cold email mistakes

Cold Email Mistakes Are Costly

Cold email is the best way to build and nurture new business relationships.

And given how important email is to our work, you’d think we’d have it figured out by now.


Email has been around since 1971 (holy cow!). But sadly, there’s still a lot of problems with cold email outreach. If your inbox looks anything like mine, I know you’ll agree.

In this article we’ll look at 11 common cold email mistakes. They’re easy to avoid and your potential customers will thank you for treating them like a real person.

If you can avoid these email mistakes (especially #3 and #4) I guarantee your email ROI will go up.

Let’s get started!

#1. Don’t Use Your Primary Domain

Most people know they should never use their company domain for cold email outreach.

But a couple of times a year I get a cold email from someone using their regular email address to do email outreach.

Don’t do it!

If your potential clients don’t like your message they might put it in their spam folder. And if your domain ends up on a blacklist then your regular business email will stop getting delivered. Your business could literally evaporate overnight!

Instead, set up a cold outreach domain that’s nearly identical to your primary domain. For example, if your primary domain is:

then add in a hyphen to make your email domain

Whenever possible try and use a ‘.com’ TLD (Top Level Domain) for your email domain. Some studies suggest the delivery rates are slightly better than other TLDs.

Takeaway: When cold emailing, set up a new email address on a separate domain. If something goes wrong, your primary business email won’t be affected.

#2. Understand Your Cold Email ROI

As marketers, we rely on numbers to tell us how our cold email campaigns are performing.

Cold email is one of the most affordable ways to set appointments and generates a very healthy return for every dollar invested. But you still need to know your numbers.

To calculate ROI on cold email outreach you just need to know your costs, and the revenue generated. Simple, right?

Unfortunately, underestimating the full cost to run a campaign is one of the most common cold email mistakes.

Most marketing channels have cost inputs that are simple to track. Consider pay per click advertising. You only pay for ad clicks and the (relatively low) man hours required to manage the campaign – usually just a few hours per month.

But cold emails are more complex. An effective campaign requires multiple cost inputs from different sources. And it’s easy to forget, or trivialize some of them.

Every cold email campaign starts with a domain cost. Then you need to pay for a cold email platform. On top of that there are charges for data, research tools, email validation, managed email servers, and more.

All of these tools add up to several hundred dollars per month. And for some companies the b2b data services are a four figure monthly expense.

But the biggest expense is labor. Building a prospect list is time consuming. And no matter how good your data is, you can’t send out cold emails without human edits.

Consider a simple field like {{Company}}. If you are contacting someone at McDonalds you wouldn’t refer to their company as “McDonald’s Corporation.” You’d edit the company name to the better known “McDonald’s.”

Tiny changes like this add up to a significant amount of time when applied to hundreds or thousands of prospective clients.

So it’s not surprising that many marketers don’t know the exact cost of sending cold emails. On the surface it seems inexpensive. But there are several tools required, along with a very high labor expense. This makes it easy for marketers to underestimate

the actual amount they are spending to run a campaign.

Takeaway: When calculating ROI on cold email, be sure to account for ALL of your expenses. It’s especially easy to miss development costs or underestimate the real cost of labour.

#3. Evaluate Your Cold Email Results

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
                 – Rita Mae Brown (not Albert Einstein)

One of the easiest cold email mistakes to avoid is letting underperforming email sequences continue.

It’s a bit like the stale joke, “we lose money on every sale, but we make it up in volume.” Sadly, many email marketing professionals subscribe to a similar philosophy.

Think of it this way. If the first 200 email recipients didn’t enter your sales funnel, then the next 200 probably won’t either.

Review your campaign performance every month. Accelerate the campaigns that are working, and deconstruct the ones that aren’t. Try and figure out why you aren’t getting a positive response.

Sometimes the problem is something simple like you have too many links, or fixing the email subject line.

But that’s not usually the case.

If your campaign isn’t working then you probably need to re-evaluate your value proposition. Start from scratch and try to understand things from the point of view of your sales targets.

Who are you writing to? Is it the right person? What are their biggest challenges? What problems would they happily pay to fix?

When you understand your target audience you’ll find the email copy writes itself.

Takeaway: Track your campaigns carefully. If something isn’t working, stop and fix it. Don’t keep sending messages that no one wants.

#4. Don’t Write Too Much

No one wants to wade through blocks of text to figure out what you want.

So keep your cold emails short, and to the point. Avoid fancy words, too long sentences, and marketing talk.

Ideally, you want to keep your email copy below 125 words. And even that is a bit long. In the 75 to 100 word range is perfect. Short emails are easy to digest and keep your reader’s attention.

There are a couple of problems with long messages.

(1) Cold emails over 125 words tend to be about the sender, not the recipient. Focus your email copy by stating your benefit and call to action. That’s all you need.

(2) Long emails are hard to read on a phone. And these days a lot of communication happens on devices with small screens.

(3) If your email message is well over 125 words then you are probably listing more than one benefit. Make a separate email for each of the benefits or pain points your solution addresses.

Takeaway: Outreach emails longer than 125 words lack focus. Make your copy about the recipient, not yourself.

#5. Make Your Follow ups Count

Sending follow up emails makes sense. People are busy. And sometimes your cold email doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Strong follow ups can massively improve the ROI on your campaign. Many email marketing pros find they get the most responses on the 2nd or 3rd message. People intend to reply and the follow ups give them the reminder they needed.

But your follow up email has to have value! If it doesn’t, don’t send it!

People are sick and tired of follow up emails that are just, “did you get my message?” Which is later followed up with another, “just checking if you got my message?” Sometimes this goes on for weeks. Of all the most common cold email mistakes, this is the most painful to experience.

If you have 5 strong points you’d like to communicate then write 5 strong emails. If you have only 2 ways you can assist a particular person, then you should just contact them twice.

Takeaway: Follow up with prospects only as often as you are able to provide value. Otherwise, stop sending digital junk.

#6. Avoid Spam Triggers

You probably don’t have a lot of reasons to use the word “viagra” in an email. But can you imagine what would happen if you did?

Your message would almost certainly get sent to the spam folder. And you probably know why.

The thing is, there are a lot of other words or phrases that are just as likely to get you sent to the spam folder. And they’re not all obvious. In fact, you might be using them without knowing how damaging they are to your cold email message.

A client recently told me they cold emailed previously using ‘free trial’ in the copy. But the messages all went to spam. It’s not a surprise. Words like ‘free’ are known to be a magnet for spam. And lots of marketers learn the hard way about this cold email mistake.

It’s also very easy to mess up authentication records like DKIM. Not having these properly configured is a sure way to get your message filtered.

If you want to check your cold message content and safety, there are lots of tools available to help. Many are free.

The free tool from Mail Tester is helpful. It was created for newsletters, but works great for cold email, too. It shows you whether your domain is on any blacklists. Or if your SPF records are set up correctly. And whether you are likely to have your cold message flagged by SpamAssassin. This simple test will help you avoid at least 30% of the most common cold email mistakes.

Takeaway: There are lots of ways to end up in the spam box. Test your messages for content, authentication, and other factors before you send them out.

#7. Scaling Cold Emails Prematurely

Your database is precious.

Every person on your contact list is someone you want to work with. And an important opportunity for your company to generate revenue.

So the last thing you want to do is waste data on unproductive campaigns. But that’s exactly what many email consultants do.

When you launch a new cold outreach campaign, it’s normal to be excited and confident.

But that enthusiasm needs to be tempered with caution. Start your campaign with as few daily sends as possible. For example, begin with 5 or fewer new contacts per day.

After just 20 days you’ll have contacted 100 prospects. And you’ll start to get a sense of whether your email campaign is delivering the expected results. If not, you’ll have only used a small portion of your contact details. So you’ll have plenty of opportunities to redevelop your approach.

And if your campaign looks like it’s performing as hoped then you can cautiously increase the number of target prospects you reach daily.

Takeaway: Start cautiously and be guided by tangible outcomes. Accelerate what works. And don’t be afraid to reboot campaigns that underperform.

#8. Double Check Your Cold Emails Before They Go Out

One of the biggest cold email mistakes happens when you upload the contact CSV into your cold outreach platform.

When there are no error messages with the upload, it’s easy to assume everything will be ok. And most of the time, that’s true.

But Murphy’s Law being what it is, means that what can go wrong will go wrong. And Murphy works extra hard on each and every cold email campaign.

So check your messages every day before they go out.

The most common cold email mistake is a missing variable field. But lots of other things can go wrong, too.

You might discover the CSV had an error. And the people’s names and email’s don’t match.

Or you might realize your email signature isn’t loading properly.

It only takes one tiny mistake to ruin not only one cold email, but the entire campaign.

So check your messages before they go out. 99% of the time it’ll be a waste of effort. But you’ll be really glad that other 1% of the time.

Takeaway: Cold email outreach has a lot of moving parts and it’s easy to make a mistake. Checking your cold emails before they go out makes all the difference.

#9. Make Your Cold Emails Can-Spam Compliant

Hands down the easiest cold email mistake to avoid is not being Can-Spam compliant.

NOTE: If you’re outside the US or doing cold email outreach to another country then different rules will apply.

Email filters look to see that basic criteria are present in every email. If they’re not, then off to the spam folder you go. For example, if the message doesn’t include a postal address, it’ll probably get binned. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy to include in your email signature.

Being Can-Spam compliant requires very little effort. And you are probably compliant without even knowing it. Per the FTC’s email requirements:

  • Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  • Don’t use misleading subject lines.
  • Make it clear your email outreach is an ad.
  • List your address
  • Tell people how to opt out. And honor their requests promptly.
  • Monitor what 3rd parties are doing on your behalf.

Takeaway: Check the compliance laws for the country you are in. And for the country where you are sending cold emails. Make certain your sales team follows all the rules, as required.

#10. Don’t Misinterpret Opening Rates

One of the closest followed numbers in B2B email is the opening rate.

Opening rates are important because getting your message read is sort of the whole point. If the subject heading fails to excite interest, the body of the email won’t be seen.

One common use for opening rate data is to try different subject lines to see which gets the most opens. This makes sense, and open rate statistics CAN be very useful.

But it’s important to note that at a micro-level, open rate data loses accuracy. It’s more useful when applied to track broad trends.

For example, if your IP reputation drops, your messages will go to spam. If this happens then your opening rates will plummet. But it’s easy to conflate recent changes to the subject line with invisible changes to your IP reputation.

Here are some other reasons open rate data degrades at minute levels:

Pixel Blocking Apps & Extensions

Email pixel tracking technology has become standard for most sales people. When they send you an email they want to know if you had a chance to look at it before they follow up. Some tracking pixels provide a scary amount of information about the email recipient. For example, it may show what day and time the email was first opened.

More and more people are becoming concerned about email privacy issues. In response they are using tools that prevent tracking pixels from opening.

And as this trend continues, we may see new email clients provide built in tools to stop pixels from opening altogether.

As pixel openings get blocked, the accuracy of the opening data provided will decline.

Blocked Images

It’s fairly well known that images are fantastic way to transmit computer viruses. And for this reason many email clients will block images from rendering by default. This is especially true when the sender isn’t someone listed in your contacts.

Tracking pixels are images, albeit very tiny ones. To transmit opening information back to the sender the pixel needs to be rendered. And of course that’s impossible to do if image rendering has been prevented.
So just like pixel blocking apps, email clients can reduce the accuracy of opening rate data.

The fundamental reason email open rate metrics are unreliable is that the metric relies on a tiny image in the email being downloaded by the person reading the email.
           – Mike Volpe

Preview Panes

Just as image blocking can distort results, a similar effect happens when images auto load. Some email clients open images without requesting user permission. So even an ‘incomplete’ opening can trigger the tracking pixel. For example, if the email is shown in the preview pane the message may get shown as having been opened even though it wasn’t read.

Takeaway: Use opening rates to track changes in trend, not absolute values.

#11. Evaluate Response Rates

When B2B marketers want a ‘snapshot’ of how their campaign is performing, one metric they turn to is the response rate. In theory a high response rate suggests the campaign is performing well.

But without a broader context, this measure has pretty much ZERO value. Here’s why:

Automated Responses

A large number of email replies are computer generated. For example, if you contact someone on vacation you’ll probably get an automated response telling you when they’ll return. Some email platforms will count that message as a response.

But of course an out of office auto response doesn’t have any value with respect to your marketing goals.

Unsubscribe Requests

Not everyone feels comfortable clicking on an unsubscribe link in an email. And this makes sense. If they don’t know you well, how do they know your unsubscribe link is safe? It could be a link to a virus waiting to infect their device.

As a result, some “responses” are just a request to opt out from your email. And again, an unsubscribe request doesn’t help you grow your business.

Quality of Reply

The nature of the responses that can come in from an email campaign widely vary. But most marketing tools consider all responses as equal. Which of the two responses below is more likely to become a client?

Please stop contacting me.
Perfect timing! My partner and I were discussing a solution similar to yours yesterday. Could you drop by next week and share some details?

Obviously the second response is warmer than the first, and far more likely to convert. But some email platforms count them as being of equal weight. Others recognize that the second message is positive.

A marketer might boast they achieved a “30% response rate!” And on the surface it seems impressive. But there’s no qualitative information included. For all we know, those replies are just hate mail.

Lead Quality

Another consideration is what type of lead is being generated.

Which would you rather have? A low response rate that generates interest from highly qualified buyers. Or a high response rate with responses from people unlikely to buy? Probably the first one!

With all this in mind, don’t put too much weight on the response rate a campaign is achieving. The number will depend on how the email platform counts automatic messages. And has little relevance to the overall success of a campaign.

Takeaway: Don’t rely on response rate numbers in isolation. The quality of the response is more important than the number of responses received.

What Cold Email Mistakes Have You Seen?

So what cold email mistakes have you seen? Did they ruin your campaign (or someone else’s)?

I’d love to hear what you’d recommend outreach professionals do to avoid nasty surprises with their email outreach. You can message me on Linkedin or send a message on our contact page.

Look forward to hearing from you!

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.

Share This