How to Improve Cold Email Deliverability

david-jorre-9f1gCaLkZBU-unsplash

In sales, mastering the art of cold email is an indispensable skill. Cold email campaigns in B2B sales are a top channel for creating leads which is why it’s so important to address any of the reasons why an email wouldn’t make it to a prospect’s inbox. Enter cold email deliverability.

With the general consensus on response rate hovering around 1-5%, success with cold email is no walk in the park. Yet, an obvious – but sometimes overlooked – step to getting responses is to simply improve your overall cold email deliverability strategy.

We’ve all been there. You write a beautiful, highly personalized email. You hit send and a few seconds later you get a notification that your email bounced. Heartbreaking. The truth is, no matter how well-written or relevant your email is, it’s a waste of your time if it’s only going to the spam folder.

We’ll take you through some of the basics of improving your cold email deliverability in this article. We’ll include a look at some important technical jargon as well as the actions you can take to give your email the best chance of successful delivery.

New to writing cold emails? Be sure to check out our brief guide on how to write cold emails.

That said, let’s begin by briefly defining what email deliverability is.

What is email deliverability?

In short, email deliverability is the likelihood of your message arriving in someone else’s inbox. But not just that, it’s also where in the inbox it lands.

For example, an email service provider (ESP) like Gmail or Outlook will take into account your emailing behavior. If a cold email campaign has you sending hundreds of emails one day and none the next, it may look suspicious and could put your deliverability at risk. If an ESP recognizes that activity as suspicious, your email could end up in a prospect’s promotions or spam folder if it arrives at all.

Regardless, let’s break down a couple of the more general factors affecting email deliverability: identification and reputation.

Identification

First, identification. In order for your emails to make it to their destination, they’ll need to pass through authentication protocol. This process confirms it’s really you penning the emails. To assure an ESP your email is authentic – and ultimately make it to the inbox – you’ll need to configure three technical records.

Sender Policy Framework (SPF) – This email authentication method determines whether an email was forged by confirming the IP address with the domain administrator from where it came.

DomainKeys Identified Email (DKIM) – Like SPF, this authentication method is a more advanced version of checking for forgery that seeks to confirm your email wasn’t tampered with. It does this by attaching a kind of digital signature from the original domain. This can be cross-checked for verification in the Domain Name System (DNS), a decentralized naming system that turns domain names into IP addresses.

Domain Message Authentication Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) – DMARC is an extension of the two previous authentication systems. It’s a policy written in the DNS that determines whether your email will be checked by SPR or DKIM and what to do should an outgoing message not pass either. It’s one of the principal mechanisms for preventing email spoofing, a kind of attack where the address of an email is forged to impersonate a recognized organization or domain.

Reputation

Next is reputation. As we touched on before, ESPs and internet service providers (ISP) keep tabs on your emailing habits. Naturally, what you send and how it’s received create a sender reputation. This reputation is calculated and represented in a Sender Score.

What is a Sender Score? Sender Score is a number that reflects the health and trustworthiness of your email. Basically, how inboxes view the emails coming from your IP address.

Based on a scale from 0-100, Sender Score analyzes your email program across a field of metrics including the number of spam complaints and whether or not you’re on any industry blacklists. According to the official Sender Score website, you’ll want to keep your score above 70.

Best practices to improve cold email deliverability

There are many factors that can affect email deliverability. Let’s run through some of the best practices you can implement to ensure your cold email finds its mark.

1) Warm up your new email account

If you’re using a new account, it’s good practice to warm it up before activating larger campaigns. Immediately sending hundreds of emails with a new account is a quick way to be flagged as a spammer.

Keep a close eye on sending limits. It’s not likely you’ll hit them on Gmail, for example, nor is it recommended, but in any case where you need to launch a bigger campaign from the start, try to split the load across several email accounts. Otherwise, cultivate some good faith for your IP address by first sending a few emails to colleagues and having them respond.

2) Organize your prospect list

Sending emails en mass to expired, incorrect, or unresponsive email addresses is another way to get the wrong kind of attention from an ESP. Before you launch a campaign, you’ll want to double-check the validity of the addresses on your prospect list. There are a couple of ways to approach this.

First, you’ll want to verify the address is valid. You can do this with one of the many paid and free email verification tools available or by comparing it with other addresses at the same company. Second, it pays to do the work in qualifying the lead. The extra effort put into identifying if a prospect is the right person to contact will increase the chances of engagement and your email reaching their inbox.

3) Personalize

Personalization is a difference-maker in cold email. So much so that studies claim emails with a personalized subject line are 50% more likely to be opened. Personalizing your emails with the name of the contact or organization or even some interesting fact about the prospect that gives you a reason to contact them can do wonders for deliverability and engagement.

Again, putting in that little bit of research for each prospect is worth the small amount of trouble. Sure, it may take longer, but the result is a more natural, bespoke email that will build favor with both the ESP and prospect.

4) Avoid excessive gifs, images, or attachments

In the spirit of appearing more “human” or a the very least down to earth, it’s a good idea once in a while to lighten things up with a funny gif or image. However, too many will hurt your email deliverability. The same goes for fonts and links. An ESP will see an email with different colored fonts and images as spam.

Attachments also put your email at risk. No doubt it’s good practice to offer value in the form of a whitepaper or report. Unfortunately, attachments can act as a trojan horse for malware and are thus prime targets for spam filters. Use them sparingly when you do at all.

5) Optimize the copy and CTA

Your prospects are busy people with precious little time to read a long email. In addition to avoiding spammy words like “exclusive,” “click here,” or “act now,” that may trigger a spam filter, keep your email copy concise, personalized, and highly relevant.

To increase responses – and goodwill with an ESP – be sure to optimize your CTA as well. Closing an email with a straightforward question that elicits even a negative response is a step forward. An answer helps you qualify leads as well as show the ESP that you’re getting engagement out of your campaigns.

6) Use an unsubscribe link

Not every prospect will be a winner. To ensure you don’t overstay your welcome and risk them marking the email as spam, include an unsubscribe link. It may seem counterproductive in a cold email to give a lead an easy way out, but in terms of deliverability, there’s no evidence to suggest an unsubscribe link will hurt you.

Besides, including one has the added benefit of having a contact help clean up your prospect list for you. Make sure it’s visible enough to be seen but not command too much attention. The email signature or header are good places to leave one.


Email’s popularity is still growing so it’s no surprise it remains the go-to channel of outreach for sales professionals. This is why it’s so critical to take the necessary steps in making sure deliverability is high. After all, you can’t engage a prospect if you can’t reach them. The extra effort in implementing these practices will go a long way to delivering a good experience for your prospects and protecting your reputation.