Here’s a simple question for you: is cold email spam?

As it turns out, the answer isn’t as simple. Sure, a cold email can be spam, but it doesn’t have to be.

Confusing, I know. Let’s take a step back.

There are two definitions of spam: the general definition that you and I both know, and the legal one.

In general, you’ll know that an email is spam when your first instinct is to delete it and report the sender. These are the junk emails, the trash of your inbox that Google neglected to filter. The majority of these emails either have nothing of value to offer, or their value is muddled by poor, promotion-heavy copy.

In terms of legality, categorizing a message as spam depends on the sender’s and receiver’s respective countries. In the U.S., a definitive framework for spam is outlined under the CANN SPAM act. Basically, if your email doesn’t follow the framework, it’s officially spam.

So, back to the original question: is cold email spam?

Again, it can be. Right now, it’s likely that a lot of the messages in your inbox or junk folder are pure spam.

You have to consider the cost vs. benefit ratio of cold emailing. Sure, it takes time and research, but sending cold emails in volume can potentially lead to a volume of contracts. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many businesses use cold email. Considering the volume of cold emails being sent, it’s also easy to understand that not everyone puts in the work needed to send a cold email that is received as it was intended, not as spam.

You can simmer it down to this: if a cold email follows the country’s spam laws, is formulated to help out the reader in a relevant way, and is received as such, the message cannot be considered spam.

That last part is key – categorizing an email as spam is really up to the receiver. You can take all day constructing a perfect message template meant to convey your services in the most helpful way possible. If the receiver still ends up marking your cold email as spam, that’s exactly what it is.

You also have to consider what’s going on in your mail service provider’s backend. If your IP has been bouncing more than usual, your provider will probably catch up to you before long, directing the bulk of your emails straight to your recipients’ junk folders.

All that being said, there’s a reason why cold email is so widely used despite the risk of the spam stamp.

Here’s an example I gave in the podcast. Imagine you’re an AdWords consultant who ran into a poorly produced ad on Google. Maybe the ad copy is garbage, the landing page is bad, they’re bidding for a really expensive keyword, or all of the above. If you have a solution that would give the ad better visibility while saving the company a ton of money, there’s a good chance that they’ll want to hear from you. In this case, if you were to send an email offering to share a few ideas, it’s unlikely that the recipient will mark your message as spam.

What I say is, don’t worry too much about finding the line between legitimate cold emailing and spam. If you have your gaze set on a company that would potentially benefit from what you have to offer, and your email is tailored to them specifically, then you’ve done exactly what you can. The rest is up to the receiver.