The Best Time To Send An Email

OK, I'll admit it: The subject line of this message is a bit gimmicky. But I know you're dying to know the answer to the eternal question: "What's the best time of day to send an email?" It's one of the most-asked questions in the industry, right behind "What's the best day of the week to send?" and "How many emails should we send each month?"

As the outcome of a science experiment can be changed by the act of observing it in progress, the answer to this question changes whenever a theory on the topic is published. For example, once the industry came to a general consensus that the best time of day to send was early morning, everyone jumped on the early a.m. bandwagon, which quickly led to lower open rates, due to the deluge of messages. Shortly thereafter, some smart marketers started sending their messages in the early afternoon in a counter-programming move to grab attention.

Naturally, the perfect answer to the question is: It depends. But to give a more specific answer, from the subscribers' perspective, the perfect time to send is just before they would like to view your emails. Some people like to view messages during their lunch break, some first thing in the morning, while still others typically wait until the evening when they are done with the workday.



The traditional method of scheduling email sends on most platforms is to load your message, select the subscriber lists and specify the date and time of launch (i.e. Friday at 2 a.m.) This approach sends to all recipients at more or less the same time without regard for when your subscribers might like to receive the mail.

What if you took a subscriber-centric approach instead?

Recipients are more likely to engage and respond to emails if they are viewing them when they don't feel rushed and aren't distracted by other tasks. Why not do subscribers (and yourself) a favor and send messages when they are most likely to respond positively?

Recently, a few ESPs have added the functionality to allow scheduling of email sends on a specific date, but with each recipient receiving the message within a targeted delivery time block based on previous open history or user preferences. I'm encouraged by this focus on subscriber preference, and predict we will see more platforms add targeted time-of-delivery functionality in the coming months and years.

Even if your platform doesn't include such a feature, you can create your own simplified time-of-delivery scheme. Here are some guidelines:

1)      Identify between two and four primary blocks of time. For example, early morning, midday and late afternoon/evening. 

2)      Segment subscribers by analyzing the open times on previous mailings. I recommend looking at a minimum of 10 opens per subscriber and segmenting based on the block of time they most frequently opened messages.

3)      If no block of time is greater than 50% within a given subscriber's open history, place that subscriber into a control segment along with any new subscribers or subscribers without enough open history.

4)      Repeat the process every three-to-four months so that new subscribers can be included in your time-of-delivery segmentation strategy.

As I've mentioned in previous articles, I believe one of the biggest challenges facing our industry is overcoming the epidemic of too-frequent mailings and irrelevant messages. More and more subscribers are voting to tune out with the Spam button when messages are no longer relevant to them.

As my colleague Loren McDonald wrote in yesterday's Insider article , the email consumer runs the show. Sending messages when our recipients want to receive them is just one of many steps we should be taking to maintain relevance in the eyes of the consumer. The more we can do to provide relevant information -- how and when and where our subscribers want to receive it  -- the more successful our programs will be.
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