March 26, 2023

Why your cold emails are reported as spam (10 reasons and fixes for suspensions)

Top reasons why your cold emails are reported as spam, including 10 reasons and fixes for blocked emails to help your outbound campaigns.

Why your cold emails are reported as spam (10 reasons and fixes for suspensions)

Sending cold emails is the highest risk form of email communication when considering the likelihood of the recipient becoming annoyed and reporting your message inside their email interface. 

In fact, industry standards set by ISPs (like Google) show that anything higher than a 0.1% report rate is considered high. Therefore, if more than 1 in every thousand emails you send are reported, you’ll be viewed as having a high spam report rate.

Therefore, adapting your cold email strategy to minimize this as much as possible is essential to a sustainable go-to-market strategy and healthy deliverability company-wide. In this post we’ll outline:

Let’s jump into the details!

What is a manual spam report?

It’s important to be clear; a manual spam report is when one of your prospects uses the built-in functionality of their email provider to report your email as spam at an ISP level. This lets the email provider know they deemed your message to be spam and want all future messages from you to be considered as spam.

Many email marketers confuse manual spam reports with unsubscribes where someone clicks your unsubscribe link. This is a visual representation of a manual spam report inside the G Suite interface:

Why do reports hurt your cold email campaigns?

Email providers, like Google on G Suite and Microsoft for O365, use reports as key signals to limit malicious and nuisance emails from impacting their user base. Therefore, they monitor these rates closely across your email account and domain to either limit the impact of high-risk senders on their user base or completely halt sending activity. 

Having someone use the unsubscribe button you add to your emails is far better than when they resort to the report button above. This is because the report button will mean the percentage of your emails that land in other prospects' spam folders increases, and in cases where your report rate is considerably above average, your email account will be suspended by the ISP. 

10 causes of spam reports on your cold emails (and how to decrease report rate):

1. Reaching out too frequently over email

In a cold email campaign, it’s common for template guides to advise that you follow-up very frequently (in some cases, only after 2 days since the prior email) to maximise response rate. The issue with this is that aggressive follow-up is likely to annoy prospects nowadays and mean they’ll hit the manual report button. 

This is especially likely to occur when you're primarily targeting SMBs with your cold outreach, as they are likely to receive generally lower volumes of emails - which means your prompt follow-ups stand out for the wrong reasons! 

Therefore, when you’re running into issues with manual spam reports, we’d advise initially doubling the time-line of gaps between your follow-ups emails and/or cutting the lowest performing email from your sequence, then proceeding to segment your prospects based on the size of the business they work at, so you can apply more generous gaps for SMB prospects compared to Mid-Market and Enterprise accounts - like the conservative example below:

  • SMB prospects = 2-4 total emails in sequence with 5 to 8 total touch points. With the entire sequence spread over 30 days.
  • Mid-Market prospects = 3-6 total emails in sequence with 5 to 8 total touch points. With the entire sequence spread over 30-60 days.
  • Enterprise prospects = 5-9 total emails in sequence with 10 to 18 total touch points. With the entire sequence spread over 30-60 days.

The key principle behind this structured approach is to provide some general guidelines on how aggressive most companies can get away with their prospecting sequence being. If your specific niche is highly competitive you may need to adjust your own structure to be shorter than the above in terms of total email steps.

2. Using a misleading subject line

Misleading subject lines are one of the most common flaws in cold emails which will annoy prospects to the degree that they report your email. However, something being ‘misleading’ is subjective - and to maximise engagement you won’t want to make it blatantly obvious your emails are a sales pitch. 

Therefore, as a general rule, if you’re running into report issues, you should update your subject lines across the sequence and aim for the body of text in the email to include the same keywords as the subject line has included. This is a forcing function to make the subject line have notable relevance to the email content. 

To avoid missteps, it’s important to keep in mind that subject lines which are more commonly deemed to be misleading will have the following traits:

  • No correlation between the keywords in the subject and the email body. 
  • Keywords which indicate false urgency (for example, ‘action required’). 
  • Giving the false impression your email is an enquiry about the prospects services.

3. Reaching out too many times to disengaged contacts

If someone isn’t opening your email or engaging in any notable way, your goal should be to remove this contact as soon as possible from your outreach efforts, so you can move on to a contact that might be a better fit. Many campaigns forget that if someone has very low interest in your subject matter, multiple threads of follow-up emails are more likely to annoy them than change this. 

Therefore, having a process for removing disengaged contacts from sequences is vital to ensure the maximum amount of your email volume is dedicated to contacting people who are interested in the topic you help with. You’ll want to segment disengagement triggers in your CRM or sales engagement platform based on the size of the account you are targeting, for example:

  • SMB prospects which have 3 unread emails in a row = Removal from sequence. 
  • Mid-Market prospects which have 4 unread emails in a row = Removal from sequence. 
  • Enterprise prospects which have 5 unread emails in a row = Removal from sequence. 

4. Using humour in your cold email templates

When it comes to your cold email content, the use of humour is one of the common themes across sequences that have high spam report rates. Here’s why - you're relying on your prospect having a sense of humour...and not everyone does. Especially while they're trying to fight through their crowded inbox!

Therefore, when you’re running into issues, remove any attempts to be humorous in your emails and instead focus on replacing these aspects with content that:

  • Shows why you have a good reason for reaching out. 
  • Focuses on the problem the prospect might have. 
  • Aims to start a conversation. (not book a meeting right away). 

You may find that current humorous emails occasionally produce a positive response - but what you don’t see is how many prospects they’ll annoy into a spam report. In the past, when there was more leeway to have these reports pile-up this wasn’t an issue. But in 2023 you’ll struggle to keep running a campaign or keep an entire domain live with campaigns that produce high report rates. 

5. Contacting too many people at one company

When you reach out to too many contacts at one company (especially at an SMB), the chances of multiple versions of your email being forwarded to the same end decision maker is significantly higher. Typically, when this happens the end decision maker will be frustrated with the quantity of emails you're sending to multiple people and feel your scattergun approach is spammy (leading to a report).

This doesn’t mean you can't prospect multiple contacts at one account, but you’ll want to set up some safeguards to ensure you don’t prospect so many contacts at one account that your risk of being reported shoots up. Start by segmenting your sequences based on the size of the account and create rules like the following protocols:

  • SMBs = Maximum of 1 active contact being prospected in a 30 day period. 
  • Mid-Market = Maximum of 3 active contacts being prospected in a 30 day period. 
  • Enterprise = Maximum of 5 active contacts being prospected in a 30 day period.

We’d advise classifying any person at an account who has been emailed within 30 days as an active contact. Guidance for setting up limits for this inside your contact data providers like Zoominfo, Cognism, SalesIntel and Apollo are available. 

6. Having a repetitive call to action or sequence

Einstein said it best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. When it comes to prospecting, asking for the same thing again and again and expecting a different result is insane in your prospects eyes. So much so that they’ll report you as spam.

The reason for this is you’ll come across as overly persistent. Therefore, to avoid reports, make sure to vary your call to action across your entire sequence and ensure you avoid repeating your ‘ask’ multiple times inside the same email.

The best call to action will have the following characteristics:

  • Only have 1 question in your email, which is the call to action - The more questions you ask, the less answers you get over cold email. Therefore, only have one clear question as your CTA.  Even if you have other questions grammatically in your email, only have one of them with a question mark next to it. This helps to emphasize the CTA. 
  • Do NOT ask for time / a meeting - Research has shown that asking for time with the prospect will instantly decrease your success rate by 50% compared to asking for interest or another CTA, which isn’t based around a meeting. 
  • Keep your call to action short - Reducing the length of your call to action will help keep your ask concise and improve your response rate. In order to do this, keep your call to action as a stand-alone statement and shorter than 1 line. 

7. Over threading your emails

Using threading means having follow-up emails inside the same thread as your prior outreach. This uses the ‘Re:’ functionality which exists inside email clients to group messages around the same subject matter. 

This being used in prospecting emails works to improve engagement, because, when multiple emails build up in a thread they resemble an ongoing conversation - rather than looking like sales/marketing emails inside the prospects email interface. However, when you overuse this functionality, the prospect has their attention drawn to the fact that you’ve sent many prior emails, which they did not engage with. This makes you look more persistent and like a spammer.

Therefore, to avoid the threading functionality increasing your report rate, only allow a maximum of 3 emails in total to build up inside one thread. If you need to send more follow-up, use different threads by changing the subject line. 

8. Being presumptive and overconfident

Using presumptive or overconfident phrases, result in your emails coming across more like sales or marketing content and less like you're just looking to start a conversation. This creates a sense of self-interest around your approach, increasing the likelihood the prospect will report you as spam.

On the other hand, if your tone is more uncertain in cold emails, this gives the prospect the impression that you are genuinely interested in their issues / business, making you far more likely to receive a response and reduce your report rate.

9. Referring to prior emails you’ve sent the prospect

Many of the sequences we’ve seen which have the most issues with manual reports will have sentences which refer to the prior emails / attempts to contact the prospect.

This typically annoys prospects to the degree where they’ll report your cold emails for three primary reasons:

  • This reminds the prospect you’ve sent them numerous emails which they haven’t responded to. (meaning you come across as more of a nuisance / spammer). 
  • This tone of self-interest based on the reference to yourself rather than the prospect creates annoyance. 
  • Many prospects may find the premise of the rep feeling they are ‘owed’ a reply as entitled and arrogant. 

Therefore, remove any phrases like the following ones from your emails which refer to prior follow-ups or attempts to contact the prospect:

  • ‘I’ve tried to reach you a couple of times’
  • ‘Following up on my previous email’
  • ‘I dropped you a note’
  • ‘Just circling back with you’
  • ‘Last attempt from me’

(*Disclaimer - All of the above phrases are taken from real cold outreach campaigns)

10. Not having a compelling trigger or reason for outreach

Any sequence composed of emails which are not fundamentally well picked and well timed is going to run into more frequent issues with spam reports, compared to one where you have a compelling reason for reaching out to each contact.

A consistent aspect of cold email now is including a ‘Hyper-Relevant Trigger Explanation’ in the first lines to highlight why your message should be considered as relevant. 

It’s important to note, simply the prospects' job title and industry are not enough to be considered a compelling reason for outreach nowadays (because this is the level of targeting every ‘spray and pray’ campaign uses). Therefore, you’ll need to raise the bar and consider picking your prospects based on triggers that make your message relevant, these will be customised based on your product, but examples of data sources to find these triggers are:

  • Content they’ve engaged with Linkedin/Twitter - This could be specific content from thought leaders in your niche discussing the problem you address and can be attributed on a logo basis rather than just a per-contact basis. 
  • Glassdoor reviews - You can refer to key themes or specific pros/cons mentioned by their own employees on glassdoor. 
  • Job postings - You can refer to and search for companies which are hiring in specific roles, which means they’re likely to be addressing/experiencing the problem you solve. You could also consider new key hires which have been made in the same way. 
  • Changes in technology - As businesses move from one technology to another, this can signal specific challenges/needs. Their current tech stack is also a way to make your account selection more targeted. (BuiltWith is the best data source for this).
  • G2 Crowd Reviews / Other reviews - Either specific reviews people at your target account have submitted on other technologies/services or reviews your target business has received can signal key initiatives, point points and differentiators which create hyper-relevance.

Reinstating an account and cutting volume after suspensions

First of all, this happens to most teams at least once in their journey of scaling an outbound sales team. You’ll need to develop your process to reduce suspensions and reinstate accounts safely. 

The path for reinstating an account will depend on your set-up and email provider, but the most common path for G Suite / Gmail users is as follows to simply allow an SDR to log-in to their email account and reinstate its functionality:

  1. You’ll need your G Suite admin to log-in to the Users section of ther Admin Panel Here
  2. After selecting the user which has been suspended you will typically see an option to reactivate them. 
  3. To reactivate the user in question mark them as ‘not spamming’.

Following a suspension you’ll want to immediately conduct the following steps:

a) Cut the suspended users’ overall sending limit / target by 50%.

b) Rather than simply allowing the user to start emailing at a rate of 50% of their prior volume, you’ll want to throttle their sending from zero, up to the target, over one of the time-frames outlined here.

c) Reduce the entire team's volume by 25-50% depending on the severity of decline on your sender reputation following the suspension.

d) Evaluate your overall sequence and begin to benchmark and iterate your current approach against the 10 causes of suspensions outlined here

It’s important to not ignore reports and continue to send the same sequences regardless of suspensions. As Google outlines after 5 suspensions on a single user inside 1 calendar year you’ll no longer be able to reinstate the user:

In cases where you see suspensions causing significant declines in inbox placement, you’ll want to evaluate moving your cold email efforts onto an alternative domain or subdomain as a long term project to reduce the risk of core business operations being impacted. Allegrow has a playbook to assist with this and guidance on managing the initiative here