Everything you need to know about email deliverability and open rate

byKaran Sharma, Guido Croce, Sebastian Schlimme, Alexander Killeen

Heads up: this is a long (~9000 words) blog post so I’ve added topic headings in the list to the left with the key points from each topic. The list will also contain anchors links that will allow you to jump back and forth to read the content as you wish or to read only what is interesting for you (I think all of it is interesting, but then again I’m a bit of an email-geek).

Before we start, let me say a few words on why email deliverability and high open rates are key to all email outreach and how it impacts campaign performance.

Consider the following:

Any email that is not delivered into the inbox of the intended recipient will not be opened. Stronger still, even the subject line snippet of it will not be seen by the intended recipient. Effectively, those prospects are not part of the overall potential of the campaign.


What is email deliverability?

Email deliverability is when a sent email gets delivered into the recipient’s inbox. It’s important to note the difference between an email being delivered to their inbox and being delivered to their mailbox.

Inbox placement is crucial and is what will influence your open rate. You may notice a high email delivery (different to email deliverability) but this may mean your email is being delivered to the recipient’s spam, promotions or junk folder.

You need high email deliverability as it will lead to more open rates, thus, more successful email marketing. Let’s take a look at the case for high email deliverability.


The case for open rate

Let’s say that you targeted 1000 prospects and your open rate (due to a variety of reasons) was 30% (very close to the industry average). What that means is that from the 1000 only 300 will actually get to read your content and the other 700 will remain oblivious to who you are and what yo do. Furthermore, since only 300 will actually view your content only they have any chance to reply to you so whatever amount of replies you get will be from those 300 prospects that viewed your message.

Now let’s say you had 15 positive replies so 1.5% (15/1000) of the campaigns total prospects pool – we call that prospect to positive reply rate. The same 15 positive replies can also be expressed in open to positive reply which in this case is 5% (15/300).

Now imagine that you made bunch of improvements and pushed that open rate by 30% to 55% (right at the center of our open rate spread of 40-70%). Assuming you didn’t use click-bait tactics to increase that open-rate, and all other things being equal, you will get the same open to positive reply rate (5%), meaning you will get .05 * 550 = 27.5 positive replies. Even though your open to positive reply rate stayed the same, your prospect to positive reply rate went from 1.5% to 2.7%.

Open rate is the first measure of success (assuming you’re not using it as a vanity metric or using click-baiting tactics) that you need to keep in check. Don’t settle for 30%, when we know that 40-70% is quite common when done things the right way.

Okay, so now that you are with me on the importance of deliverability and open rates. Let’s dive really deep into the factors that impact open rate.


The case for high email deliverability

You may want 100% email deliverability, but this is simply not realistic for reasons you cannot control such as the recipient’s mailbox being full or strict email security blocking external email coming in. However, there are many factors you can control which will be discussed in this post to help you achieve high email deliverability.

Targeting the same 1000 prospects with 30% open rate, 300 people would have read your email. However, this is only assuming that you had perfect email deliverability. Suppose you had a deliverability rate of 80% where the other 20% was sent to spam, blocked or you had an invalid email address, the actual number of email opens would be 800 * 0.3 = 240.

Using the same open-to-positive reply rate of 5%, the number would drop to 12 positive replies from 15. The difference may seem small in this example, but over months or years and multiplied by the number of sales reps, the amount of lost potential revenue can be very significant by simply not following some avoidable factors.

Okay, so now that you are with me on the importance of deliverability and open rates. Let’s dive really deep into the factors that impact open rate.


What are the factors that impact open rate

Firstly, deliverability and open rate are not the same thing. They are closely related where deliverability strongly influences open rate (not the other way around). Further in this article, I list a set of those factors however there are some that won’t make that list because they are simply random or cyclical. One such factor is out of office or auto-replies which may be higher in holiday periods than in peak times.


Technical set up - the back-end framework you need to have to ensure your emails are trusted and secure

Now, we’ll talk about your technical set up. To protect recipients from receiving emails for spam, fraud and spoofing, email authentication has become hugely important not just for security, but also for the success of your email deliverability.

The recipient’s mail server checks all incoming emails and takes into account many different factors to determine the sending reputation. 

SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

SPF is an email authentication method that defines which servers can send emails using your domain (e.g. hubsell.com). Without SPF, spammers or hackers may send emails from their own server using another company’s domain as their email address.

To prevent other people from using your domain to send emails, you use SPF. It is a record on the DNS that specifies which servers are authorised to send emails using that domain. It also allows the recipient’s email server to confirm the email they received is from an authorised source.

DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail)

DKIM is an email authentication technique that allows the receiver to validate whether that email was really sent by the domain owner. When emails are sent, they can be intercepted by criminals or other illicit third parties during the process of it being transmitted from the sender to the receiver.

To secure the email, two keys are created as part of this authentication method. One private key is created on the sender’s server and another public key is created and saved on the Domain Name System (DNS – like a phonebook on the internet of domain names e.g. hubsell.com).

The sender will sign their email with their private key. When the email is sent, the recipient’s email server will receive a DKIM-signed message where it can validate that email using the public key that is available on the DNS. These keys are then combined together to verify that the email is safe and will be delivered to the recipient’s inbox.


Data quality - a key aspect of email deliverability and open rates by ensuring the right people are targeted

Data is a crucial part of the outbound sales strategy and the data you use will directly influence your email deliverability and open rate. You can read more about B2B data in this post, but the following will be a summary of some of the key things to have in your B2B data.

Data relevance

Targeting the right people at the right companies requires you to correctly identify who your ideal customer profiles are. Sending emails with your proposal to people who have no need or use for your product or service is a sure way to get your emails marked as spam. You must ensure you are using relevant data for your solution as this will not only keep your open rates up but also give you a way to tailor your message to your target persona.

Data accuracy

With a list of relevant data, the next step is to make sure your data is correct and up to date. Validating your email address is always good practice before starting any email marketing campaign. Sending emails to an invalid email address will impact your domain reputation and hurt your email deliverability.


Sender reputation - a score that determines the reputation of your email address

Sender reputation is the reputation of your email address and is a score calculated on a scale from 0 to 100 that an internet service provider (ISP) assigns to you. It plays a critical part in your email deliverability as the higher your sender reputation the more likely your email will be delivered to your recipient’s inbox. Conversely, a lower sender reputation will result in lower email deliverability where your email could be sent to a spam folder or even rejected.

Here are a few factors that can affect your sender reputation.

Email engagement

A couple of important factors around email engagement are email opens and replies. Both these metrics show the ISP there is engagement with your emails and thus strengthens your reputation. Using poor quality B2B data or sending irrelevant email content will quickly damage your reputation as no-one will open your email, let alone reply back to you.

This post talks about the key metrics that matter in your campaign and what results are recommended for you to get – here is a quick rundown:

  • Open rate

Between 40 to 70% of emails sent; anything below is abnormal and should be fixed, anything above is welcomed but is usually an outlier.

  • Bounce rate

Under 5% of emails sent; anything above is a bad sign and should be fixed as soon as possible.

  • Reply rate

Between 15 to 30% of emails sent; anything below is a problem and should be fixed, anything above is welcomed but usually an outlier; positive replies should range from 0 to 7%.

  • Reply-to-demo ratio

For every five non-negative replies you schedule one demo; anything worse should be looked at (some industries have lower conversions), anything better is welcomed but usually an outlier.

  • Demo-to-close ratio

For every four to six demos, you close one deal; anything worse should be looked at (some industries have lower conversions), anything better is welcomed but usually an outlier. 

Spam complaints

Sending emails to people you don’t know is a large part of what an email marketing campaign is about. However, it’s vitally important your emails don’t get marked as spam as that will destroy your email deliverability.

There are 2 types of spam complaints: external and internal.

An external spam complaint is when someone manually marks your email as spam. Just because someone doesn’t know you won’t necessarily mean they will mark your email as spam.

An internal spam complaint is when someone unsubscribes from your email and then selects the reason as spam. The option to mark it as spam alerts the sender without the email provider knowing which avoids hurting your reputation.

Spam traps 

Another way ISPs catch spammy email marketers is to set up spam traps. These are email addresses that are owned by an ISP which are either newly created or abandoned old email addresses taken over by an ISP to trap spammers.

Sending an email to a spam trap alerts the ISP that you are likely sending spam and can lead to being blacklisted. When obtaining poor quality email addresses, spam trap emails can also be obtained unknowingly.

Blacklist

A blacklist is a list of IP addresses, sender domains and servers that are identified to send spam. Ending up on a blacklist can have significant impacts on your email deliverability as you may find your emails hitting the junk folder or not being delivered at all.

Blacklists are mainly used by internet service providers or email providers to stop spammers from sending mail and protect the recipient from being a victim of spam or fraud.

Although you are not sending spam emails, if your emails appear to have similar characteristics to spam then there is a possibility of being blacklisted. As well as the previous points, here are a few other characteristics:

  • Growth spike in sending

Extremely large spikes in sending emails within a short time will indicate to ISPs you are likely to be sending spam emails.

  • No unsubscribe button

Having an unsubscribe button is really helpful to recipients who don’t want to receive emails from you anymore. Without it, they would have to mark your email as spam which would seriously damage your sender reputation.

  • High bounce rate

A high bounce rate indicates to ISPs that poor quality data is being used for marketing purposes. It may look like the sender is using a bought list which is common with spam.


Bounce rate – a lesser known but a greater cause of low open rates

Right off the start, let’s note that there are two types of bounces, ‘soft’ bounces and ‘hard’ bounces. A hard bounce represents an email being sent to a wrong and non-existent email address resulting in a delivery failure, whereas a soft bounce can happen for many reasons other than the wrong email address.

Let’s talk about them in the order of less severe to really severe.

Soft bounces

Soft bounces can occur for various reasons which can impact your email deliverability even if the email is correct, a few examples of soft-bounces are; message being rejected because your domain rating is too low, or because the inbox of the recipient is full, or your DMARC record has a very rigid policy, or the recipient’s server setup auto rejects or forwards messages automatically based on some conditions. The list continues. The impact of soft bounces is not really as detrimental as a hard-bounce.

All bounces, regardless of whether they are soft or hard, will lower the overall success of your campaign by shrinking the overall potential over your dataset and decrease email deliverability. Consider the following example: you emailed 100 people but 5 bounced so only 95 of them actually received your email and therefore have a chance to read your email, so in essence, the overall potential was shrunk by 5%.

Hard bounces

A hard bounce represents an email being sent to a wrong and non-existent email address resulting in a delivery failure.

Hard bounces go a step further in causing damage to your email deliverability and overall email marketing efforts which is why it’s important to keep the bounce rate below 5%, which we have found to be well below the line that is dangerous.

Hard bounces impact the domain health and the spam rating of your subsequent emails. Basically, the recipient’s server will be considered a hard bounce as a negative factor and the higher the bounce rate the more point will be removed from the domain rating of the sender’s email address.

Let’s consider the following example, you mailed 100 prospects from which you had the wrong email address for 15 of them, so in this example, you had 15 hard bounces. The consequences of those 15 hard bounces are that, just like with soft bounces, your data’s overall potential was decreased by 15%. On top of that, when your email service provider sees that you are using addresses that are incorrect and experiencing poor email deliverability, they will make the assumption that your email data quality is low. Each hard bounce will negatively impact your domain’s reputation thus impacting future email deliverability, so if you have a high bounce rate for long period you can do serious damage.

Bounce management

Making sure that your bounce rate stays low (lower than 5%) is very important for maintaining your domain reputation and keeping email deliverability and open rates high (between 40-70%).

So here are a few key things to remember:

  • Ask your data provider what the estimated bounce rate is (in hubsell’s case it is less than 5%) and if the bounce rate is too high consider another provider.
  • Monitor your campaigns and pause/stop the campaign if you’re hitting greater than a 10% bounce rate.
  • Make sure that bounces are recorded/marked correctly as sending a follow-up email to a bounced email is equally bad as sending the first email, and it is totally avoidable.

Sender’s email – kind of a big-deal if you want to have one-on-one conversations with your prospects

So let’s quickly look at the different settings which are possible (there may be more but they are not common).

Sender’s email setting types

  • You can send emails from a third party server which is typically the case with services like SendGrid and MailChimp etc.
  • You can send email from your outbox but under an alias, e.g. let’s say that my email address is ‘rick.sanchez@hubsell.com’ however I have an alias for outbound emails only which is ‘rick@hubsell.com’ – keep in mind that aliases are not separate users in your email service provider setup, they are merely a different email address used by the same user.
  • You can send email from your primary mailbox.

Let’s discuss each one by one.

Third party server sending

While third party servers are valuable for use-cases such as newsletters to subscribers, massive mailings and e-commerce drip campaigns, they have limited usability in the world of cold outreach. There is a very good reason for that, cold outreach needs to be or at the very least seem to be one-on-one, a requirement that mass-mailers and third party senders cannot fulfill.

When you use a third party server to send your emails the details in your message indicate that it is mailed by and signed by certain domains. See image below:

Email Snippets for users

The information attached to the message is checked by the receiving server where it will give your message a rating. When the message is sent from a third party server the rating given to it is lower than when the message is sent from your mailbox directly. A low rating means a lower inboxing-rate, or conversely the higher rate means your message ends up in the spam folder.

Aliases vs unique mailboxes

An alias is an email that is not a separate user but rather shares the inbox of another mailbox, e.g. john.smith@hubsell.com and js@hubsell.com can belong to the same person however one of them is the user and the other is an alias attached to the user. Alias email addresses are not considered as full mailboxes by the recipients servers, however not as detrimental as third party servers, they are still less ideal compared to your primary mailbox for doing cold outreach.

Your primary mailbox has many strong points, firstly it most likely has a longer history than your alias created for the sole purpose of doing cold mailings. Secondly, a primary mailbox has incoming mails from your colleagues, your prospects and your customers, so there is a bigger proportion of email traffic coming in comparison to an email that is created for the sole purpose of sending cold emails.


Recipients’ email – anything other than the direct corporate email address is a sub-par strategy

There are three main email types that you can target when doing your cold outreach:

Corporate email – john.smith@domain.com
Role-based emails – marketing@ or info@
Private emails – john.smith@gmail.com

Every time you send an email I highly suggest you to target corporate emails.

Why role-based emails aren’t a good idea

Role-based emails are something both our customers and us don’t use because a lot of times these emails can be managed by more than one person. If you’re trying to target a specific decision maker and somebody else reads the email instead, it won’t be the best fit for them according to the dynamic placeholders that you used.

Also, this might increase the chances of your email getting a soft bounce, which, as we have seen before, is a metric that we want to keep as low as possible to keep our campaign potential high. To top it off, role based emails have too much noise because they are they easiest to be found and therefore receive a high volume of emails.

Why private emails aren’t a good idea

So, if role-based emails are not the ones we should use, then the next logical step would be to send the campaign to the target’s personal email. Unfortunately, this is not the best move either. First, let’s clarify what a personal email is: a personal email is the one that has attached an ending with a freemailer like @gmail, @yahoo, etc or on another paid/hosted server not meant for business. Usually private emails are free email accounts that the recipient might use for their personal affairs.

It’s never a good idea to email private email addresses because the recipients will feel very intruded upon, the content of your message is not relevant to them personally, and according to GDPR it is not legal in all countries in the EU.

Another deterrent from using personal emails is that when people are checking their private email, they are less likely to be in work mood, which can be for or against you. It can be for you due to them having lowered barriers which means they are more likely to open the email. However, it can be detrimental because their mind is not focused on work which means they might not even want to open your email and think about work.

And so, it comes down to one type of email: the corporate email.

Direct corporate emails are the way to go

Here at hubsell we always recommend our customers to target the corporate email of their recipient because it is the most productive of the three options and doesn’t come with the issues related to other two types of emails explained above.


Subject line – say in a few words in the subject line what you say in 100 words in your email and don’t do click-baiting

Some time ago I wrote an article on the kind of emails that end up in spam which I highly recommend reading in addition to the content in this article. In the current section ‘subject line’ and the next one ‘message copy’, I would like to tackle some of the key differentiators on ongoing basis after you’ve taken care of the data and technical set-up.

Let’s say that you did everything well. You’ve got excellent data, with only corporate direct email addresses, you’ve set-up your DMARC, DKIM/SPF properly, you’re using your own primary email do the outreach. All boxes checked with stellar ratings. You can mess it all up if you use bad subject lines (like shown in the blog post about email that end up in the spam folder).

Your goal with subject lines

Your ultimate goal when writing a subject line is to get the target to open the email, however with one caveat ‘do not trick or bait the recipient into opening your email’. If you use click-bait tactics to increase your open rate then you’re ‘inflating’ it without an increase in the value of those opens. If you remember at the start of the article I mentioned open to positive reply rate, this metric will decrease if you use click-bait tactics and your unsubscribe/spam reporting rate will go up.

A good subject line has to entice/welcome/encourage the recipient to open your email instead of other emails in their mailbox.

What to do and what not to do

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

    There is a lot you can do with subject lines as long you remember the following:

  • Keeping the number of characters around 60 because most email clients will display between 40-70 characters on desktop and tables, and around 30-60 on smart phone screens
  • The character limit in email subject line includes the first n count of characters in the body of the email, i.e. if I have a subject of only 10 characters, then the first 30-60 characters of your email body will be visible in the preview snippet
  • In mobile phones (landscape or portrait view) the subject and body are on two separate rows so the length of the subject does not impact how much of the email body is visible to your recipient
  • Don’t use CAPS, exclamation marks ‘!’, or more than one question marks ‘?’ (one is okay)
  • Avoid spam words and phrases such as ‘free’, ‘money’, ‘risk free’, ‘apply now’ etc (the list is huge – and often times contextual)
  • Don’t use numbers or symbols e.g. #1
  • Don’t “FWD:” a prefix attempting to appear as if the email came from someone the recipient knows (check my comment on click-baiting)

Some things that I’m on the fence about, I don’t use them myself but some of our customers do and they get results, and some others don’t get results.

  • ellipses ‘…’,
  • Starting every word with a capital letter
  • Generic short subject lines such as ‘quick question’, ‘question’, ‘feedback’ etc.

How to go about writing a good subject line

There are few mental checkboxes you can mark when creating subject lines.

Number one is to ask yourself ‘does my subject line indicate what the email content is about and does it indicate that consistently.’ If it doesn’t you run the risk of misleading or creating clickbait subject line. Sounds simple, it really is not. It’s really hard to take what you said in about a 100 words and summarize it into 10 or so.

Number two is to check the length of your subject line, if it’s 10-20 characters then you need to take the first 20-50 characters of your email body as part of your subject line. Where if the subject line is long you’ll have less room to display the start of the message. See the images below for comparison.

email preview snippet on mobile phones

email preview snippet on desktop

So what you see is that on desktop, laptop, tablets your email subject and the start of the email body is on the same row, whereas on mobile phones (also landscape) is on two separate rows.

Static vs dynamic subject lines

Number three is figure out whether to make it personally relevant to the end recipient or not. And if yes (which I recommend) how and to what extent. Let me elaborate on that a little, personalization in the email subject line has been commonly limited to ‘static placeholders’ such as {{firstName}}, {{lastName}}, and {{companyName}} etc. However there is another level which we, at hubsell, called ‘dynamic placeholders’ which use ‘if-this-then-that’ logic to enable personalization in a much deeper way.

Consider the following examples of static placeholder fitted subject lines:

  • Quick question about {{companyName}}
  • {{firstName}}, quick question about {{companyName}}
  • {{firstName}}, quick question about {{companyName}} regarding your [your topic]

Most important thing you should remember is that like anything else in cold outreach personalization is key. A lot of marketers and sales developers fail because they limit themselves to static content.

Now consider these examples of dynamic placeholders fitted subject lines:

  • {{firstName}}, {{companyId.Name}} // [your name], [your company name] – intro regarding {{#if (eq department ‘General Management’) }}roi{{else if (eq department ‘Business Development’) }}data{{else if (eq department ‘Sales’) }}conversion{{else}}process{{/if}} driven sales

The dynamic placeholder fitted subject line will automatically adjust itself depending on whether the recipient belongs to the department of ‘General Management’, ‘Business Development’, ‘Sales’ or any other department. So it has subject lines within itself.

    Here are the four different versions of the dynamic subject line above:

  • {{firstName}}, {{companyId.Name}} // [your name], [your company name] – intro regarding roi driven sales
  • {{firstName}}, {{companyId.Name}} // [your name], [your company name] – intro regarding data driven sales
  • {{firstName}}, {{companyId.Name}} // [your name], [your company name] – intro regarding conversion driven sales
  • {{firstName}}, {{companyId.Name}} // [your name], [your company name] – intro regarding process driven sales

I’ve made the key difference bold in the list above and what you see is that the difference is one word. You don’t have to limit yourself to one word when it comes to the dynamic difference however in my opinion the only word that needed changing, depending on the department, was the word indicating the type of sales process: roi, data, conversion or process.


Message copy – you’ve come far already, they have opened the email, now take them through structured consumption of your message, oh and you’ve got about 100 words to do so

Now that we have done the following correctly: you’ve got good data, your setup is impeccable, and you’ve written subject lines that hit open rate of the upper 80% (have seen enough times to know it’s really possible), now things get serious.

Paraphrasing the words of the evil but entertaining Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Django Unchained):

‘You had your prospect’s curiosity with your subject line, now with your message copy you gain their interest.’

Some basic points to remember when drafting your message content

With bad content, you can really ruin (yes, ruin, I am being that negative), your campaign’s potential. So to avoid that let’s list a few basic ideas and considerations:

  • your prospect viewing your message is only the continuation of the process not the end by any means because an opened email that was not answered did not deliver the intended result of initiating a dialogue with the recipient
  • your message should not deviate from what is indicated in the subject line otherwise it may be perceived as clickbait (if you’ve ever been rick-rolled you know how lame clickbaiting is)
  • just like in the subject line avoid words that are associated with spam (I’ll be doing another long-form post about message content in which I’ll list the spam words which should be avoided)
  • personalize where possible with a focus on crafting content that provides some type of value to the end recipient, e.g. an insight, interest resource, even humour can count as value
  • hypothesize what the message will cause and why (the reason I recommend doing that is that you don’t have to be right you just have to have a structured approach to writing your message to lower the randomness that is not measurable)

Purpose of message content

The content in your message can make or break your campaign. Too many sales devs want to progress too fast in the sale cycle. They are not taking the prospect’s needs into consideration. One of the biggest mistakes you can make while doing cold outreach is to try to sell your product in the message. The message is not at all a channel for selling a product or a service, it is in fact the initiation of an early stage dialogue with a potentially interested party.

I’ve received so many emails that try to sell me their product instead of initiating a dialogue and it’s simply too much to ask from the prospect. A sale has so many steps and the bigger the deal size the more complicated it’s going to get (all other things being equal), so when you try to close a deal or even generate a qualified opportunity on basis of cold outreach, then you’re asking the prospect to do all the work. So make it easy for them, ask them what is absolutely necessary to progress the sale (without losing them) and serve them just enough content that they need in order to convert.

Why buyers won’t convert to sale simply because you contacted them

To seasoned salespeople and outbound marketers, the title of this paragraph is totally redundant (probably a resounding ‘duh’ is the main thought in your mind right now), however still a lot of marketers attempt to achieve the exact opposite of it.

In this paragraph, I’m going to list a few very important and irrefutable reasons why buyers need to speak to a human (salesperson) to close the deal.

  • there is a lot of money at stake
  • buying decisions impact other people in the company where this impact is stronger at higher ticket size products
  • a lot of the contracts are long term so careful thought is given before the buyer commits
  • products have become complicated and need to be explained
  • buyers are second-guessing themselves all the time and often end up making wrong decisions when they have only considered the ‘online presence’ of the vendor and have not spoken to a real person
  • and probably a dozen other reasons

In sum, trying to close the deal via outreach is a sub-par tactic in business to business context.

As I mentioned above in a slightly different way, starting a dialogue with an interested prospect is the best use of cold outreach. Your desired result should be somewhere between the stages of marketing qualified and sales qualified. Cold outreach intended results land somewhere between those levels of qualification.

The subject of message copy is so broad and deep that it can have an entire blog (post) dedicated to it. So I’ll tackle that topic on another day, the current post discusses message copy within the scope of getting the email delivered and opened WITHOUT creating a tricked or baited feeling in the recipient’s mind.

Since I wrote about the kind of placeholders you can use in the subject line in the static vs dynamic placeholders subject lines, it’s only fair that I do the same for message copy as well.

Static vs dynamic message copy

As I wrote about in the Subject Line section, we use if/else technology to personalize the message for the recipient. Using dynamic placeholders instead of static placeholders allows an increase in the customization with an order of magnitude (10 times).

Consider the following:

  • first name
  • last name
  • company name
  • location
  • website
  • etc

are all examples of static variables which replace the placeholder with the variable that it represents, e.g first name, becomes Karan, company name becomes hubsell, website becomes hubsell.com. It replaces itself with the variable it represents. If you add 10 static variables you change ~10 words in the message content, if you add 1 static variable you change ~1 word.

On the other hand, a dynamic variable allows you to change whole phrases or sentences based on ‘if-this-then-that’ logic. E.g. you use ‘department’ as the ‘if-this’ criteria you can automatically show a whole different sentence to people in department a and department b, c, d, e, f to z. Let’s say that you automatically replace a sentence for each department you’re changing ~10-15 words in the copy for every dynamic placeholder that you use.

~1 word to ~10 words replaced placeholder for static and dynamic placeholders respectively represents an increase customization ability of 10 times.

Why dynamic content performs better

Within the context of open rate topic, I argue that dynamic content outperforms static content and here’s why: it’s because dynamic content is perceived as manually written content compared to static content. Where static message x only differs 5% from static message y, dynamically written messages differ 90% from one message to another.

All other things being equal a more differentiated message receives a more favourable rating when it comes to email service providers.


Click tracking - tracking click-through rates is important but make sure your links are not affecting your email deliverability

Tracking your links within your email can give you further insights into your prospects as they may not necessarily be replying to your emails but could be clicking on your links. Having a good click-through rate will tell you how well your campaign is performing but it can be affecting your email deliverability.

The conventional method 

The conventional way of tracking links involves changing the original link with the tracking service’s link. Usually, a prospect expects to go directly to their intended website, but the tracked link will instead have to redirect the prospect to the intended website. Although the prospect may not notice they are being redirected, the problem with redirected links is they resemble a spam message containing links that don’t take the recipient to their intended website.

You can check this for yourself by hovering over the link where the URL will appear in the bottom left corner of your browser and checking to see if that link matches the link in the body of the email.

To protect the recipient, email service providers filter emails with links in them and may send them to the spam folder which will hurt your email deliverability. If you’re doing cold email outreach, the conventional way of tracking links can negatively impact the performance of your campaign as it breaks the illusion of it being a 1-on-1 email.

Branded links

A better way to track links is with branded links. Instead of the conventional method which is outdated, at hubsell, we enable our customers to use branded links which is a new method that uses a unique ID to track links and takes the prospect directly to their intended website. It’s great for email deliverability as the recipient’s server will only see it as a direct link from the sender and will not be able to see it as an automated email tracked by a third party. This is good because it creates more trust and the prospect is less likely to unsubscribe as they will see the email as if it was sent manually.


Sending schedule – too much too fast leads to too little too late when looked through the lens of positive conversion

Once you have your data and content in good shape, it is to time execute your campaign. We’ve now moved to the implementation phase. It’s very important to execute correctly because wrongly implementing your outreach can mess up or at the very least diminish your results.

How most people do cold outreach ‘spray and pray’

    In a lot of cases, marketers and salespeople plan their email outreach in the following way:

  • Make a list of prospects
  • Write a subject line and message template
  • Send the 100s or 1000s emails all at once

The ‘spray and pray’ strategy is sub-par because many things can go very wrong and hurt you in the future.

The right way of doing cold email outreach

There is no 100% right or wrong way of doing cold emailing, because it all depends on a multitude of factors, ranging from industry, to location, to authority, etc. Every company has its own values and ideas as well, which might add even more variables.

However, there are main guidelines, we believe at hubsell, that most people should follow. But as we know, these rules might only apply to the near future. At the rate of speed that the internet changes we might be rewriting this blog post next year.

The strategy that I usually follow consists of making yourself look like a human sending regular emails to friends and acquaintances. So how does a normal person (not backed by software) send cold emails? The maximum amount of daily emails would be from 25 to 150, which we will talk about in the next topic, but in terms of sending schedule, it usually is non-linear, where the time between the first and second email is not the same as the second and third.

At hubsell our idea was to structure our software to make it send emails with different waiting times between each other, which would be exactly what a regular person would do. This means that you have to aim to have random time intervals between n and n+1 emails. This will allow you to have a much higher chance of getting your message in the recipient’s inbox, without getting blacklisted or damaging the health of your domain.


Sending volume - large growth spikes in sending volume can appear to be inorganic, it’s better to grow steadily and spread the volume over many mailboxes

To prevent the email providers from lowering your domain quality aim to send between 25-150 per day per mailbox. As we talked about before, you want to make them believe that you’re not automating your campaigns, so you need to program your software to send emails like a normal person would, without raising any flags.

Even though you can’t send a lot more emails through this process, the fact that you respect the guidelines means that the likelihood of your email getting through and not going to spam is much higher, and consequently, your overall conversions go up. As a basic principle at hubsell, we favour high conversion from low volume over low conversion from high volume.

How to circumvent this obstacle

Now, you might be thinking: “Is that it? Can I only send 25 to 150 emails per day?”. Yes, we recommend only sending that amount per day per mailbox. So how do you scale cold emailing? If you know that by sending 150 emails you get 15 of them to schedule a meeting, what if you could send 300 or 600 or 1000 with the same results?

The great thing is that this is totally doable. The only thing you have to do is get more mailboxes. Instead of sending emails out of one, you can start adding more to scale the whole process up. If you get 10 different mailboxes sending 150 emails per day, that amounts to 1500 daily emails sent, which means 150 scheduled calls and finally greater revenue.

A good rule of thumb when doing cold emailing campaigns is to send as many daily emails as possible without hurting your conversions or your domain health, and the tactics explained above do just that.

But remember that even though you might be able to send a lot of emails, that doesn’t mean that the recipient’s email will be of quality. At hubsell, we make sure that all prospecting emails are verified so the integrity of the campaign is maintained. There is nothing worse for your domain health than sending a lot of emails just to find out that you have a high percentage of soft or hard bounces. Here is the whole strategy in image form:


Target market – back to the drawing board to iterate on who you should be targeting

Here is one factor of open rate and deliverability that you cannot impact significantly however you can be mindful of it during your planning stage: the target market.

The market that you target will have certain systemic trends and behaviours that differ from other markets. These difference are partially the reason for variance in campaign results across different industries.

Market saturation

There are some markets that are more mature than others. Some tactics that work in one country might not work anymore in another. This is something that I highly recommend to keep in mind because cold emailing is still one of those tactics.

Some markets are less saturated than others, so companies won’t be used to cold emailing, which increases your open rates and your call schedules. For example, most of the time, a marketing technique is invented in the US, and then people in Europe start applying it to their businesses as well. This means that some countries can be so far behind that the same technique might continue to work for more years when in the original country it doesn’t work anymore.

The only con in choosing different countries is that you might have to translate the message to other languages, and possibly hire more people that can expand the market to that country. Therefore it’s important to know who you’d like to target with your strategy.

Time difference

Another concept to think about is the time difference between your company and your clients. If you run a corporation in Europe, it might be okay to do business with countries around you, because at most they will have a 1 to 3 hour time difference at most. But if you want to target Asia or the USA for example, it can be quite challenging to find time to speak with those companies.

As long as there is a time overlap between companies it can be fine. However, some business models don’t allow for that kind of flexibility which immediately eliminates certain parts of the world as potential clients.

Country laws

GDPR adherence is also very important to think about. For example, Germany has very tight rules which means that cold emailing is considered illegal. In the UK the rules are more liberal, so companies can get away with a lot more.

Depending on which countries you’d like to target, I believe it’s important to understand the laws that reign and what the boundaries are. The last thing you want is to get in trouble with officials due to you not doing your homework.

Impact on conversion rates

All of these ideas can impact your conversion rates, so I advise you to go over your ideal customer carefully in order to increase your conversation.

Continuing on the example given above, due to the laws, your german conversion rate might be much lower than the one in the UK, because in the former you’d have to first send an invitation through social media before being able to legally send an email to the prospect, which is another barrier to overcome for you, and another resistance point from the side of the prospect. Here is an image to explain the whole process:


Email segmentation - target smaller segments of your data to tailor your message better

To ensure you are sending the most relevant emails, you must be segmenting your contacts into smaller groups or segments. Email segmentation allows you to send much higher quality messages since you are targeting more specific customer personas.

Sending one message to all your contacts will only result in a poor email engagement rate. A generic mass blast type of email is very easy to spot and will lead people to unsubscribe and mark your email as spam – damaging your email reputation and decreasing your chances of email deliverability.

When working with low-quality data, it is common to have missing or limited data points which make it difficult to accurately segment your contacts. However, sourcing high-quality data enables you to segment in numerous ways based on prospect or account information.

Customers at hubsell have the ability to segment their data in many ways such as by department, seniority, company size, industry, etc. Moreover, they can combine multiple data points to create highly specific segments and tailor messages to meet the needs of their target persona.

Especially important in cold outreach, email segmentation will ensure that you are sending the right message to the right people.


Multichannel - use other communication channels to direct your prospects back to your email to increase open rates

Many people today receive a lot of emails, including your prospects. With so much noise from other salespeople trying to get their attention or distractions from colleagues, it’s a challenge to get your prospect to open your email. However, to combat this noise, you can make use of other communication platforms to target them across other channels.

Multichannel outreach has become hugely important in getting your message across. Different people have their preferred methods of communication such as email, phone, or social such as LinkedIn.

A powerful strategy to increase email open rate is to use these other channels to direct your prospects back to your email. A prospect who doesn’t open or reply to your email does not necessarily mean they are uninterested. Sometimes referring them back to your email via a LinkedIn message or a phone call is enough to get their attention to continue the conversation via email.

By complementing the communication channels with each other, your overall message will be consistent which strengthens it as opposed to diluting it.


Personalisation – stand out from the crowd and show your prospect that you are deliberately messaging them by actually taking the time to research them

Automation doesn’t have to mean robotic. Too often, salespeople send out emails that are obviously templated and autonomously sent out to a mailing list. It doesn’t have to be this way.

No one likes to receive mass blast type of emails and sending these out will only hurt your reputation making it harder to place your emails in your prospects’ inbox.

What personalisation does is it shows your prospect your email was intentionally sent to them. By including information so specific so that it couldn’t be sent to anybody else, your prospect will know you took the time to research them and they will often reciprocate by taking the time to read your email – possibly even reply to you.

Although it does take time to personalise your content, it definitely helps with email engagement. There are a few different levels of personalisation that can be used such as at the prospect level and at the company level – some being more impactful than others. Here are a few ideas.

  • Published content

People are generally proud of what they create. You can browse their LinkedIn page for content they may have produced. Whether it be a daily post or a blog, you can grab a few points that you enjoyed reading and drop them in your email. They will appreciate it for sure.

  • Personal traits

Using LinkedIn again, a lot of people spend time to create a strong personal bio that describes who they are. Since people like talking about themselves, picking a few descriptive phrases or achievements that inspired you will surely grab the attention of the recipient.

  • Company news

If nothing can be found at a personal level, you can research their website for information that you can use to break the ice. Good examples are recent blog posts, case studies or recent news or announcements (i.e. funding, financial reports, new hires, etc.).

The research step is a manual process, but platforms like hubsell can enable you to automate the sending of personalised emails so you don’t have to spend time manually sending them.


New readers

For those that are unfamiliar with hubsell, we provide an end-to-end B2B prospecting solution with on-demand generated B2B data and multi-channel personalised outreach automation software to generate sales qualified leads.

Book your discovery call today to see high email deliverability and email open rates in your sales opportunity generation.



other interesting insights

If you are like the tens of thousands of salespeople in B2B sales filling their sales pipeline online, you know that social media can be a powerful tool to bring in growth. But it is not a magic bean that can sprout growth overnight and provide you with leads. […]

Sales has always been portrayed in movies in a very stereotypical manner. For the purpose of entertainment, some of these sales movies can be hugely enjoyable to watch, on the other hand, other movies show a more realistic and solemn side to sales.The following sales movies span across different decades and showcase the ups and downs of sales. As you’ll see, these films depict what it takes to takes to succeed as well as the stories of those where things didn’t turn out so well for them. […]

Gone are the days when cold outreach was only used for outbound sales. There are now much more nuanced ways of using cold outreach to your advantage. Collated below in this blog post are 8 use cases where cold outreach will be your number one tactic to use and apply. […]

hubsell enables you start dialogue with key decision makers of your target markets

or