Is Your Cold Email Going To Spam? Here’s What To Do

We provide B2B lead generation services so email delivery is an absolute TOP priority. If we don’t stop our cold email going to spam then we aren’t doing our job. Literally.

When cold emails don’t get delivered, we don’t get paid. It’s as simple as that. So here’s how we make sure our messages stay out of the spam folder.

This article will walk you through everything you need to do to stop your cold email going to spam. If you follow these best practices you’ll see 100% inboxing in no time!

Start With Your Prospect Targeting

The number one reason email goes to spam is lack of engagement. So the first thing you want to check is your sales targeting

Ask yourself, if I were these recipients, would I reply? If you aren’t sure, then don’t send the message.

Cold email marketing is all about relevance. The best way to get good inboxing is to get lots of positive replies. And that only happens when you send emails that people find valuable.

If you don’t get lots of responses then STOP SENDING. Learn more about your prospects until you can send a message they’re excited to read.

Several months ago we did a cold email study and found that 87.5% of cold emails are generic in nature. Or the sender clearly has NO idea who they are contacting. This isn’t cool. Reach out to people who you genuinely think you can help because you’ve done your homework.

Takeaway: Before you do anything else, check if your content is relevant to the people you’re contacting. 

Vary Your Cold Email Copy

The first thing you want to check is the content you are sending. Is it all pretty much the same thing on repeat?

Here’s a simple truth. Most people don’t send hundreds (or thousands) of emails that are all the same. And they don’t send them one after another without pause.

Normal people have irregular patterns in their email. On any given day they’ll send out some messages at random times throughout the day. And most of the emails don’t share the same content – there’s tons of variety in the messages. An email about a board meeting is followed by an email about ordering lunch.

This is why so many email professionals emphasise the importance of personalized email. When every message is different you’ll see your cold email going to spam with far less frequency.

You can achieve this by making the first line of your email a unique sentence for every recipient. 

For example:

“I just saw your post on {LinkedIn} about {how to communicate effectively with your boss}. I really liked {your point to document conversations and send a copy to your boss}.”

From the ESPs point of view every message is different and it’s hard to tell if you are running cold email campaigns.

You can also vary your copy by liberally using SPINTAX variables. Spintax just refers to minor copy variations in copy that are otherwise the same. For example, “{Dear | Hi | Hey} {FirstName},” creates 3 different versions of a standard greeting. 

As you add more spintax to your copy, the effect begins to compound. Entire paragraphs become unique because each element in spintax is randomly selected.

Takeaway: Send personalized emails and change your copy frequently. Use spintax liberally to create hundreds of variations of your messaging.  

Monitor Your Email Response Rate

“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?“

– Airplane! (1980)

You’ve probably noticed that a normal person sending email gets responses. So the next thing to look at is your response rate. For every 100 messages you send. How many people reply?

If you send a ton of messages but no one responds, then email filters know your content isn’t well received. If your response rate goes too low then eventually they’ll just stop your messages from getting to the inbox.

Very low response rates will put you into an engagement spiral. This is when the ESPs see you aren’t getting much engagement so they deliver fewer of your messages. And since fewer messages are being seen you get fewer opens. This leads to even less engagement and the downward spiral accelerates.

Make your Call to Action (CTA) easy to respond to. Consider these two CTA’s:

  • Here’s a link to my calendar.
  • What are your thoughts?

Which do you think would get a higher response rate? 

Well, one isn’t even asking for a reply. But it does request you commit your valuable time. The other is asking for a low-pressure reply. So the 2nd CTA will probably generate more responses.

When you craft your cold email copywriting structure your CTA so you get as many replies as possible.

Takeaway: Get lots of replies. 

Use A Cold Email Warming Tool

Here’s a problem with cold email deliverability you may not have considered. Normal people don’t initiate 100% of conversations. People contact them as frequently as they contact other people.

As a cold emailer,your your email patterns won’t reflect this normal cadence. And when ESPs pick up on it, you can expect your delivery rates to suffer.   

Fortunately there’s an easy work-around.

You can introduce some normality to your email patterns by using an email warm-up tool. These tools are commonly found on cold email platforms. And they’re designed to help your sender reputation remain strong. 

Email warming tools do more than just warm up new domains. They take your messages out of the spam folder. And they attempt to mimic natural response patterns. The idea is to show that your emails generate lots of engagement. So they shouldn’t be penalized.

It’s worth noting that as of January 2023, email warming tools are getting some pushback from Google. As a result it’s very possible that such tools will be less common than they are now.

Takeaway: Use an email warm up tool to warm up your new email domain and boost your sender reputation.

Manage Your Sending Volume

Common wisdom in cold emailing circles suggests that sending 50 cold emails per email account per day is safe.

At Sales Higher we prefer to err on the side of caution. We’ve seen time and again that the fewer messages you send, the better your inbox placement.

So we actively reduce the number of messages sent daily by a single email address. Or a single domain.

Here’s how it works.

We start by purchasing a domain for cold email. And then set up 2 email addresses on that domain.

Those email addresses are immediately entered into an email warming tool. And warmed for at least a month before they are used in a campaign.

Every month we add a new domain and add two email addresses. This enables us to scale our outreach as needed. With no risk of exceeding prudent sending limits.

Say we want to contact 1000 new people per month. If there are 4 messages in the email sequence then we’re sending up to 4000 emails per month. That’s a LOT!

We know we need at least 4 email addresses since 20 days x 50 emails per day x 4 email addresses = 4000 messages.

But we want to be 100% safe. So instead of sending 50 emails per address, we’ll only send 10 emails per day per email address.

That means we need 10 email domains and 20 email addresses. Ten domains x 2 email addresses x 10 emails per day x 20 days = 4000 emails per month. 

Using multiple domains to send has the added benefit of safety. If something goes wrong, you can easily replace the email address with a new one.

Takeaway: Increase the number of email domains you’re using. This will decrease the number of messages you send per domain. Or from any single email address.

Your Email Signature

The main point of this article is to email like a normal person. If you do that, spam filters have no reason to block your messages.

Part of normal business communication is having an email signature. Take a look at a few email signatures you’ve received. They’re all pretty much the same and list similar information.

At the very least your signature should include your phone number and address. A valid address is a requirement for CAN-SPAM compliance so filters will be looking for it. And your signature is an obvious place to include that information.

A link to your personal or company social profile makes you appear as a genuine human being. Both to the humans reading your message and to the spam filters scoring your content.

It’s worth noting that your email signature can act as a potential spam trap.

Here’s why.

If you have 100 email addresses that send 10 emails per day then your volume per email address is very low. But you’ve still sent the SAME email signature out 1000 times in a single day. With this information ESPs may be able to tell you are sending high volume.

Your signature is critical to ensure CAN-SPAM compliance. But if your volume is high it’s also a potential source of problems.

For most of us, our signature represents an opportunity to appear human. It’s easy to mark an email as spam when it’s from an unknown person at a random company. It’s a bit harder when you see them as real person doing their best at a tough job.

Takeaway: Include a complete signature in your message. Be sure to include your address for CAN-SPAM compliance.

Evaluate Your Email Architecture

The foundation of your email architecture is fixed. You need to set up SPF  and DMARC record. And you also need to set up DKIM. Make sure all of those are perfect before you send out your first email.

But what you may not have considered is the impact of your IP address on your email delivery.

Some cold email senders use a shared IP to send their messages. That just means you share a server with other people or companies.

Sharing a web server makes sense for regular email, most of the time. Most users don’t have enough volume to justify a dedicated IP, and shared servers are a lot cheaper!

But sharing an email server for cold email is problematic. The reputation of your server plays a critical role in how your emails are perceived by spam filters. And your email address shares the combined reputation of everyone on your server. This is a huge problem because even if you are doing everything right, someone on your server might be screwing up royally. And that’s a recipe for your cold email going to spam.

Imagine some jerk decides to send out 50,000 messages a day and racks up a ton of spam complaints. If you are on the same server then you’ll share in their fate when the IP is invariably blacklisted.

So when your messages are going to spam the first thing to check is your IP address. Has it been blacklisted? You can check using MX Toolbox’s blacklist checker. Just enter your email domain and see if there are any warnings.

Web and email hosts do their best to keep their servers clean. If your IP ends up getting blacklisted, they’ll usually rotate you to a new server. But this may take several days and your delivery will be affected in the meantime.

If you find you are frequently added to a blacklist consider switching your email provider. Most small companies start out with their web hosting and email hosting provided by the same firm. But actually, it’s quite easy to move your email to a 3rd party solution.

The best solution is to use Gmail or Outlook to send your emails. Costs vary but it’s around $7 per month, per email. Alternatively you could use a SMTP provider (ie MailGun, Sendgrid) to help improve email delivery.

Moving to a new email neighborhood is a bit scary if you aren’t familiar with email setup. But it’s worth the fees and hassle if it prevents your cold email from going to spam.

Takeaway: If you have cold email going to spam, check if your domain is on a blacklist. Web hosting and email can be split. So if your IP is regularly blacklisted, change your email provider.

Don’t Send Emails That Bounce

An easy way to ensure you get a high level of deliverability is to have a low bounce rate. The more frequently your messages bounce, the less likely your future messages are to be delivered.

NeverBounce estimates that if over 10% of your emails bounce, 44% of your messages won’t get delivered. Simply put, you can’t afford to have almost half your cold emails go to spam because of a couple of bounces.

So how do you reduce or eliminate bounces?

Start by running your email list through an email verification tool (we use Bouncer). They’ll tell you with (nearly) 100% accuracy whether an email sent to that address will bounce or not.

Using a tool like this will help you eliminate all the hard bounces from your email list.

But there’s a catch!

Some email servers don’t allow tools to verify the accuracy of the email. When this happens the verification tool will produce fuzzy results. This email type is known as an ‘Accept All’ or ‘Catch All’ email.

If you want perfect deliverability, you should remove all ‘Catch All’ emails from your list. If the opportunity is sufficiently valuable then verify the email address another way. Some emails can be validated by pasting them into Google to see if your prospect has used the address online in the past.

Or you can use a tool like Scrubby. They’ll actually contact your target address and see if the email bounces, or not.

Takeaway: If you want better delivery, don’t send emails that bounce.

Use Email Tracking Pixels Wisely

Most email sending tools provide tracking capabilities you can use in the messages you send. For example, you can see whether your email has been opened. Or you might receive a notice that a link you included has been clicked.

Now look up a few paragraphs to the part where it says email like a human. When you send a message to your Mom or your best friend, do you usually include a tracking pixel? Yeah, probably not.

When spam filters see that you are using tracking in your email they know that your message may not be a regular person to person communication. Certainly the presence of a tracking pixel or link tracker is a reason for suspicion. And if you lose enough points from your spam score your message will be automatically sent to the spam folder.

At Sales Higher we ALWAYS remove any tracking links. In fact, it’s a good idea to avoid putting ANY links in your copy. A link to your domain is included in your email signature, and that’s it.

The open tracking pixel is a bit more subjective. But we usually leave it intact. We find the value they provide outweighs the risk of the cold email going to spam. It’s good to know whether your recipients are opening your emails. And you can track the general opening trend over time.

But once you’re confident you’re getting good delivery then it’s worth turning open tracking pixels off. You won’t see it, but your open rates will probably increase. You can switch it back on from time to time to monitor your inbox placement

Takeaway: Skip the opening tracking and link tracking whenever possible.

Skip The Visuals

It’s tempting to add links, videos, PDFs, GIFs and other media to your messages. Why not spice things up, right!?

Sometimes they can be very effective. But not always.

You need to weigh the value of your visuals against the possibility they’ll land you in the spam box. For example, a video link created on a sales tool might be enough to get you sent to spam. The video link has tracking features embedded in the link. And if your domain reputation is borderline then it might be enough to put you in the spam box.

Takeaway: Attachments and visuals can make your email more appealing. But they can also get you into trouble. Instead of sending information, ask the recipient for permission to send it instead. 

Use a Custom Tracking Domain


If you plan to use a tracking pixel, it’s important to understand how it works. A pixel is a 1px by 1px image created by code. When the email you send gets opened, the code recognizes the message has been viewed. 

Here’s the problem. Tracking pixels are associated with a domain. And outreach tools are used by 1000’s of customers at a time. If other users on the same network have high spam rates then your message might be affected, too. Simply because you share the same tracking pixel domain.

The workaround for this is quite simple. Use a custom tracking pixel. This way you won’t be affected by other users’ spam rates.

These days most cold email sending tools allow you to implement a custom tracking domain to your account. Use it!

Takeaway: Protect yourself by using a custom tracking domain.

Use A Text-Based Unsubscribe Option

If you are sending cold emails, you need to include the option to unsubscribe. The last thing you want to do is keep contacting people who don’t want to hear from you.

To make things convenient, email tools include one-click unsubscribe links to auto-unsubscribe.

Again, think back to the last time you contacted your Mom or friend. Did you include an unsubscribe link? Probably not.

For your email to look natural don’t use a link to facilitate unsubscribes.

Instead, tell people how they can unsubscribe from your messages. In most countries it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “if you’d rather not hear from me again just reply with ‘unsubscribe’ in the body of the message.” Naturally you’ll want to confirm the laws in your country before sending out any messages.

Another problem with unsubscribe links is that they are a URL link in the text of your email. And that same domain (IP address) is being used as an unsubscribe link for thousands of messages all over the world. And you can BET that many of those emails are being marked as spam. That means the link IN the email is also being labelled as spam. When you try and send a message with the same link in your message you’ll discover your mail can’t be delivered.

So there you have it. Even though unsubscribe links are a convenient way for recipients to declare no interest, they can harm your delivery.

Takeaway: Use a text unsubscribe option instead of an unsubscribe link. The links can indicate your message is being sent in bulk. And some unsubscribe links get a bad IP reputation due to the actions of other users of the same link domain.

Send Cold Email Like A Human

The points above can be summarized in one short sentence. ‘Send email like a human.’

As soon as you try and send large batches of email you gradually appear more and more like a bulk emailer.

A normal person might send 100 messages a day. But they’d get at least 40 replies, and other people would be contacting them directly, too. If you send 100 messages that are all the same and don’t get any responses, then over time the spam filters will have your cold email going to spam.

Fortunately it’s easy to avoid! Send fewer messages and offer lots of value. You’ll get a high response rate, and ISPs will love you.

Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything I missed. You can contact me on Linkedin or send a note on our contact page.

Look forward to hearing from you!

 

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Here’s the exact process we used to generate over 4000 B2B sales leads

 

 

Matthew Murray

Matthew Murray

Matthew Murray is the Managing Director of Sales Higher. He knows any company can THRIVE with enough qualified sales leads. So he’s spent the last decade helping companies meet engaged prospects and win new deals.

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