Cold emailing? 11 tips to increase your open rate

Email marketing is a strong tool for any small business.

About 91 percent of U.S. consumers use email, and it is estimated that for every $1 spent on email marketing, an average of $38 is gained, making the ROI (return on investment) a potential 3,800 percent.

Knowing this potential, plenty of businesses see value in cold emailing, which is the practice of sending an email to a potential customer who has had no prior relationship with you. (Think of it like a cold call, but less intrusive.)

However, just like a cold call, it’s easy to stumble and make no headway at all with your effort.

On average, a good open rate ranges between 15 percent and 25 percent. However, without the right approach and consideration, the overall open rate for your cold emailing can be far lower than that.

Below are 11 tips to increase your open rate when cold emailing.

Email the right people

This can sound like common sense, but it’s all too easy to think that targeting everyone when cold emailing is the way to go.

Throw out enough bait, you gotta catch more fish, right?

Wrong. Not in email marketing.

If you don’t know already, identify who your ideal customer is (age, income, gender, etc). Narrow down your email list by those characteristics, or begin your lead generation with a targeted approach. 

Either way, you’ll want less buckshot and more sniper-like focus when cold emailing. Not only will this improve the likelihood that your email will be received by a potentially more interested prospect, but you can better tailor your messaging as well. Broad audience equals broad (and less effective) messaging.

Of course, this includes a clean-up of all data that you have (especially if you plan on using customization and personalization, which we’ll dive into later).

Warm-up your email address

It’s heavily suggested among email marketers to warm up your email address and even make sure it’s a different domain than your company’s address when cold emailing.

By doing so, you can make sure that everything looks as it should and gets delivered properly.

The reason for this relates to your sender score, which is a metric that email providers use to rate how likely people are going to want your message. Bounced emails and spam reports both factor into this score.

Start slow and build up as you go.

Identify the optimal time to email

Just like with social media, timing can be everything (including in your cold emailing).

Typically, you’ll want to aim for sometime in the morning, since mornings see a higher engagement rate than afternoons and evenings. Other research has suggested sending between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

However, before you assume that all emails should be sent at any one time, look over your own email performance data. Every industry (and every brand) can certainly experience variants on the traditional (and even varied) guidance.

Invest time in your subject line

Subject lines can arguably make or break your open rate, and there’s definitely some pressure to composing the perfect few words to compel your recipients to open your email. (Most inboxes show about 60 characters of an email’s subject line, but the shorter you can be, the better.)

This is even more important when cold emailing. You have to answer the inherent question: “Why are you contacting me?”

Fortunately, even the most novice subject line writer has a few options for inspiration.

First, look at your own email inbox. What subject lines are compelling you to open those emails? Take notes! Jot down the most compelling and use them as inspiration for your own.

Also, you can review our 12 tips for subject lines that won’t get ignored.

Remember that you have a secondary preview text field that will show in some email clients. When blank, it’ll pull in the first text in your email, but a best practice is to fill this out with information that builds on the compelling nature of your subject line.

Keep in mind that there is a character limit for email preview text, depending on the email client:

  • Apple Mail: 140 characters
  • Gmail: 110 characters
  • Outlook: 55 characters

There are other email clients, of course, but those are some of the most common.

Optimize who your email is from

While we might all be in the habit of using our company name and general customer service email when sending out emails, there’s reason to reconsider that approach.

It’s been found through split testing that emails sent from an actual person are more likely to be opened, with about a 15 percent to 35 percent boost to your open rate.

So, rather than an email coming from “Company Name” and a generic email, think about using “Person’s Name, Company Name” or “Person’s Name of Company Name” in your From field.

You can also include the person’s specific email as the From email address but include a more general email in the Reply-To field if necessary.

Truly, the trick is thinking through who this representative person should be in your organization. You’ll want it to be someone who can be consistently used in email communications.

Avoid becoming spam

Even the most well-intentioned cold emails can get snagged up in spam filters.

First, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the CAN-SPAM Act, which is a law that applies to all commercial messaging.

Then, you’ll want to brush up on all the words, phrases and even grammar that can trigger a spam filter.

We say “brush up” because there are admittedly a lot. You can reference this list of 924 spam-trigger words.

In addition, you’ll want to avoid excessive caps and punctuation (like multiple exclamation points).

Before sending your email, take one last look with fresh eyes. Put yourself in your recipient’s position. What would sound or look annoying? That can easily be something that will flag your email as spam as well.

Offer real value

Building on the fact that you’ll want to answer the question, “Why are you contacting me?” in your subject line, you really need to carry that idea throughout your entire email.

At best, you can only hope that a recipient opening your cold email will merely skim it, so you must convey who you are, why you’re talking to them and why they should care.

In other words, get the point as short and sweet as you can. The ideal length of an email is between 50 and 125 words.

Identify what problem your audience might have and how you specifically can solve it. Be generous before being even remotely pushy.

On top of that, a clean and clear design of your overall email can help deliver that message even more effectively. Check out some of these examples from Really Good Emails.

Even something as simple as including bullet points can make your email that much more skimmable and engaging.

Customization and personalization

Whenever you can customize and personalize your message for your audience, your email will perform better.

Think of it this way: Would you more likely open an email that has your first name in it? Most of us would.

The ability to include specific personalization in your email marketing depends on the application you’re using. If you don’t have it available, consider checking out DailyStory’s personalization and customization opportunities.

Clean spelling and grammar a must

Do not overestimate your spell check and/or auto correct when it comes to avoiding spelling and grammar errors.

You easily can lose your potential customer with simple typos. It chips away at your credibility and trustworthiness.

Consider using Grammarly, which is a free spelling and grammar tool that can be incorporated in most browsers.

On top of that, send a test email to your team. Not only can they catch any properly-spelled-but-improperly-used words (aka homonyms), but they can also test your links and formatting and confirm that everything looks good and accurate.

Include a strong, clear call-to-action

By conveying the value of why you’re cold emailing a list of potential customers, it’s a misstep to not cap that off with a strong call-to-action.

Simply put, you’ve presented the problem they might be facing, you’ve explained how you can solve that problem. Now, what should your email recipient do next, and what’s in it for them to do so?

Do not beat around the bush. Remember, you have a limited opportunity to not only get your recipients to open your email but to act on it.

Rather than a “learn more,” consider “start your trial now.”

Always be testing

In the simplest sense, you should always be testing, measuring and pivoting when engaging in all email marketing, but cold emailing in particular.

The From field, the subject line, the preview text and the timing can all impact your open rate. 

The body content of the email, the design and the CTA can all impact your click-through rate.

Take note of what’s working and what’s not. Then, pivot your approach moving forward.

Remember, there is no such thing as a failed email if there’s a lesson you can learn from it.