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How to write an effective cold email: 20 proven tips and tricks

How to write an effective cold email: 20 proven tips and tricks

min read

Spammers have given cold emails a bad rep, and it doesn’t help that most people don’t know how to write a cold email correctly. At their worst, email marketers can come across as spammers even if they’re filled with good intentions.

But cold emails also have the ability to reach leads en masse, leading to more engaged customers, a larger market opportunity, and a high return on investment (ROI).

<a href="#cold-outreach-email-basics" class="anchor-link">Cold outreach email basics</a>

  • <a href="#what-is-cold-outreach-email" class="anchor-link">What is cold outreach email</a>
  • <a href="#why-are-cold-emails-effective" class="anchor-link">Why cold emails are effective</a>
  • <a href="#when-to-use-cold-email" class="anchor-link">When to use cold email</a>

<a href="#tips-for-writing-cold-emails" class="anchor-link">Tips for writing cold emails</a>

  • <a href="#tips-for-improving-cold-email-elements" class="anchor-link">Tips for improving cold email elements</a>
  • <a href="#how-to-write-cold-email" class="anchor-link">How to write a cold email</a>
  • <a href="#optimize-cold-email-outreach" class="anchor-link">Optimizing cold email outreach</a>

<a href="#get-creative-and-scientific" class="anchor-link">Getting creative and scientific</a>

The death of email marketing has been greatly exaggerated

In 2023, it’s easy to think of email marketing as a quaint throwback to an earlier, simpler time in the internet era – a time before social media and many of the modern web’s features and conveniences existed. Back then, there was less competition for the average consumer’s attention, making email marketing more practical and effective.

There’s just one problem with this thinking: It’s not true. Even as social media has risen to become an international zeitgeist driven by advances in the technology underlying the internet, the humble email remains king of modern marketing. 

Don’t believe it? Although social media marketing’s all the rage in 2023, its return on investment (ROI) is estimated at around 28%. Not bad, right? Email marketing’s ROI? According to, it’s 4,400%!

So how do you avoid the spam filters or archive button and deliver a meaningful message to people's inboxes? Check out our guide on the rules to follow and the mistakes to avoid when writing cold emails. 

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Cold outreach email basics

Before we dive into our list of tips and tricks for writing effective cold outreach emails, we’ll start with the following basics in the sections below: 

  • What are cold outreach emails?
  • Why cold outreach emails are effective when used correctly
  • When to use cold outreach email 

If you’re already familiar with these basics, skip ahead to our 20 tips and tricks for writing cold outreach emails.
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What is a cold outreach email?

A cold outreach email is your first contact with a potential client. The goal is to spark a conversation and build a relationship. That first communication to a prospective client is the starting point for processes such as sales, networking, and collaboration. It introduces your company and your products or services to someone who may have no idea about your business. 
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Why are cold emails effective?

When used correctly, cold emails are effective for prospecting and lead generation because they require minimal resources and can be deployed at scale. 

In addition to the impressive ROI mentioned above, cold emails are easy to track and give you valuable data because they usually go out to many recipients, creating a large sample size. This means you'll gain more feedback and data points compared to cold calling, a process that tells you very little or nothing in regard to where you went wrong or how you can improve. 

Emails are also less invasive, giving recipients time to respond at their leisure. Plus, email doesn’t interrupt people in the middle of dinner, or worse, when they still have sleep-fogged brains.
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When to use a cold email

Who is your target audience? This is the first question to ask when considering whether to use a cold email. Let your target audience’s demographics guide you. 

If you’re reaching out to millennials, for example, cold emailing is a strong choice. Studies have shown that this demographic has a strong preference for communicating  via email

B2B and B2C consumers are also a good audience for cold emailing, because this type of marketing allows you to segment your audience without needing to deliver a completely custom message to each lead.

If you’re trying to reach prospects high up in a company hierarchy, however, cold emailing is not the best option. Networking is the best way to gain access to managers and C-level executives. For example, you can browse LinkedIn for common connections and ask for an introduction.

You may have to start at the bottom of the hierarchy, convince your contact that you have the solutions they need, and work your way to an introduction to the executives. This works because C-level personnel value their colleagues' opinions and take these into consideration when making decisions. 
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20 tips and tricks for writing hyper-personalized cold emails

If cold emails are a good match for your target audience and business strategy, learning how to write them will increase your chances of making a connection and prevent your message from ending up in a spam folder.

Writing a hyper-personalized cold email isn’t rocket science, but it requires certain elements and a delicate touch. 
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Tips for improving the basic elements of a cold email

1. An optimized subject line

According to OptinMonster, 47% of recipients open cold emails based on the subject line. This means you need a subject line that’s both compelling and optimized. How do you optimize subject lines?

Start with the length: the optimum subject line word count is between six and 10. When in doubt, go shorter.

bar graph showing email open rate by subject line length, with 6-10-word subjects being opened most frequently


In addition to limiting the subject line to 6-10 words, it’s extremely helpful to personalize the subject line. According to Zippia, in fact,  personalized subject lines  increase open rates by a whopping 50%!

“Personalizing” your subject line, though, means more than just using the prospect’s name. Although using the name is a step in the right direction, it won’t get you to the promised land on its own. 

image of a sample email that uses the recipient’s name in the subject line, uses 8 words and shows genuine interest in the prospect


In eight words, the sender conveyed a specific interest in the recipient and demonstrated that they've already invested some time in the potential relationship. 

2. Pre-header copy

Here’s what a pre-header, or preview text, looks like: 

part of an email inbox preview section, with the from name, subject line and preview text highlighted and labeled


It appears just after the subject line when a recipient is looking at emails in their inbox. Pre-header copy adds context to your subject line and gives the recipient more information. 

Keep in mind, too, that 85% of users check email on their smartphones, so you should always consider how to optimize your emails for mobile screens.

So how do you get the pre-header copy right? Here are some guidelines that can help: 

  • Make sure the length of the preheader text is between 85 and 100 characters.
  • Don’t repeat the subject line – it should add additional context.
  • Write the pre-header to build curiosity.

3. Impeccable grammar with zero typos

Most people don’t think twice about grammar mistakes and typos in personal emails, but with marketing emails…it’s a different story. Such mistakes may not accurately reflect a company’s literacy and attention to detail, but it doesn’t matter.

In a 2022 survey of 50,000 subscribers to its email newsletter, Linguix found that each marketing email with grammar mistakes reduced potential leads by 25%. Ask yourself this, too: How do you feel when you receive a marketing email with grammar mistakes or typos? 

4. Don’t forget a call to action (CTA)

Suppose you write an impeccable cold email – great subject line, perfect preheader copy, and body text. You’re ready to send, right? 


The final piece of the puzzle for an effective cold outreach email is a call to action (CTA). Even if every other part of your email is spot-on, it’s a rudderless boat without some way of directing your prospect to take the next step toward doing business with your company. And the best way to accomplish this is through an effective CTA.

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How to write a cold email

Let's focus on the core of your email - the message body. These tips will help you write a message that resonates with your recipient and inspires them to take the next step.

1. Personalize your email

Personalization is a crucial aspect of any cold email outreach strategy. Tailoring the tone of the email copy, the type of content, and specific pain points you can solve helps the recipient feel like you wrote the email just for them. 

Of course, you can't really write each email individually – at least not at scale. That's where segmentation comes in; it allows you to personalize cold outreach at scale. Segmentation is the process of grouping prospects based on their job title, industry, business size, or other relevant factors and then writing cold emails that best fit each identified segment

Marketers have found that segmenting email campaigns leads to a 760% increase in revenue.

Once you've segmented your email list, create personalized emails for each group.

Most people think personalization only refers to using the prospect’s name in an email. While this certainly plays a part, personalization goes far beyond this simple trick. 

a sample mass email template with various examples of how to personalize the message to a large group of recipients

Some ideas of how you can personalize an email include: 

  • Personal information like their name or position at a company
  • Highlight products or services they've previously shown interest in
  • Mention previous interactions they've had with your team
  • Include work they've done, like a published article, product launch, or event

Tidbits like these tell the recipient that they’re not on the wrong end of another generic email. Showing you’ve researched the prospect’s company by mentioning their challenges or recent triumphs is another good cold email strategy. 

Most CRMs and email marketing tools allow you to enter details about your leads to then use as variables in mail merges and mass emails, which means you can create endlessly personalized mass emails in minutes.

2. Keep it short

Your email itself shouldn't be endless. Word count is important. 

Long, wordy emails are a sure way to get your prospect to click “delete” without ever giving your message a proper read. Research shows that the sweet spot is between 50 and 125 words

Shorter emails get your point across quickly to a recipient who hasn’t decided to invest time in you yet. That’s why they work. 

Of course, your goal is probably to provide more information than 50 - 125 words allow so the prospect understands what you’re offering. In those cases, you could add a tracked link to a page containing all the information.

Alternatively, you can invite the prospect to jump on a call and give an outline (bullet points are your best friend) of what you want to discuss.

Whatever you choose, keep in mind that the golden rule of cold emailing is to “deliver value to the prospect,” so make sure each word counts.

3. Touch on their pain point

Including the pain point in your cold email is the best way to show your prospects you understand their situation.

To find out your prospect’s pain point, you’ll need to invest time and do some research. That time is well worth it, however, since the prospect can more easily  relate to what you’re saying.

Discussing a specific pain point also sets you up to explain precisely how you can help them, changing the email’s tone. Instead of focusing on selling something, you’re solving the prospect’s problem, helping make them feel understood and valued. 

When you touch on a prospect’s pain point, you can show how you’ll provide value in a very specific way.

Let’s look at an example: 

a sample cold outreach email that uses a pain point to gain the prospect’s interest and trust


This example doesn’t include any promotional language. Instead, it states a problem and explains the causes for free

After the recipient has watched the video, who will be the first person on their mind when they decide they want to resolve the issue? 

4. Write an effective CTA using best practices

The average click-through rate for emails sits between 0.7% and 4.4%, depending on your industry. However, top performers can see that number shoot up to an incredible 9-10%

Following CTA best practices can increase your click-through rate and convince your recipients to take action.

Tried and tested approaches include:

  • Only one CTA per email. Too many options can confuse the recipient, and they may end up not clicking on anything.
  • ‍Place the CTA at the bottom of a short email. After introducing yourself and offering the prospect valuable content, they need to know exactly what to do next. ‍
  • Keep your CTA simple. (e.g., offer to set up a call, include a hyperlink that allows the prospect to schedule a meeting through a platform like Calendly, etc.).
Screenshot of a sample cold outreach email showing a clear CTA a the end


  • Push on your prospect’s pain point. Entice them to click on your CTA by offering them a vision of a better world. For example: “Would you like to hop on a call to discover how you can save hundreds of hours per month in lead generation?”

5. Be authentic

The easiest way to appear inauthentic is to use complicated, over-the-top language and make outlandish promises Here are some examples of outlandish claims that are more likely to elicit an eye roll from your prospective client than a click on your CTA: 

  • Learn how to triple your revenue with three simple clicks! 
  • Do you want to get to the top of search engine rankings without having to lift a finger?
  • We’ll acquire 10,000 new Instagram followers for you in ONE day!

How believable are these? Most people see these claims and immediately think "What's the catch?"

On the flip side, you don’t want to be boring or sound like every other cold email coming from a cubicle-dwelling sales rep. Add a personal touch to your email and use simple, direct language. 

Take a look at this example that’s lacking personality: 

Hi Danny, 

‍I’m John Smith, and I’m the head of marketing at ZZZ. 

I was looking over your social media profile, and I feel that my company would be a great fit…

This example tries to be authentic but fails. 

It’s generic – John Smith probably sent the same email to a dozen people and merely changed the recipient’s name. 

Let’s try this another way and consider the following questions: 

  • What did they see on the profile? Was it a picture? An article? 
  • Which social media platform did they check out? 
  • What did they think about it on a personal level?

Hi Danny, 

I’m John Smith, and I’m the head of marketing at ZZZ. 

I came across the article on how to improve email response rates that you posted on LinkedIn, and I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. Too many people simply send out generic emails and hope for the best. 

That’s actually one of the reasons I’m writing to you…

Doesn’t that sound more authentic? 

When you include specific details about your prospect in your emails, you show that you’re genuinely interested in connecting with and helping them. ‍

6. Use humor

Humor can be a great icebreaker, but you can’t just drop a random joke and expect to wow your recipient.

Make sure you're weaving in the humor in a way that benefits the overall structure of the email.

Here’s a great example: 

image of a cold outreach email using an F1 racing meme as an example of using humor in one of these communications


The first sentence establishes a shared interest, the commonality we mentioned earlier. 

The second sentence subtly reveals that the sender has done their research. 

Then comes the joke. 

Afterward, they continue with the casual language but get straight to business. They offer social proof and then explain how they can help the prospect. 

It’s worth noting that the CTA can be improved because it doesn’t tell the reader what the next step looks like. A better CTA would be: “If you’re game, I’d love to hop on a 15-minute call with you later this week.”

7. Consider using social proof and validation

Social proof is evidence that people have used your product or service and found it valuable. This concept leverages the idea that consumers want to purchase products or services because their peers already have.

Vague or overly salesy language can doom the effectiveness of your cold outreach email. Social proof avoids this problem by allowing you to point directly to value.. 

So how do you offer social proof? Here are the best options: 

  • Case studies
  • Testimonials
  • Referrals 
  • Success stories

Adding case studies, for example, can improve your close rate by as much as 70%.

Since the recipient may be unaware of your company, it works best if the examples and success stories involve:

  1. Companies the prospect knows
  2. Businesses in their industry or niche

Think of it like this: if you wanted to send a cold outreach email to Nike offering your marketing services, it would be beneficial to show how you’ve improved marketing efforts for another activewear or apparel brand. 

Beyond social proof, validating is the next best option, and it works well in tandem with social proofing. 

Validating yourself means mentioning any mutual connection you have with the prospect. For example, if you have a common acquaintance, went to the same school, or share a hobby. Beyond mentioning your business name, you want them to see you as human. The more unique the connection, the more likely you are to get a response.

Here’s a good example: 

screenshot of a cold outreach email using validation to establish the legitimacy of the sender

8. Don’t pitch too hard

It’s important to remember what a cold email is supposed to achieve – interest.

Immediately launching into a presentation of your product/service is a surefire way to waste an opportunity. The prospect won’t be interested in your company because they don’t know why they should be interested. 

For example, bringing up your solution’s expected ROI in a cold email can lower your success rate by 15% – it does nothing to explain how your product/service can actually help solve the recipient’s pressing problems.

At best, it’s meaningless data. At worst, it’s a reason to argue with your assumptions.

Instead, focus on building an emotional connection by:

  • Briefly explaining who you are and how you came across their profile
  • Building rapport by complimenting them or mentioning a shared connection (if possible)
  • Framing the problem and the solution from the prospect’s perspective
  • Offering social proof to validate your claims

These four steps steadily build interest so that by the end of the email, the prospect is eager to click on your CTA and learn more.

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Optimize your cold email outreach

At this point, you know what to include in a cold email and how to write an authentic, personalized message that will grab your prospect’s attention.

You’re one step away from writing and sending your own cold emails. What’s left?

You need to learn how to optimize your campaign or, in other words, how to:

  • Increase the odds of your emails landing in the right inboxes
  • Streamline your outreach process
  • Maximize your performance 
  • Stay compliant

Let’s get started on this final leg.

1. Find the right person to email

Before starting an email campaign, learn a few things about your prospects to make sure they match up with your target audience. This includes:

  1. Their job and industry
  2. Their background (education, career path, etc.)
  3. Their main pain point

These factors are essential because they help guide your decision-making process when writing your email. 

  • Their industry and their main pain point help you select relevant content
  • Their job title ensures you’re contacting a decision-maker

If you realize you should be connecting with somebody else at the company, find the prospect’s email address online or try asking for an introduction.

If you’re offering something valuable, odds are the employee will want to impress their boss by bringing them an exciting new opportunity. 

2. Use templates 

Salespeople spend 21% of their days writing emails, but templates can help streamline the process. 

Cold email templates are also an excellent way to ensure consistent messaging from all your team members. Templates work as a blueprint that you can continuously update based on responses. You keep adjusting them until you find the optimum email template. 

On the other hand, by using templates, you run the risk of sending impersonal emails that don’t connect with the target audience. 

So how do you strike the right balance between the two options? 

That brings us to our next tip: 

3. A/B test

A/B testing is the process of splitting your email list into equal parts and sending each group a variation of the same email to see which performs best. 

Think of it like a science experiment for emails - you want to isolate one specific change in each version so you know what’s impacting your results.

You can run A/B tests for:

  • subject lines
  • CTAs
  • email copy
  • email formatting
  • color schemes
  • any other part of your email

Before setting up an A/B test, identify the metric you're trying to improve and how you'll measure success for each test. For example, testing a subject line might impact your open rate. Testing a CTA might impact your clickthrough or response rate.

screenshot showing subject lines for a list of mail merges in an email app, with one labeled A and one B to illustrate A/B testing of two different subject lines

After sending out two or more versions of the same email, analyze your email outreach results. Once you know which version is the most effective, you can use that subject line, CTA, or message in future emails. 

4. Send the email at the right time

Correctly timing your emails can go a long way to helping improve your response rates. 

According to a study of over 100,000 emails, the best time of the day to send an email is between 6-9am.

screenshot of graphic using a bar graph to illustrate the best times of day to send an email based on the number of clicks at each time

The same study suggests that Monday is the best day to send a cold outreach email, with an open rate of a little over 20%.

Make sure to consider who your audience is as that may affect when they’re most likely to read your emails. For example, a business software company probably isn’t going to reach as many people on the weekend as a fashion brand would.

5. Avoid spam filters

Email Service Providers (ESPs) use spam filters to protect their users from receiving unwanted and unsolicited emails. 

The most common reasons emails go to the spam folder are: 

  • Sending low-quality email content
  • Sending emails to prospects that aren’t a good fit for your business

Make sure you're following best practices for email deliverability and avoiding buzzwords that may land you in spam folders.

6. Follow up

Only 2% of sales are made during the first point of contact, yet for some reason:

  • 70% of unanswered cold emails aren’t followed up on
  • Just 8% of salespeople follow up more than five times

These stats are even more astonishing when you consider that cold email campaigns with four to seven email sequences get three times as many responses as those with fewer than four emails.

In short, it pays to follow up on your cold emails. You’ll want to immediately follow up after your first contact and schedule a follow-up email sequence in case you still don’t get a response.

Some email outreach tools allow you to send automated follow-ups if you don't get a response from your lead. Once the lead responds, they're removed from the follow-up sequence so you can respond to them personally. 

7. Stay compliant with cold emailing regulations 

Cold emailing is legal, but in the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act gives email recipients the right to stop receiving unsolicited emails and includes fines for any violations. 

Here's a non-exhaustive list of how to stay compliant and avoid being marked as spam:

  1. Don’t use misleading or false information: Your “From” and “Reply to” addresses should all be accurate and reflect your identity. 
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines: The subject line must accurately indicate the email’s content.‍
  3. Opting out of future emails should be easy: Inform your prospects how they can unsubscribe and remove unsubscribes from your list immediately. 

8. Consider incorporating A.I. into the email process

Some marketers (and creatives, too) feel ill at ease with the growing influence of artificial intelligence (AI). Such anxiety is largely unwarranted, though. 

AI should be viewed as more of a tool than a threat – a tool that can crunch and analyze enormous quantities of data at mind-numbing speeds. What’s more, it can perform such analyses and calculations with virtually flawless precision. 

This enormous capacity not only saves marketers time and effort searching for trends and patterns, but can also uncover data points that would otherwise never be spotted. As a result, AI can make the process of grouping recipients and determining what messages to send to whom and when much more efficient and effective. 

These aren’t AI’s only potential uses in regards to cold emailing, but to take advantage of any of the benefits, you must get comfortable and familiar with the technology. The other option is falling behind other marketers who’ve embraced AI not as master, but as cutting-edge technology that makes the job easier and more successful.
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Get creative... and scientific

Cold emailing is both an art and a science. Sometimes the most creative approaches are the ones that get through to leads, but you'll want to test various tactics to see what works and resonates with your audience. That’s where A/B testing enters the picture; this tactic can be a powerful, effective means for determining what messages resonate with your target prospects and are more likely to lead to clicks on your email CTAs.

Use these tips to start drafting cold emails. AI can help with this, but remember it’s not the writer/marketer, but only a tool. Next, set up some A/B tests to hone in on what's working and what can be improved. Again, AI can help in this process, too, helping narrow down potential messages for testing from larger pools.

Remember that progress can be slow; however, with enough data, sufficient patience – remember, failure is the best teacher – and AI as a tool, you'll eventually find what works for you and start seeing results.

Good luck and happy emailing!

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