cold email deliverability

13 Steps to Cold Email Deliverability: How to Setup, Warm-Up, & Launch

Hundreds of millions of emails every day never reach their target recipient.

In the past, email deliverability was a matter of proper infrastructure setup, watching volume levels, and maintaining a healthy email list to prevent bounces, spam traps, and spam reports.

However, today’s challenges are more complex: modern spam filtering is sophisticated and uses sending behavior, recipient engagement, and email content to identify email spammers.

For sellers using cold email, this environment can make it a struggle to effectively ramp-up a new outbound email campaign and sustain it without running into deliverability issues.

To help understand the process of launching and maintaining a successful cold email campaign, here’s a 13-step process you can use to go from setup to warm-up to launch.

[For a more in-depth look at this process and free information about cold email deliverability, check out Episode #7 of The Cold Email Playbook with Zerobounce.]

Cold Email Setup Process

Outbound emails can’t be jumpstarted overnight.

Email is a digital channel and requires a setup to ensure security and authenticity.

Before you email anyone, you need to set up the right infrastructure to ensure security, connectivity, and deliverability for your email account.

Step 1: Setup Domains for Outbound Email Immediately

To protect critical internal, external, and customer communications at your organization, you should set up separate domains with their own IP addresses that can be dedicated to outbound.

Use a domain search tool like Instant Domain Search to find multiple domains that are branded but different from your original domain. From there, you’ll purchase and set up these domains on a domain registrar and hosting company like GoDaddy.

New domains are automatically placed into 5 separate Spam Eating Monkey (SEM) blacklists that expire based on the domain’s age:

  • SEM-FRESHZERO: For new domains created within 24 hours
  • SEM-FRESH: For domains that have been registered within 5 days
  • SEM-FRESH10: For domains that have been registered within 10 days
  • SEM-FRESH15: For domains that have been registered within 15 days
  • SEM-FRESH30: For domains that have been registered within 30 days

To prevent these blacklists from impacting your cold email campaign, you should purchase domains for outbound email as soon as possible so they can age out of SEM-FRESH.

Before moving on, make sure to set up redirects or landing pages for these domains so that future email recipients can learn more about your company.

Step 2: Connect to an Email Service Provider

Once your domains are registered, you should choose a business Email Service Provider (ESP) that will connect to your domain and send emails on your domain’s behalf.

Top examples of business ESPs are Google’s G-Suite or Microsoft Outlook. It’s important to note that these need to be professional accounts instead of free or personal email accounts.

While it’s recommended for new cold emailers to use an ESP, a more advanced alternative is using a Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) relay service like Mailjet.

Step 3: Configure SPF + DKIM + DMARC

Email communication is complicated and involves the right setup to ensure your emails are authentic, secure, and certified to be sent from your domain.

To send emails, you need to configure a Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) record in your domain’s DNS settings.

Most ESP or SMTP providers offer their own guides on how to set these records up. Find instructions for the one you’re using to get your domain ready to email.

Step 4: Test Email Deliverability After Setup

After you set up the necessary DNS settings for outbound email, you should be ready to test the email deliverability of your email accounts.

Different email deliverability weaknesses and issues will arise depending on your domain’s IP address, prior activity, and the email-sending solutions you use.

To make sure your infrastructure is set up properly, use a deliverability testing tool like GlockApps to get an in-depth look at where your outbound email accounts really stand.

Step 5: Optimize Email Infrastructure for Deliverability

Once you’ve finished your first email deliverability test, the next step is to go through the data and diagnose what improvements need to be made.

Unfortunately, more often than not a change will need to be made in order to ensure optimal, long-term email deliverability for your outbound email accounts.

This analysis includes a review of any and all blacklists for your domain, which need to be addressed before deciding to launch your cold email campaign.

Cold Email Warm-Up Process

Infrastructure setup is only one part of the whole.

Even if the infrastructure is perfect, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll maintain the same deliverability as you start sending emails.

To truly prepare your outbound email accounts for a campaign, you need a warm-up process that can help build your sender reputation.

Step 1: Build a Seed List of Trusted Peers

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), ESPs, and spam filters for blacklists use the engagement of your recipients as a huge factor in determining your sender reputation.

If your first few emails get reported as spam, your deliverability will drastically decrease. If you struggle to get opens after hundreds of emails, you risk getting placed on a blacklist.

To build your reputation and avoid the radar of spam filters, your first few weeks should be focused on emailing people that can guarantee high engagement stats.

A seed list is a group of trusted people in your network that you can use to generate this high engagement. Because you know and trust them, it’s the safest way to build sender reputation.

Seed lists can be as big as you’d like, but it’s best to have more than 10 people you can rely on to warm-up your outbound email accounts.

Step 2: Recruit Participants from the Seed List

While a seed list should only include well-known and trusted peers, you should still get their consent and prepare the warm-up strategy ahead of time.

Reach out to your seed list on any channel other than the email accounts you’re warming up. Share the situation and ask if they can open, respond, and click on an email you’ll send.

Once you’ve gotten commitments from a group of participants, you can start the warm-up process immediately and continue recruiting more participants as you need them.

Step 3: Email Your Seed List to Warm-Up Your Account

Warming up an email account requires high engagement stats and sending behaviors that look authentic, so you won’t send to your entire seed list right away.

Instead, you’ll send an email to 2 – 5 people from your seed list every day for 2 – 4 weeks to gradually increase sending activity and engagement.

Once you’ve gotten engagement from everyone on your seed list, you should re-test your email deliverability to measure the impact of your warm-up improvements.

Cold Email Launch Process

With the setup and warmed-up email accounts, you’re ready to launch. However, email deliverability doesn’t end at the email account.

Maintaining your sender reputation and maximizing deliverability is a continuous challenge. To do it right, here are a few best practices you need to keep in mind as you launch your campaign.

Step 1: Create Content for Your Cold Emails

Beyond infrastructure, email content is an essential factor for spam filters.

Certain keywords, phrases, attachments, and HTML can degrade your deliverability or even place you on a specific blacklist for those issues.

In addition, similar emails sent to many recipients with no changes in content is a top spam trigger. If you’re not personalizing at all, you risk quickly running into email deliverability issues.

Email content should be reasonably personalized and have at least 3 versions of every email. This tactic creates content variation and mimics a reputable human sender.

Step 2: Clean Your Email List Before Launch

Even if you’ve cleaned your email list beforehand, it’s good to validate your emails again before you start sending. Even a week is enough time for emails to change or for employees to leave.

List health goes beyond bounces: emails that are spam traps, people submitting spam reports, and recipients with low engagement can all impact cold email deliverability.

An email validation solution like Zerobounce provides the ability to validate and analyze the health for any list of emails.

Step 3 (Optional): Launch the Campaign with Manual Sending

A huge issue for cold emailers today is the emergence of technology from ESPs that can identify the use of APIs for email-sending automation.

For example, Google can almost instantly identify email accounts using automation APIs and treat those emails with more rigorous spam filtering than non-automated accounts.

While not all ESPs can pick up on cold email automation, you decrease the chance of triggering a spam filter by launching the campaign by manually sending emails for a few weeks.

Step 4: Slowly Ramp-Up Volume

One of the biggest misconceptions around cold email is sending behavior.

Many email marketers adopt the concept of mass emailing to large audiences at very heavy volumes over a short span of time.

In reality, your sending volume, how often you send, when you send, and when you don’t send are all factors that spam filters use to identify email spammers.

To protect your campaign from falling into a rut, you should launch at a volume of less than 10 new contacts emailed per day and slowly increase that volume over a period of 30 days.

For example, a campaign with a target volume of 50 emails per day would need to start at 10 emails and steadily increase by 5 – 8 per day until it reaches target volume.

Step 5: Monitor Email Deliverability as You Increase Sending Volume

Email volume is like a game with levels: higher sending volumes come with more scrutiny and tighter limits from spam filters.

Even existing, aged email accounts can run into email deliverability issues, so it’s essential to regularly monitor your deliverability performance as you increase your sending volume.

Many companies don’t take action on email deliverability issues until it’s too late. Instead, it’s better to be proactive and stay one step ahead of your deliverability.

Step 6: Use Automation For Higher Efficiency

Cold email automation involves using software to send automated and personalized emails to potential customers. Some popular cold email automation tools include GMass, Mailshake, Woodpecker, and Lemlist .

While automation can simplify your cold email marketing campaigns, it’s important to put in some initial effort to ensure success. Personalization is key to the success of your cold email campaign. To personalize an email, you should target it to a specific audience or recipient .

By utilizing your email marketing software and CRM platform, you can send personalized and effective emails. Here are a few more tips for starting a successful cold email campaign:

  • Regularly update your customer data and profiles.
  • Ensure that the correct information is placed in the appropriate fields.


With the rise of sales automation, the number of outbound emails is expected to continue rising and spam filters have to respond.

Today’s cold email environment is delicate as more sophisticated filtering algorithms and behavior-tracking capabilities emerge from ISPs, ESPs, and blacklists.

For companies using cold email, you need the proper preparation, setup, and best practices to ensure the longevity of your cold emailing efforts.

With this 13-step process, you can launch cold email campaigns with more consistency, fewer obstacles, and set yourself up to be miles ahead of the email marketing crowd.

[Generating outbound leads? Check out our new free video series The Cold Email Playbook to get insights and content from 7 outbound & cold email experts!]