cold email

Cold Email: A Killer Comprehensive Guide for (2021)

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When it comes to sending out cold email, the truth is, the odds are already against you.

Not only are you up against all of the spam on the Internet (that can drown out your emails) such as this:

Bad email outreach to constanltystriving

And this. 

bad email outreach asking for a guest post

But you’re also faced with the task of reaching out to people you don’t personally know … people who are probably already annoyed from all the spam they receive.

And your goal is to get something from them!

Which really begs the question: is cold email even worth the effort? 

Heck yeah, it is!

In fact, thanks to cold email, I’ve been able to gather participants (including Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz) for an awesome roundup post that sent tons of traffic to my site, land an interview with Ryan Robinson, and publish guest posts on sites such as Zapier.

And in this post, I’ll show you the same exact steps and cold email strategies I use.

Step 1. Focus your cold email on serving your recipient 

Say the phrase aloud to yourself:

“Cold email.”

Now, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? 

Chances are, it’s probably something like reaching out to someone you don’t know with the goal of getting something from them. 

That “something” might be a link, a share, a guest posting opportunity, you name it. 

Now, this is exactly what I thought cold emailing was all about when I first started working in the online space. 

And man, was I so wrong. 

In fact, because of this approach I took, a lot of my outreach emails received responses such as this:

bad email outreach

And honestly, I don’t blame them. 

After all, the cold emails I was sending were centered on what I needed from my recipient, rather than giving them something of value. 

This resulted in nearly all my email outreach efforts falling flat (just like the example above). 

So, what was my solution? 


Rather than focusing on what I needed, I focused on how I could serve my recipient with the cold email …

while still achieving the goal I had in reaching out

I basically started doing the opposite of what you’d expect from a cold email.

Here’s a good example:

outreach email to joshua hardwick of ahrefs

I recently reached out to a friend (and a big-time marketing player), hoping to land an interview with him. Which was honestly a big request, especially for someone as busy as he is.

But you see, before I even made my request, I prioritized helping him first. 

  • I let him know I had recently published a guest post on Zapier, promoting a piece he contributed 
  • I mentioned that I linked out to their site (because, after all, their video inspired my guest post)! 

And as you can see, this was a great way to spark a conversation with him … but more importantly, for him to honestly consider my request.

Because you see … there’s a huge power in giving!

Seriously! When you give unconditionally and put others’ needs before your own, people catch on to that and begin to reciprocate.

Take this email I received, for example: 

cold email outreach

The sender did such a great job of highlighting the benefits for both me and my audience. She even went as far as asking what I’m working on and how she could help! 

I mean how could I possibly not reply?

This is why I stress that one of the first things you should do is take the time to think how your recipients will benefit through your cold email. 

What’s in it for them?   

Find ways to merge your outreach goals with providing something of value to your recipient. 

And no, this doesn’t always have to be a physical exchange (like a link, share, etc.).

Unique and great information is always appreciated as well! Just be sure to craft your emails carefully! Avoid the, “Hey, I just created this post and you should check it out.” 

In fact, I recommend checking out Tim Soulo’s outreach guide (from Ahrefs)! It provides useful tips on crafting a great email around promoting a piece of content! I also really recommend checking out Hunter’s blogger outreach guide!

Step 2. Organize and identify your recipients

It goes without saying that sending the right email to the right person is extremely important.  

Take this email I received for example:

unrelated cold email outreach

The sender here was looking for an opportunity to guest post on our site, but they proposed topics completely unrelated to our niche. 

This shows me that either:

  • The writer didn’t take the time to properly assess my site 


  • They are having organizational issues with their outreach 

Either way, errors such as these can (at best) result in a poor first impression and (at worst) come across as offensive and ruin any future chances at connecting. 

Here are a few tips to help you avoid making these kinds of mistakes. 

These are things I personally do to keep my emails organized and make sure I’m reaching out to the right person.


Finding the right emails

The success of any email campaign depends on finding the right email address. 

After all, you can’t expect to achieve your outreach goals if you’re not reaching the right people.

Two methods that have worked well for me in finding emails are:

  1. Leveraging social platforms 
  2. Using an email finder tool

Here’s a little more information on each method:


Use social media platforms

This can be a great way of finding your targets’ contact info, but sometimes proves to be a very time-consuming method. 

In short, you simply browse through social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and/or check out their profile on their blog or company website.


Use an email finder tool is an awesome email finder tool that has helped me a great deal with locating email addresses for cold email outreach campaigns. 

It’s great because you can use it for individual email searches (see screenshot below)… email finder tool

… or for a company domain search, which will give you an entire list of emails connected to a particular domain. also has a verification feature that shows how reliable a particular email address is, based off of the sources where that email was found. 

This is helpful in making sure you get the right contact information.

If you’d like to take them for a spin, they offer a free trial plan of up to 50 free email searches.


Organize your list of your targets

Once you’ve compiled a list of emails, it’s important to organize and assign them according to your outreach campaigns. 

Because when you’re running multiple email campaigns, it’s easy for things to get MIXED up.

To avoid this, I use the outreach tool Mailshake.

Mailshake email outreach tool

This terrific tool allows me to import emails I’ve retrieved and organize them according to my outreach goals.

They also offer useful resources such as: 

  • Email tracking performance (monitors opens, clicks, and replies)
  • Personalization features (includes merge fields that allow you to scale your outreach without sacrificing personalization)
  • Automation (schedule and automatically send emails; automate follow ups)

Now Mailshake is a bit expensive, especially for those who don’t do cold email outreach on a continual basis. But if you do, I think you’ll find it helpful. 

They come at a price of $59/month for up to 5,000 recipients per campaign and offer a 30-day full refund, if you’re not satisfied. 

Now, if you are not ready for this kind of commitment, creating a spreadsheet of your outreach targets is also a great way to stay organized. 

In short, you can create a sheet with any important information you might need for your email campaign. 

Here’s an example:

google spreadsheet of contacts

Pretty simple, right? Keeps everything organized and accounted for! Reducing any chances of mistakes.


Step 3. Crafting an awesome email!

Now the truth is, crafting a good email isn’t as hard as you may think it is. 

Yeah, there are a couple of communication techniques that you should know about and follow…

… but overall, the most important focus is that your email sounds like it’s coming from a genuine and sincere human being. 

I receive scores of emails every day that all sound the same and I can clearly see that they’re just automated templates. 

(Note: Templates are not necessarily a bad thing to use; consider them a starting point from which to create a personalized message.) 

In fact, here’s an example of a “robot” email I recently received:

bad email outreach template

I can tell right off the bat that this exact same email is probably in thousands of other inboxes, because there’s really no clear indication that the sender was sincerely reaching out to me. 

In the end, I ignored this email.

BTW: You can learn a lot from bad outreach emails. 

They serve as a good reference point from which you can decide what you want to do differently with your own emails

You can use them to consider …

  • Which parts of the email threw you off or made you groan? 
  • At what point did you stop reading (or click delete)? 
  • How can you implement the good points but avoid the bad ones? 

So now, let’s go over a couple of good practices that can help your cold emails sound more personable and genuine!


Make your subject line interesting

My favorite approach with subject lines is treating them like a movie preview. In other words, keep it …

Nice, short, and engaging. 

For example, I recently did a cold email campaign to gather participants for a roundup post. For the subject line, I put this: 

Would Be a Pleasure to Feature You 🙂 

This way, the recipient will know that my message will be a query to participate in something, but they won’t know what that is until they open my email. 

(Readers love a mystery—even one as simple as that.)


Include their name!

There’s truly a power in names.  

In fact, did you know that just by including your recipient’s name, there’s a 20% higher chance they will open it?

Honestly, think about those emails that you receive, which start off saying, “Dear Site Owner,” or “To Whomever This May Concern…” 

Doesn’t make you feel special, right? 

Rather than saying “Hello, there” (in the screenshot above), a simple, “Hello, Enrique” would have made a huge difference!


Personalize your email!

Personalization is the key to writing winner cold emails! 

When you really take the time to get to know someone and express it through your email, it makes all the difference.

This can be something such as…

  • Offering an authentic compliment 
  • Mentioning something your email recipient has done 

But be sure to make it sound genuine and meaningful! 

Avoid using generic statements such as, “Hey, I just visited your website, and I love your content!” 

For example, check out this email I recently sent out:

example of good email outreach

I really took the time to get to know my recipient and express it through my email.

Now personalization may seem like a tough task to pull off when you’re reaching out to hundreds of people …

but that’s where templates come in handy!

Contrary to popular belief, a template can be truly useful if you’re trying to reach out to a larger target audience. 

When using a template, however, your goal should be to keep your template from sounding like a template.

For example, whenever I send out large-scale emails, I make the “template” part of my email the request. After all, I’m going to have the same query for all of my email recipients. 

But I ensure the beginning of my email is personal and different from the rest of the emails I send out. 


Make your message clear :

No one likes reading a wall of words!

example of bad lengthy email outreach

The above screenshot looks more like a blog post than an email.

Seriously! Try to make your message as simple and clear as possible. 

A few tips for writing a clear email message: 

  • Avoid using unnecessary jargon. 
  • Begin your message with the most important content. 
  • If your message is really long, break it into a series of emails. 
  • Space out your message appropriately.

Step 4. Follow up (ethically) 


They’re like a double-edged sword. 

They can either be a great way of getting in touch with someone who may have missed your previous email (see the example below) … 

example of a good email follow up

Or they can be abused to the max, such as this:

spammy email follow up

Don’t be a spammer. 

Politely follow up with your recipient once, about a week after your initial email was sent.

If they don’t reply, give it a good amount of time (a couple of months) before you send them another email. 

No one likes being bombarded with numerous follow-up emails. (And I’ll admit, I used to be “that guy,” but I’ve learned it makes for ineffective marketing.)

Step 5. Look to build real relationships

Okay, so let’s say you ran your cold email campaign and accomplished all of your goals.

That’s great and I’m glad to hear it! 

But now what? 

Do you just leave things at that and continue on with your other email campaigns? 

Many people do, but I personally think that there’s nothing better than building a long-lasting relationship with your recipients! After all, this can lead to future collaborations, opportunities, and more!

Let’s say you reached your outreach goal of building links to a piece of content you published. 

Great, you generated a good amount of links …

… but that doesn’t have to mean the end of your communications.  

What if you continued to nurture the relationships with the recipients you had reached out to? 

  • Maybe they could collaborate with you on a different campaign
  • Perhaps they might share their network with you 
  • Or offer you a guest posting opportunity 

There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by trying!

You will see that building such relationships compound and can open the door for future opportunities! 


Step 6. (Bonus Step): Effectively scaling large-scale cold email campaigns 

Throughout this guide, we’ve focused on sending a couple of emails at a time. 

But what if your outreach goals required you to send out a vast amount of emails?

Consider the blogger advice roundup we did on our site. For it to be as helpful as possible, we needed to reach out to a large number of bloggers. 

Accomplishing this task, including …

  • finding their emails 
  • manually uploading them to our email outreach tool 
  • crafting the email 

… would prove to be extremely time consuming. 

But there’s a great way you can complete all of the above tasks in roughly one quarter of the time it would take you to do it manually! 

Enter Zapier! 

Zapier is an online automation tool that allows users to connect their favorite apps and services to create streamlined workflows, called Zaps. 

In our case, we can use it to connect with Mailshake! 

This means we can automate the process of finding emails and uploading them to Mailshake. All we would have to worry about is crafting the email! 

This allows us to focus more on personalizing our email and considering how to make it benefit our recipient! 

(This process was inspired by Ahrefs, and I can’t thank them enough for this! I’ve attached Ahref’s video below on how to do this process step-by-step!)

Final thoughts

There’s no doubt that cold email can be a powerful communication channel. 

But the truth is, you shouldn’t only explore this channel only to fulfill your own business needs. 

Rather, look to help others and provide genuine value

By doing this, you’ll see that your efforts will go much farther than you would have ever imagined! 

I hope you found this post helpful in some way! 

Please do let me know down in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions.

All the best in your outreach and marketing efforts.

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