When to arrive to the party

I understand that I should attend the party, or course, but why is it important at what time I arrive?

One of the key factors that determines if your email will be opened or not, is its time of arrival. And while this sound like something easy to figure out…

It’s a tricky subject.

You’ll see why in a second.

Here is how I’m structuring this lesson:

  • What studies and conventional wisdom say
  • The reason timing is important
  • The only way to answer this question
  • A few tricks to find your own answer

Ready? Let’s go!

What studies and conventional wisdom say

This stuff is important to know, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will close your eyes and do what they say.

Email is not new and conventional wisdom over the years says “Tuesday through Thursday between 8 and 10am.”

If you talk to an expert about this and this person gives you that answer, that will be a good time to say goodbye.

Fortunately, there are serious studies out there, lets see if we can find our answer…

MailChimp

MailChimp made a study of over one billion emails to answer this complicated question and, although there are significant differences between industries, they came to this conclusion:

  • Best day: Thursday
  • Best time: Around 3pm

GetResponse

After 21 million messages analyzed, this study also calls Thursday the best day based on engagement.

And “subscribers are most active from Monday to Friday, leaving weekends free for other activities.”

So far, this is what we expected, right?

But things get a little more interesting…

Experian

The 2012 Experian email marketing benchmark study found something completely different, and to be honest with you, a little surprising too.

  • Saturdays and Sundays had the highest open, unique clicks, transaction rates and revenue per email, and the lowest volume of campaigns sent
  • During the week, Mondays showed the highest revenue per mail, and Fridays the highest CTR
  • And campaigns sent between 8pm and 11:59pm and 12:am to 4am had the best overall performance and again, the volume was lower

On weekends and nights, you are guaranteed to compete with fewer incoming marketing messages and offers.

Harland Clarke Digital

A Harland Clarke Digital study backs up this data, while the findings show that Wednesdays have the highest volume of campaigns sent (26.9%) and the lowest render rate (15.6%), only 5.5% of campaigns are sent on Saturday, but it has the highest render rate at 32.5%. That’s no small difference.

Response rates at night

The reason timing is so important

The performance of email campaigns also depends on user behavior and how crowded the inbox is at that moment and other marketing campaigns being deployed at the same time.

Really, timing is only important for 2 reasons:

Volume

If you live in Los Angeles, you probably know that if you have to clock in at 9am, you should leave your house at 8am. Unfortunately, everyone else knows that. If you’re driving towards downtown at that time, chances are you are going to be miserable. Bring coffee, a book, a blanket… Okay I’m exaggerating now.

The same thing happens with email, with Twitter, with Facebook, with everything! The times with the highest potential of getting your audience are usually the ones saturated with other incoming messages.

Remember what I said at the beginning? Conventional wisdom says mornings between Tuesday and Thursday, but all marketers know that, and if the inbox is receiving more marketing messages during that period of time, your chances of getting opened are lower because of the competition.

This is your inbox on Thursday!

Your inbox on Thursday

Behavior

One of the important factors in email performance is user behavior. By ignoring this, you could be sending emails at times people are not open to get them.

For example, people tend to accept different types of messages at different times and situations.

These are a few examples of the findings in a study conducted by Dan Zarrella that prove how some messages are better than others at specific time-frames:

  • The beginning of the working day is one of the best “opening” times because people allow themselves to be distracted specifically by emails, including offers
  • But at 10am Open rates drop significantly, perhaps because people focus more on work during the following 2 hours
  • Between noon and 2pm, consumers are open to news and magazine alerts, but no so much looking to open marketing emails
  • 2pm – 3pm are the best times to send campaigns from financial services but consumers are mostly focused on work
  • 23% of all consumer promotion emails were opened between  7 and 10pm, when people are more relaxed and off work

If you think about it, all of these make sense. We’re not really talking about marketing here, we’re looking at human behavior.

The only way to answer this question

By the way, this is the kind of answer everybody hates.

The best time to send an email campaign is when your prospects are checking the inbox, they’re receptive to that type of message, and the inbox is not saturated.

What a horrible answer, Francisco!

I know, I can actually make it worse but I’m trying not to sound like one of those angry stand-up comedians.

Let’s just acknowledge the fact that arriving to definitive answer will be nearly impossible. You audience is a moving thing, some people have very rigid routines and other are wild free spirits that behave differently every week.

BUT, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a sweet spot.

A few considerations when planning the timing of your campaign

Timezone Segmentation

If your email subscribers are coming from different parts of the globe, you might have a problem trying to deliver at a specific time of the day. For example, I’m in Los Angeles, if I send a campaign at 9am, subscribers in the Czech Republic will be receiving at 6pm, which might or might not be an optimal delivery time.

I’ve never been to the Czech Republic, but I can imagine a good chunk of the population most be barely getting home after a day of work, maybe looking to relax and, not really excited about checking email.

What if you want everyone, regardless of their location, to receive your campaign on Tuesday 9am?

Email providers can detect the IP Address of your subscribers and, based on that, determine the location.

Take MailChimp for example, this is a paid feature called TimeWarp that basically allows you to do this by just selecting the option, as long as you schedule the campaign 24 hours in advance. GetResponse offers a similar feature called Time Travel.

Delivery based on zone timing

Lifespan of an email

Why is this important?

23.63% of all emails are opened in the first hour (Source: GetResponse).

By the second hour, only 9.52% of your email are being opened, and as you can imagine, it’s all downhill from there. I mean, the picture is not pretty, 24 hours after delivery, your chances of getting opened are close to 0%.

Considering the lifespan of an email helps us plan according to user behavior.

If your subscriber is used to disconnecting over the weekend, delivering Friday will not work out very good. Another person can be stock in traffic if you decide to send at 5pm, will probably have dinner and watch some TV…

In this case, we’re not talking about delivering at the wrong time, but delivering at a time that we know the user will not check email for longer periods. For B2B marketing might work better to send during business hours. The point is, you don’t want five hours to get by. Aim to have eyeballs to your subject line in the first hour.

The following image shows a very common scenario, this is pretty much how all campaigns look like in a chart.

Opens over 2 weeks

Timing can also be tested

This advice does not sound complicated at all, and it makes total sense. But the truth is having the answers to so many aspects of email success on your desk is not easy, at least is not an overnight thing.

As I always say… reading studies, best practices, surveys, case studies, and other forms of data is good because we learn, but then you need to do your own testing, get your own experience and make educated decisions.

Delivery times are also a big factor in A/B Testing.

Test delivery times

The best thing you can do, besides running the testing functionality featured by your provider, is to manually keep track over time.

Track delivery times

Let’s recap

There are a few things you can take away from this, and hopefully take them as considerations to test your following campaigns…

  • Higher “Send” volumes = Lower “Open” rates – Instead of trying to send when everybody else is sending because they think it’s the best time, send when the inbox is less congested
  • Human behavior is more important than you think
  • Is your prospect going to be able to open within the next hour or are you just sending your email to die at another box?
  • See what your provider offers in terms of time segmentation
  • Apply a little bit of common sense, such as “people are arriving to the office on Monday morning to an overflowing inbox”, but don’t let this dictate how you manage your campaigns without testing
  • Continue to test, test, test
  • And, please don’t listen to an expert that tells you what the best time is without doing any testing in your specific business, that’s just B.S.

Homework

Couple of things…

Personas

I’m sure you’ve heard about personas in marketing, they help you visualize your prospects by describing them in detail. It’s a great exercise.

In this case, I want you to describe your prospect in terms of behavior and timing. For example:

  • My prospect is B2B, so they open emails only on weekdays
  • Monday mornings are too busy with meetings and catching up with pending work

Track

Starting today, I want you to track your open rates based on timing, record the name of the campaign, day and time sent and open. After tracking different times for a few weeks you’ll be able to determine YOUR best times to send an email campaign.

Here is a spreadsheet you can use, you know what to do. Click here to get the spreadsheet.

Spreadsheet

Questions? Use the comment section below.

  • Kelsey Kay Howard

    So would you say it is best to report all metrics to your supervisor 24 hours after sending an email to your list?

    • Kelsey, if you’re supposed to report the results of every campaign, I’d definitely wait at least 48 hours. While most the opens are going to happen on the first few hours, you’ll still see some activity for a couple of days.

      I sent a campaign on Friday, that same day I got 75% of my opens, yesterday I got 16% and today 8.3%. If I was your supervisor, I’d like to know about that extra 16% and 8.3%.

  • When testing both the best time to send and also the subject line, what is the strategy you recommend? Tackle one issue first, then work on the other? … Also is “when to send” ever really “locked in”? or can we expect that to change? Would you identify this changing, by noticing an unexplained decline in your open rate?

    • You should only test one item at a time (we cover this on Module 8), if not you will not be able to determine what works.

      The second question, nothing in marketing is ever locked in. You should never assumed that something that worked for you 3 months ago will continue to have the same impact.

      A sudden drop in the open rate is always a good indicator that something is wrong and you investigate, it could be timing, but it can also be several other things, like deliverability for example.