue for specific purposes.

Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

CASL makes sure that cold emails sent to or from Canadian computers or devices follow the right guidelines.

Here's a quick breakdown of the law.

Implied vs. Express consent

Express consent means someone has agreed to receive a CEM, either in writing or orally. They need to take an active step, like signing up on your website. Once obtained, express consent has no time limit — you can send CEMs until they say the recipient doesn't want them. 

Implied consent, under specific conditions in section 10(9) of CASL, allows sending CEMs. This includes an existing business relationship, non-business relationship (like club membership), or if the email is publicly available without a statement refusing CEMs. The latter requires a message related to the recipient's official or business role. Implied consent also has a time limit of two years.

Withdrawal of consent

Express consent doesn't expire, but recipients have the right to withdraw consent at any time. The unsubscribe option must be simple and accessible for 60 days after receiving the message.

Email marketers' compliance responsibilities

  • Ensure compliance with CASL for CEMs sent to or from Canadian computers or devices.

  • Recognize and adhere to exemptions for specific types of messages and relationships.

  • Clearly grasp whether implied or express consent is necessary based on the recipient relationship.

  • Obtain and document consent appropriately, ensuring the necessary information is included for express consent.

  • Include simple and accessible unsubscribe mechanisms in all CEMs, valid for 60 days.

  • For transactional messages, provide relevant information and a simple unsubscribe process.

  • Stay updated with CASL updates to achieve ongoing compliance.

Cold email laws in the United States

In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act covers emails that aim to advertise or promote a product, service, or anything commercial, including content on a website. It gives recipients the right to have businesses stop emailing them and sets penalties for violations. 

Key provisions of CAN-SPAM

  • Opt-out mechanism: Provide recipients with a clear and simple way to opt-out of receiving future emails. Honor opt-out requests promptly, within 10 business days.

  • Content requirements: When sending commercial emails, clearly mark them as advertisements and include a valid physical address. This builds trust and keeps things transparent with recipients.

  • Prohibition of deceptive practices: Keep it real! Don't use deceptive subject lines and false header information in your emails. This prevents misleading recipients and promotes honest and transparent communication.

  • Transmission and routing information: CAN-SPAM requires that commercial emails have accurate transmission and routing information. Using misleading domain names and false routing information is strictly prohibited.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines

The FTC is the main enforcer of the CAN-SPAM Act, actively monitoring and legally penalizing businesses that violate it. To stay on the right side of the law, simply maintain records of your company's email marketing activities, including opt-out requests, and keep your mailing lists up to date. 

Now, about penalties — violating the CAN-SPAM Act could mean facing significant civil and criminal consequences. Fines are in play for each slip-up, and individuals involved in tricky practices might even find themselves dealing with imprisonment.

Note that the CAN-SPAM Act includes a "safe harbor" for unintentional violations, allowing businesses to be exempt from certain penalties if corrective action is taken promptly after inadvertent breaches.

Compliance for startups and small businesses

As a startup or small business, you're often more vulnerable to legal challenges. The most effective way to mitigate legal risks and potential penalties is to understand (and comply) with applicable cold email regulations.

CAN-SPAM act compliance

  • Ensure headers and subject lines accurately represent the content of the email.

  • Include a physical mailing address in the email.

GDPR considerations

  • Identify and document the legal basis for processing personal data in cold emails.

  • Inform recipients about processed personal data and its purpose, and provide opt-out options.

  • Implement measures to secure and protect personal data during processing

In addition, audit your company's email marketing practices regularly to ensure ongoing compliance with regulations. ​​These checks can include reviewing your email lists, permission options, opt-out processes, and your email content. This will help you find (and fix) non-compliance issues.

General principles of email compliance: Checklist

  • Send personalized and relevant cold emails: Tailor outreach to be personalized and relevant to the recipient's needs. Ensure outreach is pertinent, enhancing engagement and building positive relationships.

  • Practice full transparency and disclosure: Follow guidelines for transparent disclosure. Include your name, business name, and contact info in emails. Disclose the commercial nature of the email, especially for promotional content.

  • Provide an easy opt-out method: Add a straightforward and easily accessible opt-out mechanism in your communications.

  • Honor unsubscribe requests: Provide a visible opt-out mechanism in every email. Make it easy to locate and use. Comply with applicable CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR requirements.

  • Data Privacy Considerations: Only collect and process the minimum amount of data necessary. Use encryption and secure protocols for data transmission. Keep email lists safe and avoid unauthorized sharing. 

  • Responsible Contact List Management: Verify all email addresses in your lists before sending. Use email verification tools to flag potential issues. Regularly clean lists by removing bounced, unsubscribed, and inactive contacts. Segment lists based on relevant criteria for focused and personalized outreach.

Penalties for violating cold email laws

Penalties for violating cold email laws can be severe, with fines ranging based on the severity of the violation and its location. For instance, individual emails breaking the law may incur fines of up to $51,744, and if multiple individuals are involved, all parties could be held responsible for the violations.

GDPR fines, determined by the seriousness of the breach, may reach a certain percentage of your company's annual earnings. Legal consequences extend beyond financial penalties, potentially leading to individuals taking legal action against senders, resulting in legal fees, settlements, and damages.

However, if your company diligently follows the guidelines outlined in this article, you can mitigate these risks. 

Complying with cold email laws not only safeguards you from financial penalties but also preserves your reputation. By adhering to best practices and respecting recipients' rights, you ensure trust and loyalty, avoiding the negative publicity and long-term damage associated with non-compliance.

How QuickMail enables cold email compliance and improves deliverability

QuickMail elevates your cold email strategy by ensuring compliance and enhancing deliverability through some impressive features. Because let's face it, if they're stuck in spam folders, all your efforts go to waste. 

To start, it maintains transparency and respect for recipient preferences by giving the option of adding an unsubscribe button in the header. Unsubscribe links can be added to the email body and inbox signature as well. The AI-powered unsubscribe feature seamlessly manages 'unsubscribe' replies and marks contacts as “do not contact” automatically, keeping you compliant with GDPR.

Taking a proactive approach to deliverability, QuickMail offers email verification as an add-on or integrates natively with 6 different verification providers. Every account comes standard with bounce suppression. No more sending to addresses that have previously bounced — this ensures you stay out of spam territory and your emails reach their intended destination.

For a professional touch, QuickMail allows you to create inbox signatures to go out with each email, ensuring recipients always know who's behind the emails. It's not just about trust; it's about adhering to CAN-SPAM regulations and maintaining absolute clarity.

QuickMail also has you covered when it comes to personalization. You can tailor each cold email to suit the recipient's preferences, even when reaching a large audience. This personalized approach boosts engagement, minimizes the risk of being flagged as spam, and maximizes the effectiveness of your cold email campaigns.

Ready to start sending personalized cold emails? Start your 14-day free QuickMail trial and automate the process.