When is the best time to send email? This question has been one of the most asked in the email marketing industry for well over a decade. And the urgency to answer this question correctly has only grown.
That’s because we live in a time-strapped world where we only want things when we want them. But when we're ready, we want them immediately. In the meantime, email messages are coming in all day, every day—largely without regard to when customers are most interested in reading and responding to them. It’s a mismatch that leads to frustration, disengagement, and opt-outs.
Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be the case. Brands have more data and tools at their disposal than ever to answer the question of the best time to send emails. Patterns in historical open, click, and conversion behaviors are readily available for your each of your subscribers. Taking advantage of that known behavior offers a competitive advantage that will boost performance of your program. In all of my years of working with clients, I've yet to see it fail to deliver material lifts in a program. Ever.
In fact, among the brands that Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting has worked with, optimizing the best time to send emails results in an average lift in engagement of 10%-12% and an average lift in conversions of 5%-7%.
However, there are several ways to determine the “best time to send emails." They vary in terms of the level of impact that they'll have, but they're all better than an arbitrary deployment time for your emails based solely upon hunches or how you’ve done it historically. Let’s look at a few data-based approaches to picking deployment times:
Keep it simple: You can get an advantage in the inbox by doing an aggregate analysis of your subscriber base and just examining the timing opportunity by daypart. Look at your send time and then compare it to the percentage of your subscribers opening in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
We recently examined a telco client's data and found that while they deployed their weekly email in the morning, the majority of engagement was actually in the afternoon. We ran an A/B test and found that by shifting the full send to the afternoon, conversions increased 18% when compared to a morning send control group. Easy change, big impact.
You get from Good to Better by going from the best time to send based on aggregate data to send times based on individual-level data. By using data on the timing of past opens, clicks, and conversions for each subscriber, you can determine the optimal time of day at the individual level by day of week. That means that there's a bespoke value for each subscriber for Monday, Tuesday, and the other days of the week.
For example, your subscriber Steve should receive your emails at 7am on Mondays, 11am on Tuesdays, and so on; whereas, Tara should get them at 10 am on Mondays, 3pm on Tuesdays, and so on.
At the very least, there’s a best time to send emails for each person regardless of day. For instance, Steve should get email at 1pm and Tara should get email at 4pm, whether you’re sending on Monday or Saturday.
The best option is a combination of the two approaches above. Why? Because you won’t have sufficient data to determine an optimal send time for a significant portion of your list - perhaps up to 30% of it.
New subscribers will make up the vast majority of this group. With no pattern of engaging with your emails, it’s impossible to determine an ideal individualized send time. In these cases, rather than setting a default send time arbitrarily, use your aggregate best time to send emails as the fallback. For everyone else, use their bespoke optimal send time.
When determining the best time to send emails, we recommend using a metric that’s aligned with the goal of your message—which is generally clicks, if not conversions. Even if you’ve written a clear and descriptive subject line and preview text that’s designed to drive bottom-of-the-funnel activity, time of day can affect follow-through based on the type of call-to-action.
For instance, you might find that subscribers are more likely to act on call-to-action to share content via their social media accounts in the morning, more likely to register for a webinar or event around lunchtime, and more likely to make a consumer purchase in the evening. Keep this in mind.
Note that there are times when you might want to override send time optimization, or you might want to put some specific parameters in place regarding windows during which the optimization occurs. For example:
Finally, it’s worth stressing that send time optimization is best used with broadcast and segmented campaigns. Automated and transactional emails have their own optimal send time based on the behavior that triggers them. Note that if some of your transactional and other trigger messages are batched and sent at a certain time, you may also want to avoid that time window when sending your other campaigns.
So, focus your send time optimization efforts on your promotional messages and see what lift they can provide! While timing isn’t everything, when it comes to marketing and driving customer engagement, timing is a major contributing factor to success.
Want more ways to uplevel your email marketing and avoid settling for good enough? Check out:
Need help taking your email marketing program to the next level? Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including strategists, designers, copywriters, trainers, deliverability experts, and more.
Clint Kaiser is the Head of the Analytic & Strategic Services team at Oracle Marketing Consulting. His background in the email marketing space includes 20 years of experience with ESPs and digital agencies. His analytical approach to driving change in digital marketing is reflected in his quantitative approach to improving clients' business outcomes.