Nine tips to improve open rates for your cold email campaigns

The open rate of your cold email campaign is perhaps the most important metric to try to improve.

Response rate, of course, is important too, and maybe arguably the most important factor overall. But no one can respond if they don’t open it and read it!

So how do you increase your open rates? Here are some tips from my five years of experience sending cold email campaigns, plus some best practices I’ve learned from others along the way.

I saved my most powerful tip for last, so be sure to read them all.

1. Guest post to your audience first

Years ago, I started going to an acupuncture place. The cheapest way to get acupuncture is to go to a “community acupuncture” clinic, where it’s a big room with a bunch of recliners and you get “poked” at the same time as a dozen other people. This way, the practitioner can work on you at the same time as other people, since most of the appointment is just reclining in a chair anyway.

But, being a salesman and marketer, I asked the clinic “hey, who prints your t-shirts?” (My other company is a screen printing company) and I learned that the clinic I was going to was part of a larger organization of community acupuncture clinics, and that the clinic owner was one of the organization organizers (I swear I will get to my point real soon!)

So long story short, I joined the organization and then started writing guest posts for their newsletter about how acupuncture clinics could market themselves in different ways. I became part of the community, and a paid member.

And I got access to the list of other members, and clinics.

I ran a cold email campaign to the clinics that had an 80% open rate! If you’re new to cold email marketing, you know that 80% is damn good.

Why was it so high? They already knew who I was. They had seen my name and company name in that newsletter that they all read, and they recognized it when I emailed them.

So it wasn’t really cold email marketing. It was warm. And that’s the point. Find a way to get in front of your targets first, and you can warm them up so it’s not really even cold email marketing anymore.

If you’re targeting a certain industry, figure out what organizations there are for it. See if you can become active in relevant forums, get in newsletters, whatever, just so you have some name recognition before you email them all. It makes a big difference.

2. Verify email addresses before sending

It's crucial. You'll kill your domain's deliverability if you don't.

And it’s just simple math. If you send email to 100 addresses, and 20 of them are junk (either inactive, outdated, or whatever, it happens!), your open rate suffers (and so does your deliverability! Read my article: Why you need to verify email addresses.

It’s like trying to call a phone number that doesn’t exist. No one can possibly answer. So why bother trying to call?

In that batch of 100 email addresses as an example, let’s say 35 people open the email. Not a bad rate. 35% (I am a math whiz).

But what if you remove the 20 bad email addresses first?

Then your open rate is 43.75% instead, just because you improved your math.

And maybe you’re thinking “who cares, this is just a math trick?”

It’s more important than improving the percentage really, since sending email to bad addresses is not only a waste of time, but tells the various email algorithms out there that work to make sure you’re not some nefarious spammer that, yes, perhaps you are a nefarious spammer, since you’re sending stuff to addresses that don’t exist.

3. Improve deliverability with SPF, DKIM, DMARC

I talked about this a lot more in another article, but these three server records help prove that your email is from is REALLY from that domain, so they’re more trusted, and accordingly more likely to get delivered AND opened.

They can be confusing to set up if you’ve never done stuff like that before, but they’re not super difficult.

4. Experiment

Experimentation! Most good email sending systems for cold email marketing lets you A/B test different subject lines. (I like to use but there are a ton of good options.)

And if your system isn’t advanced enough to allow actual built in A/B testing, you can always segment your prospects and do it yourself.

Got 300 prospects you want to email in this batch? Send 100 with subject line 1 in a unique campaign, 100 with subject line 2 in another campaign, and 100 with subject line 3 in yet another campaign. And then just compare all your metrics when they’ve been sent out and given enough time to be opened and read.

Besides the subject line, you can experiment with the time you send things out. Some executives may be more likely to open things early in the morning, some people perhaps the afternoon is a better time to land in their inbox.

And consider your audience when you think about sending times. I’ve done a lot of email marketing to restaurants, and it should be obvious to not send anything to them at lunch time or dinner time, since that is when they are busy! But sending email at 9am to a place that doesn’t serve breakfast may make sense, and sending emails at 2 or 3 pm during the down time between services may get opened.

Besides that, consider how your email looks in the inbox before it’s opened. Does it say it’s coming from “Robert, Gazelle Industries” or just “Gazelle Industries”? Are you using a generic email address like or something a bit more personal like All these little things make a difference.

All these variables are worth playing with, and over time you can get an idea of what your prospect types are more likely to respond to.

5. Personalize subject line and body

If you sell consulting services on reducing embezzlement at companies, which do you think has a better chance of getting opened: “Daniel, are your employees stealing from you?” Or “Are your employees stealing from you?”

Anything to make the email look a little less bulk is good.

And, in 2020, cold email marketing is getting harder because it’s more difficult to actually get bulk email to land in inboxes, so it’s crucial to personalize the body of the email some.

I worry that the days where you could send out 500 or 5000 identical emails and get them all delivered are long gone.

What you need to do now is customize the body as much as possible. If you’ve got really high value leads, you should spend a minute to craft a custom sentence or two all about them.

Remark on something you know you both have in common (the college you both went to, the martial art you both practice, the fact that you used to both be in finance but changed careers, etc), or say something about a bit of news they published on their website, whatever you can find as an angle to show that you actually cared enough to come up with something.

This will not only help deliverability and open rates a lot, but your response rate will be way way better with this effort.

And maybe this is too time consuming to do for low value prospects, but perhaps you shouldn’t be sending to low value prospects anyway?

6. Run ads to the email addresses first

Did you know you can take your list of prospect data and feed it to Facebook to make a custom audience to show ads to?

Yeah boy! You can do it with other platforms too, like LinkedIn, AdRoll, etc.

People don’t do this often, but think how powerful it could be. I wrote an article about it if you're keen to try it.

If your prospects have never heard of you or your company, they’re going to be less likely to open your emails about your offerings.

But if they’ve been seeing branding ads, ads that link to articles about press releases about your company, ads about what you do, they’re less “cold” and starting to get a bit “warm” at least.

The rub is that you’re probably emailing their company email addresses, and they use their personal email addresses for Facebook etc. But if you can include their cell numbers when you upload your prospect data, it’s more likely to find the prospects.

Even if you find only 40% of your prospects on these lists and show ads to them, that is totally worth doing, as getting your open rate up at all is your goal here, and this can be a powerful way to do that.

7. Connect on LinkedIn first

LinkedIn is a beast in its own right, and you could spend all day everyday trying to market there, connect with people, and taking courses on how to better market yourself and connect with people there!

I don’t know of any way to just give LinkedIn a list of all your prospects and say “hey, find me these people.”

But LinkedIn does want to look in your email contacts to try to find people you know to connect you with.

So yeah, you guessed it, take your prospect list and import it to your email client. The email client you actually use personally, not the one you use for mass emailing. I’m talking about Gmail or Outlook, whatever.

Simply import your prospects to Gmail or Outlook and tell LinkedIn to check your contacts again for new potential connections. (You could start a separate gmail account to feed all your prospects to, just to keep things clean if you need.)

If you find the prospects on LinkedIn then, view them, request them, etc. Not all will request of course (and be careful not to overdo the requesting and get in trouble with LinkedIn!) but many will, and if they’ve already seen your name, and posts by you on LinkedIn before you email them, they’ll be more likely to open and respond to your emails (which are no longer really “cold” emails, hooray!)

Since you need to limit how many people you try to connect with, this tactic may be need to be reserved for your most valuable email prospects.

8. Test your deliverability with tools

Especially if you’re trying to figure out if you’ve gotten your SPF/DKIM/DMARC settings right, you should test your email deliverability to find out what’s potentially wrong with your set up. (There are links to tools to test things in my article about switching to Outlook.

And you should test FROM your bulk emailing tool, not just your regular inbox, because that makes a huge difference, and it’s your bulk emailing tool you’re trying to figure out anyway, right?

There are a lot of options for this, but something like MXtoolbox should work fine.

9. Change from G-Suite to Outlook as your email platform

Even if you’re using a bulk sending tool like or whatever, you will have your email hosted somewhere.

Gmail is a nice interface, so lots of companies set up G Suite for their email (I do too).

But switching from G Suite to Outlook can actually double open rates!

It’s wild. I know it sounds like BS, but it really does help tremendously.

I wrote a whole article about why and how you should switch from G Suite to Outlook. I seriously went from 35% on average to 60% and better when I made the switch.

It probably boils down to the fact that more spammers have abused free gmail accounts historically, so gmail just gets looked at harder before it gets delivered.

Combine all these tips and see better results

Cold emailing is a numbers game, so whatever you can do to improve one of the major variables can make a huge difference.

Sending out 1000 cold emails? An open rate of 20% means 200 people saw your email. An open rate of 40% means twice as many people actually saw your email and your message. It’s as simple as that.

So work to get your open rates up with these tips!

Need verified leads for your cold email campaigns?

WhoWorksThere helps you find the right person at any company to reach out to. See a list of employees with their names, locations, and job titles, choose who you want, and our system uses algorithms to find their verified email address for you.

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