Clients often ask us “When should I send out my email campaign in order to get the best open rate?” And our answer often generates quizzical looks (and sometimes icy stares): “You should send it when the recipients have the highest likelihood of opening it”.
It’s a valid question – and we’re not trying to be cagey, or difficult – but the days of a single ‘best’ time to send an email message are gone. As with many other things, we can thank technological advances for that: more people than ever before are reading email messages on a mobile device, so they’re not tied to a desktop and a wired network connection in order to get email messages. With locational freedom comes time freedom; instead of looking at email during typical “work” hours, people are checking email during all different hours.
A recent survey by Adobe showed that 69% of the white-collar workers surveyed check email while watching TV or a movie. Among the truly addicted, 17% checked email messages while driving, and 11% even felt compelled to check their inbox during a formal ceremony!
So is there a time when you can send an email message and know that you’ll hit a relatively empty inbox (or at least be at the top of the stack)? Unlikely. According to the same survey, the amount of time respondents spent checking email increased 17% versus the prior year – so unless they’re reading a lot slower it means that they’re simply trying to deal with more messages.
Despite all this clutter – which seems to have driven 45% of the survey respondents to check email even in the bathroom – there is a way to optimize your Open rate: the measure of how many people are at least looking at your message. Examine the detail reports from your last few email campaigns – virtually all Email Service Providers (ESPs) make this information available – and look for patterns where larger number of opens occur. Remember to take into account the geography of your list, and the time zone of your report (they may not be the same). Are your recipients early risers? Do you see a spike in opens right after a market or exchange closes? There may be more than one peak period; after all, variety is the spice of life.
If you find that the majority of opens takes place over a relatively small period of time, try sending out your next campaign right at the start of that time window. The people who previously opened it at that time are most likely going to do so again, and some others that previously didn’t open it are more likely to do so now – when it may be more convenient for them.
If you notice more than one peak open period, then it’s a good idea to examine a few campaigns together to see if the same people tend to open during each of those peak times. Have you identified some night owls – the 57% of the sample who reported checking email in bed? Or maybe you have some of the 34% that say they check emails during their commute? Take advantage of this improved temporal targeting by splitting your list and sending different names during the time of the day they’ve already shown to be convenient for them.
So now you have an idea of what time of day to send out your next campaign so that you increase the open rates. That’s the first step toward optimizing the revenue-producing potential of your email, usually measured as the Click Rate. And to get people to click on a link in your email, they first have to open it.
Assuming there’s some kind of call-to-action in your email (At least link to your website’s Home page? A link to a blog post? A link to a form to request more information?), then measuring how many people click that link is a good proxy for the overall success of your email campaign. Just as with ‘Open’ information, your ESP has reports that show when people are clicking on your emails. In many cases that Click pattern closely follows the Open pattern – but it doesn’t have to. Some people tend to scan emails on a mobile device, but put off clicking on links until they’re in front of a larger screen – partly because it’s easier to navigate, and partly because the call-to-action is rarely so time-critical that it can’t wait a few hours.
As with the Open rate information, look for patterns that indicate a certain daypart preference for clicks. Is that Click peak different from the Open peak? If so, test the effectiveness of sending your email just prior to the Click peak time. Even if the Open rate is slightly lower, if the absolute number of clicks increases, you’ve improved your performance. Did you discover two distinct Click peaks? Just as with the Open data, look across several campaigns to see if the same people tend to click around the same times, and adjust your lists and distribution times accordingly.
Email marketing has many advantages, including the ability to target with precision, detailed tracking that allows accurate results analysis, and relatively low cost. But it is also completely controlled by the recipient – who can effortlessly delete even the most brilliantly crafted messages. Worse still, if you wear out your welcome and bombard your prospects with too many messages, or messages that aren’t relevant, or messages that don’t offer any value, recipients can easily unsubscribe from future mailings. In your quest to find the optimal mailing time, be sure your prospects don’t make it your last time.