8 Reasons Why Cold Emails Go to Spam [& How to Fix It]

Vlad Orlov
Vlad Orlov
20 minute read

8 Reasons Why Cold Emails Go to Spam [& How to Fix It]

Vlad Orlov
Vlad Orlov
20 minute read

We’ve created a guide for people who’re sending large numbers of cold emails to prospects.

This guide will prevent your emails from ending up in your recipients’ spam folder.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:

  • What is spam and why it’s important,
  • 8 reasons why cold emails (usually) end up to spam,
  • 5 ways to prevent your emails from triggering the spam filter,
  • And, a step-by-step process for getting higher delivery and open rates.

If you want your cold email campaigns to be successful, you’ll need this guide.

Let’s get into it.

What Is Spam & Why It’s Important?

If you have ever logged onto the Internet and registered an email account (which I’m one hundred percent certain you have), you already know what spam is.

But, just for clarity purposes, today I’m talking about unsolicited, unwanted emails that are sent to hundreds of recipients in bulk.

But did you know why it’s actually called spam?

Fun fact: it is actually a direct reference to one of Monty Python’s skits where an owner of a diner keeps yelling SPAM over and over again because every single meal is with it.

One of the visitors is upset because they don’t like spam, while another one proclaims they love it. In just two minutes, the word “spam” flies off their mouths at least a hundred times (at least it feels like it).

But what does it have to do with cold emailing? Everything.

Email service providers have gotten pretty good at blocking actual spam emails, but they are not perfect.

So, sometimes, even legitimate (and even very important messages) can end up in the spam folder.

And the harsh truth is that if an email finds itself in that folder, there is a 99.9% chance that it will never be seen. I can’t remember the last time I’ve checked my spam folder, do you?

So, if your cold email gets flagged, it is as good as lost.

This is bad for a number of reasons:

  • Firstly, it’s obviously frustrating. Why did Google think your legitimate business email was junk?
  • It’s detrimental to your email outreach. For example, if you’re doing link building outreach and your account gets flagged as spammy, your emails will just hit a wall and nobody will see them. That’s happened to me before, and I had to reset my account, which doesn’t take too long, but still extra hassle.
  • It costs you revenue. If you rely on email as one of the channels for your eCommerce sales strategy, every flagged message can potentially cost you a sale. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why it’s bad.
  • If you’re hiring an outreach agency, and their emails get flagged as spam, you will also be paying for essentially nothing. What good are their services if nobody will actually see their messages?
  • With open rates already being relatively low, spam reduces them even further.

Statistically, every sixth email is spam. Or, at least, flagged as it.

That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Well, if you don’t rely on outreach too much, it’s not a big deal.

But if you do, are you ready to lose a potential chunk of your revenue to spam filters?

That percentage only adds up as you scale your campaigns.

The more prospects you have – the more money you’re going to lose to spam filters.

But why do emails get flagged as spam?

There are actually a variety of reasons.

Perhaps, your message had one too many spam words and triggered the filter, your authentication hasn’t been set up correctly, you linked to a resource that was deemed shady by the ISPs, or any other combination of a plethora of reasons.

Before we delve into how to get your emails actually read, let’s delve a little bit deeper into the reasons why your message might have ended up in the dreaded spam folder.

8 Reasons Why Cold Emails End Up to Spam

There are two main reasons why such a thing could have happened.

The first one is that the user (or a lot of users) manually flagged your message as spam.

The other one is that the spam algorithm did it for them.

Even the lesser-used email service providers like Outlook and Yahoo have pretty strict spam filters.

But, there are a whole bunch of common reasons as to why that could have happened.

In no particular order, let’s take a look at them.

Reason #1: Your Content Triggered The Spam Filter

Your cold email content is the first thing you should reconsider if you suspect a lot of your messages are ending up in the spam bin.

Gmail knows exactly which words are used in the majority of spam emails, so just having one of the following phrases in the subject of your email or its body significantly increases your chances of triggering the filter:

Email spam words

These are just a few of the hundreds of spam-triggering words, but you get the idea.

Besides words, there are a couple more things that can anger the filter.

Stay away from caps as much as you can, and make sure your subject line doesn’t have any more exclamation marks than it really needs.

Reason #2: Your Cold Email Had An Attachment

Attachments are perfectly fine to send in an email, as long as the person on the other end expects it.

Spam marked email

When running a cold email campaign targeting people who might not know who you are, you should refrain from attaching any files to your message, though.

This is because a lot of spam emails send malicious files and viruses through attachments, and in the eyes of Gmail, that might be exactly what you’re trying to do, even if it really isn’t.

Reason #3: You’re Sending Too Many Emails At Once

This one is rather straightforward.

If you send all of your campaigns at the same time, email service providers will view that as spammy behaviour in almost one hundred percent of the cases, and blacklist you.

But what do you do if you have hundreds of prospects to reach out to?  

Set up what’s known as a “drip” campaign.  

Essentially, what it means is that your messages will be sent out with short delays in between them, instead of in bulk.

A good idea would be to set up 5 groups of 10 emails to be sent throughout the day, with 5-minute delays between emails in a group and with longer (20-30 minutes) intervals between groups.

Reason #4:  Your User Engagement Rates Are Too Low

The emails you have sent out in the past actually have a huge effect on your current outreach.

Respona analytics

This means that if during your previous campaigns, very few people have actually clicked on your message or replied to it, to internet service providers this is an indication that they are not interested in what you’re sending them, so any of your current and future outreach efforts have an increased chance of ending up in spam.

If you’re sending emails as part of a newsletter to your subscribers, be sure to always give them an unsubscribe link or unsubscribe button too.

If this is your first time reaching out to a person, it is also a good idea to include an opt-in form and a prompt to whitelist you, if they’re interested in what you have to say.

Reason #5: Your Sender Information Is Misleading Or Inaccurate

Your sender information (email address, domain name “from”, “reply to”, and routing information) should all be clear as to who you are.

This might sound weird, but another thing you need to make sure you include in the body of your email (usually in your signature) is your (or your company’s) physical address.

This is actually a requirement by the FTC (part of the can-spam act), so if your business signature doesn’t have a physical address attached to it, you’re not complying with the regulations, which can lead to your messages being flagged as spam.

Reason #6: Too Many Of Your Emails Bounce

A “bounce” happens when your email isn’t delivered to the recipient for one reason or another.

This could be because you sent it to an invalid address, one that is not being used anymore, one that’s too full to receive new emails, or one that you simply don’t have permission to write to.

But how is it spam if your emails aren’t even being delivered?

Internet service providers actually keep track of your deliverability, and if it gets low, to them it’s a sign that you’re guessing email addresses, and doing something shady or spammy.

The easiest way to fix this and keep a good reputation is to verify your email list regularly. ZeroBounce CEO, Liviu Tanase, suggests “an email verifier removes invalid addresses and prevents bounces. Also, it can detect other harmful contacts, such as abuse emails or spam traps, thus helping you boost inbox placement,”

Reason #7: Too Many Images, Too Little Text

There’s nothing wrong with using images in cold emails, but it’s important to keep a good word-to-image ratio.

More than half of your message should still be text with a nice-looking visual element to complement it, not vice versa.

Sure, you can make a much better-looking email if you organize your pitch into a stunning, unique visual, but there’s a slight problem with that. Spam filters actually have no way of telling what’s included on your image.

And because they have no way of knowing what you’re sending to people, they automatically assume you’re using imagery specifically to obscure your content from the algorithms, even if you were doing it just for the aesthetics.

This, of course, can trigger your emails to go to spam.

Reason #8: Bad Spelling And Grammar!

The fact that grammar and spelling mistakes make you look unprofessional is not news to anyone.

Email example with bad grammar

But did you know that it could actually be the reason why your emails end up in the spam folder? And no, this is not because Gmail along with other email service providers have some sort of grudge against email marketers who don’t proofread their emails.

This has a very logical reason behind it: a lot of scammers and hackers from non-english speaking countries use Google translate or similar tools to help them with their spammy deeds.

This results in their messages sounding obviously machine translated and highly unnatural.

And even if as a whole your email sounds like proper english, the filters will still pick up on your mistakes, and just one extra misspelling might be the deciding factor when it comes to your email’s fate. You can brush up on your business grammar rules to keep your emails professional and natural.

So, always double-check your emails!

5 Ways to Prevent Your Emails from Triggering the Spam Filter

Luckily, there are some ways to prevent your emails from getting thrown into the spam folder.

And even if your account has already been marked as suspicious or spammy, there are still some things you can do to remedy the situation.

The most effective way to avoid triggering the spam filter is to use a trustworthy piece of outreach software, like Respona.

Way #1: Use a Trustworthy Outreach Software

There are a variety of reasons why you would want to use outreach software for your campaign.

Firstly, it is because of the obvious quality-of-life improvements with easier personalization (thanks to countless variables you can insert into your cold emails) and automated follow-ups.

Respona is an example of such a tool, encompassing all of the features you will ever need for setting up and starting your outreach campaigns. We will talk more about it further in the article.

That includes a built-in search engine for prospecting and an integrated email finding tool.

Not only does this eliminate the need to use third-party software for finding people’s contact information, but it actually helps you avoid landing your messages in the spam folder.

How? The tool reveals verified addresses, effectively reducing your bounce rates. The built-in search engine is also great for quickly building relevant email lists and easily finding good prospects who are much more likely to actually click on your emails.

Way #2: Set Up Proper Authentication

Do you know what DKIM, SPF, and DMARC are?

If you don’t, this might be the biggest reason why your cold emails end up in spam.

In essence, these are technologies that tell internet service providers that your domain is trustworthy, and that your emails most likely aren’t spam.

Let’s look at each one a bit more closely.

  • DKIM stands for DomainKeys Identified Mail. What it does is verifies that your email wasn’t altered in transit between your server and the recipient’s. If the message passes DKIM, it is considered authentic and much less likely to trigger spam filters.
  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF record) uses DNS (Domain Name Service) to let you specify exactly which email servers are authorised to send messages on your behalf.  This prevents spammers from using your domain to  send out their own emails on your behalf.
  • DMARC, which stands for “Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance”, is an email authentication, policy, and reporting protocol. It builds on the widely deployed SPF and DKIM protocols, adding linkage to the author (“From:”) domain name, published policies for recipient handling of authentication failures, and reporting from receivers to senders, to improve and monitor protection of the domain from fraudulent email.” Source: dmarc.org

Make sure you set all three of these up to verify yourself as a sender in the eyes of both email service providers and your recipients.

Way #3: Make Use Of Spam Checkers

If you’re worried that your subject line or the body of your email might trigger the spam filter, consider using email checking software.

By using a mail tester, you can see exactly how your pitches would stack up against spam filters, you will be able to tweak your wording on-the-fly, and what’s even more important, before actually triggering a real filter.

Respona’s sequence builder also grades your pitch depending on the amount of words, spam words, and even questions to approximate your chances of getting a response.

Way #4: Keep track of your engagement metrics

Monitoring your engagement metrics is extremely important if you want to stay out of the spam folder.

Some of the most important email engagement metrics are:

  • Delivery Rate
  • Open Rate
  • Reply Rate
  • Spam complaints

If any one of them gets too low or too high, that can be a pretty good pointer at what you need to change in your outreach strategy.

For example, if your delivery rate is dipping low, that’s a sign that you’re not finding all of the right emails.

Low open rate might be a sign that you need to reconsider your email subject lines, while a low reply rate means that even though you got people to click on your message, what was in its body wasn’t enough for them to respond or convert.

Spam complaints are probably the most critical metric of the bunch because even a couple of such complaints out of hundreds of emails might very well get you flagged.

Spam complaints also mean that you are probably not targeting the right people, and they are so uninterested in what you have to offer they actually report you.

Respona actually tracks all of these metrics for your campaigns automatically (except the spam complaints) in an informative and easily readable interface.

Way #5: Format Your Cold Emails Properly

This goes beyond just not using spam trigger words. Be perfectly clear as to who you are, what company you’re working with, and why you’re reaching out to that person.

Stay away from caps as much as you can, and don’t stuff your email with images, even if they do make it a lot more pleasing to the eyes.

Make sure to include your sender information (along with your physical address) in your signature, and don’t send any attachments unless you have already spoken to that person and they expect it.

And, of course, be careful when using links in your email, and only use as many as you really need.

For example, a broken link building pitch should have no more than three links: one to the prospect’s article, one where the broken link used to lead, and one to the content you’re suggesting to fill that hole with. Irrelevant links are a huge red flag.

Respona’s built-in sequence builder makes structuring your pitches and personalizing them at scale extremely easy.

Step-by-Step Process for Getting Higher Delivery & Open Rates In 2021

Now that we’ve looked at some reasons behind why your emails could be going to the spam folder and some ways to avoid it, let’s take a look at an example of a cold email campaign with consistent delivery rates and good engagement.

For this, we’re going to use our outreach software, Respona.

Step #1: Build Your Email List

The first step in any outreach campaign is none other than prospecting.

Luckily, the built-in search engine (based on Bing) makes this very easy to do, even if you have no previous experience with outreach software.

Once you log into Respona, to create a new campaign all you have to do is press the “+” sign in the top left corner.

Create a campaign in Respona

After that, you will be taken to the campaign creation screen.

There, you can give your campaign a name, select the email which your emails will be sent out from, set the priority (low, medium, or high) and pick the sending schedule.

There are also a few advanced options available, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on just the basics.

Campaign setup

For this example, let’s imagine I was running a cold email campaign for the purpose of link building.

After you hit “Continue”, you will be able to start prospecting pretty much immediately.

Or, if you have a .CSV file with prospects already, you can import it straight into Respona by clicking the upload button on the right side of the search bar.

Respona search filters

There are a whole lot of things going on in this screenshot, so let me explain it bit-by-bit.

Pick A Search Type

Firstly, from the drop-down menu on the left, I selected “web search”, telling Respona to look through the entire Web. Alternatively, you can pick Blogs, News, Trending Content, Influencers or Podcasts, but for the sake of a link building campaign, web search works best.

Enter Your Query

In the search bar, I typed in instreamset:url:blog intitle:”email” inbody:”reminder” these operators tell the engine to look for pages that are part of a blog and include the word “email” in their title as well as “reminder” in the body. This is exactly how I would set it up if I was running a link building campaign for our latest blog post, 40 Reminder Email Templates for Every Use. You can find more useful operators if you click on “advanced search” on the right side of the search bar.

Enable SEO Metrics

After clicking on the SEO metrics toggle, vital metrics like search ranking, number of backlinks,  Domain Authority (Moz), and Respona Score will appear next to each opportunity. The Respona Score is a special metric (that is in essence, a combination of all the other metrics) that shows how relevant an opportunity is to your query.

Use Filters

The “Add filter” button allows you to use a variety of useful filters. For this occasion, I’ve only used the Domain Authority filter, weeding out any sites that have less than 35 DA.

Pick Your Prospects

To pick an opportunity for your campaign, simply click on the box to the left of the title.

At this stage, you can pick out as many relevant outreach opportunities as you need.

Note: an “opportunity” can be a website, a piece of content, a podcast, or an influencer. The actual contact information is found during step 3.

After you’ve built up your prospect list, click “continue” to move on to step 2.

Step #2: Set Up Your Email Sequence

The email sequence is a series of messages that will be sent to all of your prospects included in this campaign (including follow-ups).

Respona has a number of built-in templates for different types of outreach that you can make use from the get-go.

You’re also able to create and save your own email templates.

For this example, I will be using one of the templates that I use for link building on an almost daily basis.

Create a new sequence step

To add emails to your sequence, simply press the “Create New Step” button.

Personally, I have found that you don’t really need any more than a single follow-up (or your engagement metrics might dip and you even risk getting flagged as spam), so let’s only use the initial email and one follow-up for this campaign.

Let’s take a closer look at Respona’s text editor.

Inserting variables in the sequence

Note the weird phrases in brackets.

These are called variables, which you can insert from the “Insert Variable” list.

These include things like first name, URL, URL title, organization, and other types of information.

They will automatically adjust for each prospect, effectively saving you precious time on the personalization stage.

Respona can also approximate your chances of getting replies, depending on your subject length, word count, spam word count, and question count.

Keep it in the green and your emails will be much less likely to end up in spam.

Once your email sequence is ready, press “Next step” to move forward.

Step #3: Assign Contact Information

This step is almost completely automated. All you really have to do is tell Respona who to look for, and once the scan is done, review the results.

Contact automation setup

Here, you have quite a few options.

The first two are pretty self-explanatory, and for our purpose (link building), it makes sense to look for authors of articles, or, if an author doesn’t work for that company, a couple of other people who are responsible for link inclusions.

The Position and Seniority fields are where you can tell the tool exactly which positions the people you’re looking for should have (content, SEO, editors, marketing, etc.), as well as their seniority.

The first position will always have the highest priority, and when set up like in the screenshot above, Respona will first look for content managers, senior content managers, directors of content, etc before moving to SEO managers and so on.

There are also a few advanced options available here.

Contact automation advanced settings

Once you’ve set up the search according to your needs, hit “Next” to run it.

Contact automation review

Respona is a cloud tool, so you don’t need to leave it running in your browser for it to work. In this example, we only have 1 opportunity to find contact information for,  but depending on the scale of your campaign, the time needed for the automation to complete can range from a few minutes to a few hours.

Once it’s done, you will need to review the email addresses it has found for you.

Confirmed contact information

As you can see, Respona successfully found the author of the article I picked in the first step.

The green circle next to their email address means that it’s verified and is being used. No more bounces!

You can also press the “Domain-level Contacts” to reveal the whole list of people, associated with your target domain.

Alternatively, you can use the old-fashioned search bar above to look for specific people or domains.

If your prospect uses multiple email addresses, you will also be able to choose which one you want to send your pitch to (or select multiple at the same time)

In this case, only the author of the article is selected for this opportunity, but you can assign multiple people for a single opportunity.

Once you have reviewed all of the contacts, press “Next step” to move on to the last stage.

Step #4:Personalize Your Pitches

This is the last step before the campaign is ready to launch.

Take a look at each of your pitches, and make the much-needed personalizations to avoid sounding overly templated.

Pitch personalization

Every variable you have used when creating your sequence will be automatically replaced with relevant information.

See how instead of {organization} it says “Hunter” in the subject line?

You will also be able to edit your follow-ups if you scroll down.

On the right side of the screen, you can find short excerpts from your prospect’s article so that your pitches are even easier to personalize, as well as the contact history for each prospect.

Once you have personalized all of your pitches, hit “Launch Campaign”, and Respona will start automatically sending them out according to your schedule!

Now Over to You

There you have it.

You now know that getting higher open rates for your cold email campaigns is easier than you thought.

You just have to follow the tips and the process I shared with you in this guide.

And, if you’re looking for an outreach software to help you get started with cold outreach, you might want to check out Respona.

Our tool was built based on the success we had doing outreach for Visme, one of the best online design software out there.

Just request a demo and we’ll be glad to show you what our tool can do for you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

As a little bonus, let’s answer some common questions people have regarding email deliverability.

Q1. How do I stop emails from going to spam?

You can’t stop all of your emails from ever hitting the spam folder, but in order to drastically reduce the chance of this happening, follow the advice from above, and consider using outreach software, such as Respona.

Q2. How do you increase email deliverability?

Keep your mailing list relevant, avoid spammy subject lines and words, include accurate sender information, and make sure to set up proper authentication.

Q3. What affects email deliverability?

Everything that was mentioned in the previous question, as well as in the body of the article

Q4. How do I fix poor email reputation?

The best way to improve your email reputation is to send relevant emails to relevant people. Most of the advice I spoke about in this article is technical, but the most important factor here is making your emails interesting to the people you’re sending them to.

Q5. What is a good email deliverability rate?

The ideal deliverability rate is, of course, 100%. But, in reality, if you factor in some bounces you cannot counteract (no access, full inboxes, etc.), it should be around the 95% mark.

Q6. How do you warm up an IP address?

Start out your campaigns slowly, limiting the number of emails sent out daily to 10-20, and increase that number by 10 every week.

Q7. How is spam rate calculated?

Spam rate is just the number of users that have reported your emails as spam out of your total number of sent messages.

Q8. How do I check my sender reputation?

There is a variety of services available for this purpose, such as Google Postmaster Tools, Microsoft Smart Network Data Services, SenderScore, etc.

Vlad Orlov
Vlad Orlov
Managing brand partnerships at Respona, Vlad Orlov is a passionate writer and link builder. Having started writing articles at the age of 13, their once past-time hobby developed into a central piece of their professional life.

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