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Timing in email marketing

There are many factors that are vital to the success of an email marketing campaign.

Having a good design template is important, as is having a compelling subject line, but many would argue the content of the email is the most essential factor. If the information you’re sending out isn’t appealing to the recipient, then they won’t open the email or click through to your site.

One aspect that’s often overlooked is the time of day the email campaign is sent. The content and design can be perfectly aligned to the interests and desires of the recipient, but if they receive it at the wrong time of day, your campaign could be ignored entirely, or filed for later, only to be forgotten.

It may seem like a simple and unimportant factor, but finding the right time to send can strongly affect how successful your campaign is.

Typical times

If you were to research send times for email marketing campaigns across a variety of industries, you’d find that most are sent quite early in the morning. The logic behind this is that people are most receptive to emails then, as this is when they’ll first sit down at work and open their inbox.

“As a general rule, the best time for an email campaign to be received is in the morning,” says Samantha Smith, managing director of Pinnacle Communications. “Consumers are either on their way to work or just settling in for the day and are not yet absorbed in their daily work routine.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that 6 am is the best time to send out your email campaign. The same person receiving marketing from two businesses in different industries is likely to respond to each campaign in different ways.

“Your industry, your message, and your target market all play a role in deciding this, and may actually dictate a different time,” says Smith. “For example, a promotion for an online clothing store would be better sent in the evening when consumers are winding down, and have the time and ability to shop.”

Jennifer Lam, managing director of the digital marketing agency The Bamboo Garden, explains that her clients work mainly in the food and lifestyle industries and that this is taken into consideration when crafting email marketing strategies.

“In terms of food, we always avoid sending it after lunchtime, as it’s a turnoff to look at food right after you’ve eaten,” she says. “In terms of a lifestyle business, then they would generally send just in the afternoon because people are more interested in searching the web around then.”

Know your customer

The key in choosing the right send time is to have a detailed understanding of the demographics in your database. If the information you have is limited to recipients’ names, email addresses, and a vague idea of their interest in your business, then you have no way of determining which is the best time to send a campaign. The more you know, the more educated you can be about when recipients are most likely to welcome an email from you.

“It is important to have a thorough knowledge of your database’s demographics and any factors that may impact their response, depending on your offering,” says Smith. “What time zone do they live in? Do they work? Are they at home? The more information you know about your consumer, the better you can tailor both the email content and the receipt time.”

Knowledge of your customers needn’t be solely based on demographics. Landon Kahn, CEO of Todae Lifestyle Store, chose to use site traffic as a way of setting the day and time that was best to send out a marketing newsletter.

“We looked into when people actually coming to the site – the highest traffic day and highest traffic time. We found that to be about Thursday, midday,” says Kahn. “Whether they’re returning customers, or new people coming to the site, that’s when someone is most likely to be on the site. If that’s the time that people are most likely coming to our website, then we want to bring more people at that time. We found that pretty successful.”

Although Kahn stresses that the trends he’s recorded in his email marketing shouldn’t be treated as gospel by any business other than Today, it’s interesting to note that he has since changed the time of sending from midday to early morning.

“Generally you don’t have anything immediately pressing first thing when you come into work. You devote a bit of time to checking your emails,” he says. “The two big times for checking email are when you get into the office and after lunch. That’s why we previously sent it at midday because we did it for when people are getting back from lunch when there are generally fewer emails in their inbox. At the moment, we’re sending it a bit earlier.”

Content: motivation vs. distraction

Content is probably the most crucial ingredient when it comes to creating a successful email marketing campaign. If the subject line is not relevant to the recipient, then they’re not going to open the email, let alone click through to your website.

The appeal and success of an email’s content are closely related to the time it’s sent. Recipients open email marketing for one of two reasons: either they’re feeling motivated by the relevance of the email to their work, or they’re bored and looking for a distraction. When writing your content and plotting a send time, it’s worth considering at which point in the day, and which day in the week, your customers are most likely to indulge one of these two impulses.

“Content plays a key role in dictating the time an email should be sent,” says Pinnacle Communications’ Smith. “Motivating, work-related content is better received when consumers are alert and focused on the job. Tangential and entertaining content is more suited to periods when consumers are looking for a distraction.”

For example, office workers would be more responsive to entertaining, loosely relevant content were they to receive it in mid-afternoon, when the work pace has slackened slightly. On the other hand, highly specific, practical content like industry news or ‘how to’ guides would be better received in the early to mid-morning, when the working day is in full swing and recipients are more likely to feel motivated.

It’s also important to consider when your database members are likely to be able to check their inbox. The Bamboo Garden’s Lam insists that Friday is not a good day to send an email marketing campaign, as fewer people tend to be in their offices.

“Firstly, not everyone is at their desk on a Friday. Some people leave work early,” she says. “But the main thing is that people are preparing for the weekend and preparing for Monday. We’ve just found that the open rate is lower when you send it out then. Our conclusion is that people are clearing their inboxes, and they aren’t really prepared to do anything when they receive an email like that.”

Similarly, Today’s Kahn claims to have noticed that campaigns sent on both Mondays and Fridays prove to be less effective than those sent on other weekdays.

“I’ve spoken to people, and they’ve said they send on Monday because that’s quite a good day for them. What we’ve found is that Monday and Friday are the worst days to send,” he says. “Often, you find people are on leave on Monday and Friday whether people have taken a day off for the weekend or traveling. We get a lot of ‘out of office’ responses on those two days.”

Test, test, test

Although it’s wise to gain as much relevant knowledge about your recipients as possible before a campaign, there’s only so much you can know without actually experimenting with different send times and content, and observing the results.

Testing by trial and error is an essential part of email marketing and can help to identify the time your audience is most likely to click on your subject line.

Check that your email marketing software has an accurate way to measure open rates and clickthroughs, and make sure that traffic to the website can be easily tracked and examined through a service like Google Analytics.

“Regular response testing is key to ensuring your email is being sent to your target audience at their optimum time,” says Pinnacle Communications’ Smith. “To do this, you could look at past response rates, experiment with varying timeslots, or benchmark against available data. Remember – people and their behaviors change, so always keep testing and analyzing your response rates.”

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