Best Practices for Boosting Your Cold Email Open and Conversion Rates


Sending cold emails is a tough but highly effective way to form new relationships and generate new business.

The average white collar worker receives 121 emails every day. The average business email is opened by 7.58 to 27.31% of its recipients, depending on its topic. When you send a cold email, the numbers are — to put it lightly — very much stacked against you.

Despite this statistical disadvantage, it’s surprisingly easy to bring your cold email open rate (the percentage of recipients that open your email) and conversion rate (the percentage that respond to your email) far above the average.

How? By following the best practices and techniques we’ve listed below to craft emails that are more personalized, engaging and effective than the rest.

If cold email is a key part of your marketing strategy, apply the best practices below to increase your open rate and drive more conversions from your cold email efforts.

Choose the right target

One of the most common cold email mistakes is reaching out to the wrong person. If your target audience is made up of small businesses, early-stage startups and enterprise customers, we highly recommend you check out GrowthList which will save you heaps of time in finding the right companies and founders to contact.

Sending an email to the wrong person within a company usually won’t hurt you, but it’s a wasted opportunity and a waste of your time. Before you start preparing a cold email, make sure you’re reaching out to the right person, and make sure your email address is verified. If you’re looking for a good tool definitely check out Hunter’s email verifier. They have both free and paid plans so you can test out the tool first.

The goal of your targeting is to find the person most likely to respond positively to your offer who also has the power to take action and make a decision. Without the first quality, your email won’t be opened; without the second, even a positive response will likely lead nowhere.

The easiest way to verify that you’re reaching out to the right person is to use their social media presence. Does their title on LinkedIn match your customer profile? Does their Twitter account or published work indicate that they have a need for your product or service?

By qualifying targets this way, you’ll spend less time reaching out to people who will never have a need for your offer and get more results from the fewer emails you send. It’s always better to spend more time researching than to send the right email to the wrong person.

Understand your target’s needs

If you’ve received a cold email before, you’ll know that many share a similar problem: they talk endlessly about why their product or service is better than the competition, all without focusing on how it can provides value for you.

Once you’ve verified that you’re reaching out to the right person, your objective should change to working out how you can solve a problem or need that they have.

Most cold emails are generic and unfocused. When you directly address an existing need, the feel of the email changes from why you should choose us to how we can help you.

Just like qualifying a target, this stage of the cold email process requires research. If your target recipient uses Twitter, check their latest tweets to see if they voice a concern or mention a need that your product or service can solve.

If they do, you’ve found the ideal subject to build your cold email around.

A lot of cold email advice focuses on word choice and structure — two things that matter, but are rarely essential. A “clumsy” cold email that addresses a need and helps the recipient is far more likely to earn a response than a “perfect” cold email that’s nothing but fluff.

Get past the recipient’s personal spam filter

When you send a cold email, there’s little chance of it being picked up by an automated spam filter. There is, however, a risk of the email triggering the recipient’s personal spam filter due to an overly vague subject line or aggressive sales pitch.

The personal spam filter, as coined by Yesware’s Matthew Bellows, is a natural aversion most email users have to anything that feels like an untargeted sales pitch. The first goal of any of your cold emails is to get around this filter by being as specific and value-focused as possible.

Matthew Bellows recommends several different types of subject line, all of which work well in communicating the value you have to offer without feeling like spam:

  • The congratulations subject line. This type of subject line references a recent event or achievement, and congratulates the recipient on it. It’s timely, and more importantly, it’s a personal subject line.
  • The praise subject line. This type of subject line uses praise to disarm the recipient’s personal spam filter. An example is “I’m a reader of your blog – wanted to reach out.”
  • The value-add subject line. This type of subject line immediately mentions the value you have to offer. An example is “I wrote this white paper you might find useful.”
  • The off-topic subject line. This type of subject line references something unrelated to your product or service. If your target mentioned something on Twitter or LinkedIn, you can use it to start a conversation.

You can learn more about the four subject line types listed above, as well as Matthew Bellows’ tips for passing the personal spam filter, in this blog post.

On the whole, the key to avoiding the personal spam filter is to clearly communicate the value you have to offer and avoid anything resembling deception. Shane Snow found that sending a cold email with a somewhat deceptive subject line has a negative effect on conversions.

Personalize, personalize, personalize

Compared to mass email marketing, the only real competitive advantage of cold email is your ability to personalize. When you don’t personalize your cold email, you’re sending a message that is ultimately indistinguishable from unsolicited spam.

Data shows that personalized emails produce six times as much revenue as non-personalized emails. The more you can personalize each cold email you send, the more likely it is to produce meaningful results.

Personalize your cold email by mentioning not just the recipient’s name, but the company that they work for an the product or service that they work on. GrowthList can help here as they have researched not only companies you should contact with, but also include the founder’s emails.

If you have a mutual connection or shared contact, mention them to bridge the gap and make your cold email feel warmer. If your product or service can help the recipient, attach a demo to show them exactly they can benefit from it.

Even a relatively light level of personalization will make your cold email stand out from the 120 other emails each person receives, on average, every day.

When your cold email is highly personalized, it transforms from a sales pitch into an engaging, interesting asset for the recipient. Last year, Kyle Racki of Proposify received a personalized cold email that was so good it inspired him to blog about it.

As a cold emailer, your only competitive advantage is the ability to personalize. Neglect it and you’ll struggle to achieve an industry average open rate. Own it and you’ll stand out from the hundreds of generic messages your recipients get each and every week.

Reduce the level of friction involved in claiming your offer

A great subject line gets your email opened. A personalized, value-focused message primes the recipient to take action. But it’s your offer and your call to action that inspire the recipient to send you a response.

If you’re struggling to beat the average response rate for cold email, it’s likely because your offer is too “high friction.”

When your offer or ask is complicated or difficult, even the most enthusiastic person will let your email sit in their inbox without taking action. Prospects will rarely want to take action if doing so feels overly time consuming.

Get around this inertia by clearly stating exactly what you need the recipient to do (for example, send a response with the best time for a call) and exactly how much of their time you’ll need to follow up.

The more information you provide, the less friction is involved in replying to your email. Before you click send, check that your email states exactly what the recipient needs to do in order to respond. The lower the friction, the fewer objections you’ll face.



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