The Complete Cold Email Master Guide
Avoid the Spam Box, Increase Your Open Rate, and Get Responses
Cold email isn’t easy.
Every email you send has to compete with dozens – even hundreds – of emails in the average professional’s inbox every day.
To make matters worse, you’re a stranger, where most of the other emails they’re receiving are from colleagues or email lists they’ve joined.
So you might wonder, does cold email still work? Can you compete when everyone is using some kind of mass email service?
Is everyone’s inbox just too crowded for anyone to notice your attempt to reach them?
Well, we have some good news for you (and ways your mass email service can compete with the big guys.)
Cold email still works – and it’s here to stay
The truth is, cold email is still one of, if not the, most effective outreach methods anywhere.
That’s thanks, in part, to the importance of email, especially in a professional setting.
But wait — isn’t email disappearing in favor of social and instant messaging?
Don’t cold email marketing and outreach strategies hinge on the popularity of email, a dying medium?
The reality is, none of that “death of email” talk is true. (That’s why it makes sense to up your cold email game and find the right mass email service.)
According to a recent survey by Reuters, “Despite the popularity of instant messaging, texting and social media, the poll showed that email is the top communications tool at work and will grow in importance over the next five years.”
Reuters went on to report that, “Nearly half of the respondents said they think their use of emails for work will increase in coming years. Nineteen percent said it will go up substantially.”
“Email is and will remain a cornerstone of the workplace culture,” says Kristin Naragon, Director of Email Solutions for Adobe Systems Inc., who commissioned the poll.
Statista echoes these findings, reporting that the number of emails sent each year will continue to grow by several billion each year up to 2023 and beyond:
Make the most of your cold email outreach
Email is here to stay, and that means cold email outreach will remain a highly effective outreach practice.
But are you doing everything you can to maximize your cold email ROI?
A single response at the right time, or from the right person, can change everything.
And a few more replies or click-throughs each month can make all the difference.
Are you doing everything you can to make sure your cold emails aren’t just opened, but actually convert?
In the guide below, we’ll equip you with everything you need to know. Not just how to get your first cold email campaign going, but how to improve your conversion rates even if you’re a seasoned cold emailer.
This is what we’ll cover:
- What is cold email?
- Is cold email spam?
- Cold email best practices
- Crafting cold email subject lines
- Templates and examples:
- The basic outreach email
- The networking email
- The demo or sales email
- The services email
And we’ll offer a ton of examples, with clear explanations of why they work along the way.
The difference between a well-planned and well-crafted cold email vs. one without much thought or effort is the difference between success and failure.
You can measure that difference in opens, clicks, and responses.
This guide will give you everything you need to go from cold email novice to fully-equipped pro. Follow this guide to maximize your cold email outreach efforts in every way.
What is cold email?
So, what exactly is a cold email?
Is cold email the same as spam?
To put it simply:
A cold email is an email sent to a contact with whom you have no prior relationship.
These are examples of cold emails you might send:
- An email to someone in your industry so that you can network with them
- An email to a CEO or manager on your prospect list that you’ve never met when you want to set up a sales call or demo
- Or an email to a potential investor you don’t know to establish the beginning of a relationship
What makes a cold email “cold” is that there is no direct connection or relationship between you and the other person.
Getting through to your cold target is the major challenge you need to overcome if you want to maximize your cold email initiatives.
With that understanding in place, how exactly does cold email differ from spam?
And how can you make sure your emails aren’t sent to your prospect’s spam folder?
Is cold email spam?
Whether or not cold email is spam is a commonly asked question.
However, the answer is pretty simple: cold email, done right, is not spam.
While a good cold email should include:
- Your full name
- Other relevant contact information, such as your website and social profiles, etc.
- Content personalized to the recipient
- Your reason for contacting them, in plain English
- No clickbait in the subject line
- Is sent from an email address without much service history (spammers have to change email IDs and services constantly because they get flagged as, well, spammers)
- Uses a fake name or company name
- Adds clickbait to the subject line
- Is copied and pasted (no personalization)
- Uses deceptive copy to get you to click on a dubious link
- Is often commercial in nature. That is, they’re outright trying to sell you a product in the initial email without any relationship-building first.
Take this email I received, for example:
There are some pretty big red flags there, right?
First, they’re not referring to me by name, and there’s not an ounce of personalization. It’s clearly a script.
In addition to that, there’s not a single piece of contact information listed.
Then there’s a Google form. Could there be a more obvious spam ploy?
(Usually, emails like this also have spelling mistakes and horrible grammar.)
When first starting out with cold emails, a lot of people worry that their messages will be considered spam.
And you should take measures to make sure your emails aren’t labeled as spam. (We’ve got you covered in the next section.) But in general, those worries are blown out of proportion.
A cold email, when done right, is far from spam.
It’s not vague or general, its grammar and language aren’t *highly* questionable, and you clearly give the recipient the opportunity to check you out by offering your contact information. That way, they can verify that you are who you say you are.
Even when your intent is pure, making sure your cold emails don’t get mistaken for spam takes a little bit of work.
However, it’s worth it to make sure your delivery rates stay high and your emails don’t start getting dropped in the can by potentially valuable prospects.
How to write cold emails that convert
Now that we’ve covered how to spam-proof your emails, let’s talk about how to make your cold emails shine.
Writing a cold email – whether it’s an outreach attempt with an influential editor of a prominent publication, or trying to schedule a sales call with a new prospect – isn’t all that difficult.
Writing a cold email that converts can be – but it doesn’t have to be if you follow our guidelines.
First, let’s cover some cold email best practices to make sure you’re covering the most important points when crafting your emails (no matter what its purpose).
Then, we’ll jump into writing cold email subject lines that generate clicks. And we’ll finish with templates and examples you can use to craft a high-quality cold email that converts.
7 cold email best practices
If only there were a list of cold email “golden rules!” Wait — there is! And we have it right here for you.
None of the best practices we describe are required, mind you, but ignore any of them at your peril. Each is truly important.
Here are seven cold email best practices to follow when crafting your cold emails:
1. Send emails from your personal email using your full name
This isn’t just a good practice for avoiding spam; it makes a real difference in your cold email conversion rates, as well.
One of the single most important practices to maximize results with cold email is personalization.
That includes personalizing the email based on the recipient. But for now, we’re talking about personalizing the email based on you, the sender.
The email should look and feel as much like a personal email from a friend or colleague as it possibly can.
And that starts with making sure to use your personal email (which can be your professional firstname.lastname@example.org email address) and your name.
2. Use their first name
Let’s continue that example for a moment. If this were an email you were sending to a friend, would you write to “Mr. X,” or would you simply greet ”John?”
The answer is most definitely, John.
You might not be on a first-name basis; however, referring to them by their first name sets a friendly and personalized tone:
After all, people love hearing their own names, and it has a kind of “disarming” effect that you can use to your advantage.
3. Make it relevant to them (create a connection)
This is a big category with lots of techniques that boil down to one simple thing:
Every cold email you send should attempt to create a connection.
This connection, at its most powerful, is something you have in common, like a referral from a friend. You may never have met before, but your old colleague Mark vouches for you and says the two of you should meet.
BAM! That’s immediate relevance of the highest magnitude.
Unfortunately, most cold emails you send won’t be able to use that tactic because you won’t have a mutual acquaintance.
However, you can still use the same strategy for creating a connection and making the email relevant to them.
Here are more examples:
- You worked at the same company at different times
- You grew up in the same city
- You’re in the same industry
- You heard them speak at a recent conference
- You have a similar interest or background
- You read their blogs regularly
This pattern follows the same guidelines about personalization we just mentioned.
By creating a connection through relevance and commonality, you take a cold email and make it a bit warmer.
It’s no longer a purely cold email. It has a friendly element in the communication that’s invaluable for sparking a conversation with relative strangers (and getting them to feel comfortable with the idea of responding to you).
4. Make it about them instead of you
Once you’ve created a connection in your intro, don’t start babbling about yourself. Make the email about the recipient.
Your entire email should be written from the perspective of the recipient – why you appreciate their work, what you can do for them, what they need – as opposed to who you are, why you’re special, or why you need them to respond.
Too many people write emails like this:
This example oozes “I want, I want, I want” and doesn’t stand a chance of getting a reply.
However, change the email to something more like this …
… and your chance of obtaining a response increases tenfold.
If you remember this one thing, it will make writing your emails easier because when you focus on what matters to the recipient, it will affect both your perspective as a cold emailer and the success of your content.
5. Provide value
Rolling on from the last point, you want to try to make every cold email of value to the person who receives it.
Once they’ve opened your email, you have a chance to create a connection and show them why it’s worth their time to respond to you or follow your link.
And the best way to do that is to offer value — either immediate value or value as a result of taking a particular action.
- A solution to a problem they have
- Data or information
- A resource
- A valuable networking contact, or
- The ability to connect with someone of like interest
No matter what kind of value you offer them, you want to make sure there’s always something in it for them.
6. Don’t use clickbait subject lines
Spam subject lines are traditionally clickbait-y. But you want to stay away from clickbait subject lines for another reason.
The subject line should match the email body. In other words, the email should make good on the promise made by the subject line.
If it doesn’t (i.e., if it’s clickbait), the moment it dawns on your recipient that you’ve tricked them into opening your email, they’re gone, and you won’t ever get them back.
One of the best ways you can shoot yourself in the foot in terms of cold email marketing is to use clickbait-y subject lines. They prove that you’re not trustworthy, and that’s the end of the line.
Whatever you do, make sure your subject line clearly matches what’s in your email. Your email will avoid being labeled as spam, and you’ll get more responses in the process.
7. Follow up, follow up, follow up
Following up is a critical step that many cold emailers overlook. It has less to do with the crafting of your cold emails and more to do with how to approach the task of cold email outreach.
It’s easy to think that if people don’t respond to your first email, they’re just not interested. But that’s rarely true.
People are busy. They have meetings, project deadlines, a trip to the store to make after work, and a gift to get for someone’s birthday next week.
At any given time, we are working through numerous important items in our brains. Have you ever looked at your inbox sometimes, or a particular email, and thought “not right now?” It’s almost automatic to say to yourself, “That’s something I’ll have to think about later.”
We all do it, and that is likely to happen with your first several emails. It’s not until the third or fourth email that there is a decent chance you’ll receive a response.
Remember that and follow up, follow up, follow up.
For more tips on writing high-quality cold emails that convert, read 6 Ways to Write Highly Effective Cold Emails That Get Responses.
Crafting great cold email subject lines
You’ve got your spam checklist on-hand, and you’ve reviewed the best practices listed above.
Now, it’s time to write your email.
The first (or last) place to start is your subject line.
As we said earlier, delivering on the promise of your subject line is essential.
For that reason, you might actually prefer to wait until your email is written before writing the subject line.
By doing that, you can most accurately craft your subject line around your email content — content which may change slightly as you sit down to write it.
However, because your subject line is the first thing your recipient will see, and they need to click through before ever reading your email, you should invest as much time in your subject line as you do the entire rest of your email.
So, let’s start there.
What’s in a good cold email subject line?
We’ve covered many of the most important principles that go into making a great cold email, so let’s review those and some additional best practices for subject lines now.
A great cold email subject line is:
Clear and direct
No clickbait, make it clear what your email is about from the subject line.
There are some exceptions to this, but consider this as the general rule.
You don’t have to use their first name in your subject line, but it can definitely improve open rates if you do.
If you don’t include a first name, consider mentioning some other piece of information that’s relevant to the recipient. (We’ll review some examples in a moment.)
Able to communicate value
You don’t always have to communicate value in your cold email subject lines.
However, in most cases, this is your best strategy for generating clicks.
That is, unless you’re lucky enough to have a mutual contact or other connection to them that you can make clear in your subject line.
The best cold email subject lines are short and sweet, somewhere in the 6-10 word range according to MarketingLand’s research:
And if you want to take this a step further, typically no more than eight words fit on the average mobile screen, so try to shoot for 6-8 words to maximize open rates (though don’t kick yourself if you can’t hit this every time).
Now, let’s go over a few examples of effective cold email subject lines
1. Expressing value
As we just mentioned, expressing or promising value for the recipient in your subject line is a great way to generate clicks.
Here are a few more examples of value-based subject lines:
- “A quick idea for improving [topic of interest for the prospect]”
- [Competitor] outranks you for [keyword] (Let’s talk)”
- “We’ve studied the best [groups] in [industry]. Here’s what makes them different.”
If you’re writing a value-based subject line, do your best to hint at the value you’re offering them succinctly without giving the whole thing away. That will entice your recipient to click through out of curiosity.
2. Creating a sense of urgency
Creating a sense of urgency isn’t something that should be manufactured. (Remember, deliver on your promise. No deception.)
However, if urgency is there, take advantage of it.
This kind of subject line uses scarcity to compel the recipient to act, which is super effective as it makes it harder to snooze or ignore your email.
Here are a few more examples:
- “Mark — free for a quick chat next Thursday?”
- “Only [number] seats left for [training]…”
- “Next week only — watch me [do a thing] live.”
- “Are you on track to hit your Q3 goals? (I’d like to help.)”
3. Using relevance to create a connection
Earlier, we touched on the real difficulty with cold emails: They’re, well, cold.
You might not have a mutual connection you can pull out of a hat. (If you do, lucky you!) But you can usually find something relevant to the recipient to help draw a connection in your subject line.
For example, if you’re selling a tool that makes social media marketing more effective to Instagram influencers:
Here are a few more examples:
- “Live chat improves e-commerce apparel conversion rates by 20%”
- “[Industry] has a real problem with [obstacle]”
- “Most [professionals you’re targeting] make this mistake”
For more on crafting high-quality cold email subject lines that generate clicks, including over 40 examples for half a dozen scenarios, read 43 Cold Email Subject Lines That Get Your Emails Opened Instantly (and When to Use Them).
Cold email templates and examples
Now for the fun part, let’s get to some examples!
There’s a lot of advice about template formulas that don’t give much insight into when you should use one template versus another.
We’ve broken down four cold email templates with examples. Each is centered around a particular purpose or type of cold email.
- The basic outreach email
- The networking email
- The demo email, and
- The services email
No matter what kind of cold email you’re looking to send, there’s an example that’s relevant to you.
And, keep in mind that each example can be adapted for any purpose.
Plus, we’ll break down why each template works so that you’ll understand the underpinnings that make the cold email template effective regardless of the purpose or strategy you use.
Let’s get started:
1. The basic outreach email
One of the two most common cold emails, the basic outreach email is useful for virtually any situation, whether you’re trying to nab a guest post, network, or schedule a sales call.
Here’s an example of the basic outreach email in action:
Why it works
This email only has a few sections. It breaks down as follows:
- Compliment: Make it as specific as possible. It needs to feel sincere, or you’ll lose them before they ever get to the second line.
- (Short) Introduction: This isn’t your basic introduction. You need to make it relevant to the recipient, such as by mentioning other names or companies in their space that you’ve worked with — or even just similar types of businesses.
- Example: This is typically an example of what you can do for or offer to them, whether it’s a mock-up, specific insight, post, or work sample.
- Question/Call-to-Action: Close it with a simple question asking if your offer is something in which they’d be interested.
Let’s look at that example again:
Notice how simple the structure of the email is.
Plus, the perspective stays almost entirely centered around them from beginning to end, minus the short introduction (which is also written in a way that’s relevant to them).
Those two things — simplicity and perspective — combine to make this email an easy read. It’s enticing to the recipient because you stay focused on communicating what’s in it for them.
Then, you finish with a clear example of the value you’re offering and a direct close in the form of a question.
The great part about this cold email template is it can be modified for virtually any use, so take it and personalize it to your heart’s content.
2. The networking email
Networking is tough, but it can be highly effective through cold email.
Fortunately, with the right email structure, networking emails become much easier.
Chances are if you’re reaching out to someone for the purpose of networking, they’re of some importance. And that means they’re busy.
In that case, they’ll appreciate you keeping it short and to the point.
And that’s exactly what this template does:
Why it works
Notice that the structure of this email is similar to the first, but with a few modifications — most notably the closing.
Here’s how it breaks down:
- Compliment: Starting with a compliment is almost always a good idea. In this case, you’re not just complimenting them but drawing a connection between them, their work, and a talking point.
- Example (relevant) talking point: Make it as relevant to them and their work as possible, and something you genuinely believe would be interesting to them.
- Question: Unlike the first example’s closing question, this one instead elicits further discussion. You’re just asking them, “What do you think about this?” because your objective is to start a conversation.
Now, let’s look at the example again:
Studies have shown that shorter emails lead to faster response times, and this template is about as short as it gets.
That’s perfect because, as we said a moment ago, the likelihood is the person you’re contacting is busy and will likely delete a long essay.
A short email like this gets to the point and has a much higher chance of generating a response. (That’s because it has a greater chance of being read.)
Also, remember that personalization is what makes this email work.
If you don’t know the recipient well enough, you can’t know what kinds of things they’d be interested in, let alone be able to give such a specific example. That makes starting a conversation difficult.
However, with social and professional profiles readily available online, some light research will help you learn more about your recipient to help your networking email succeed.
3. The demo email
One of the most effective uses of cold emails is generating new clients for your SaaS or other product.
A demo email is a bit longer because you need to give a brief description of the product, but it’s still important to be concise and to the point.
Here’s an example of the demo email in action:
Why it works
Similar to the network email, if you’re contacting a professional in charge of adopting new software or other products into the/their business, they’re probably busy.
Make your email short and to the point but also crystal clear. The recipient should know exactly why you’re emailing them and what you want within just a few lines of text. Note that in the example, the sender didn’t explain how the product worked — only the main benefit of using it.
Here’s how the demo email breaks down:
- Intro + Offering: This email requires a little more explanation, so it’s vital that you get straight to the point. Make sure to introduce yourself and your company, as well as your product’s value. It’s important that the value you’re offering in your email is clear.
- Make sure you’re getting the right person: It can be challenging to know whether or not you’re getting the right person (decision-maker) when emailing a large company. Make sure you learn who that is by politely asking. Nothing more to it!
- Schedule the call: Be precise about how much time the call will take and what the purpose of the call is.
Let’s look at the example again now:
In the first line, you should simultaneously introduce yourself while making your offering clear.
This is a super-effective way of getting to the point, and the person you’re emailing will appreciate it.
Beyond that, the email is simple: make sure you’re getting the right person and then schedule a call or demo.
And, to be extra safe, reaffirm you’re getting the right person. (You can also do this in a P.S.)
4. The services email
If you’re a services company or a freelancer looking to market what you do, it can be difficult to acquire clients through cold email.
However, it is possible, and it’s one of the best ways to do it (acquire clients, that is).
Here’s an example of the services email in action:
Why it works
This example is inspired by the late legendary copywriter, John Caples.
In 1961, Caples analyzed the then wildly popular Reader’s Digest to discover the secret to its success at hooking readers on consecutive issues.
His insights revealed that their most successful pieces were:
- Data heavy
- Contained few adjectives
- And generated curiosity
So, here’s how our example breaks down:
- Introduction: Introduce yourself in a way that draws a connection between you and the recipient. You could be a user of their product or a fan of their blog, books, or work in general.
- Relevant data/results: This is where you lay it on them in as few words as possible, but make sure to include three or so good bullet points. (Three is the perfect number, but two or four also work.) They can be about your proven track record, why you believe you’d be a good fit, ways you two are connected or alike, etc.
- Generate curiosity: Next, pique their curiosity by suggesting some sort of specific value you can offer them, which you’d like to discuss.
- Closing question: Schedule the call with a simple question.
Let’s look at that example again:
This example works because it not only proves that you’re a good fit for them (depending on your offer), but also it makes them curious about what you’re offering. And they’ll have to schedule a call to learn more about that.
Cold email is here to stay – but you need to do it right
Cold email marketing and outreach are arguably more effective than ever, if for no other reason than the growing number of active email users across the globe.
In fact, Statista reports that the number of global email users will grow from 3.9 billion as of 2019 to roughly 4.4 billion by 2023, despite the growing prominence of social and messaging platforms:
However, you need to do cold email right.
You can’t expect to write a courteous few lines of text with someone’s name, your contact information, and a request for a response or a sign-up link.
To get opens, you need stellar subject lines. And, if you ultimately want to get conversions through cold email, you need to be methodical about how you structure the entire body of your emails.
- Review the spam checklist to make sure your emails won’t be flagged.
- Use these strategies for crafting a great cold email subject line.
- Adapt the templates and examples shown here as inspiration to help you craft an effective email from beginning to end. (Don’t be afraid of experimenting.)
- And make sure your email is highly personalized and offers value to the recipient.
If you follow these basic guidelines, you’ll see your cold email results skyrocket.
Remember, cold email will always be a numbers game.
But if you work to turn those numbers in your favor, cold email can be one of the most valuable sales, marketing, and outreach strategies you’ll ever use.