The Truth About the Best Time to Send Email

Apr 12, 2013 6:40 PM  By

Much has been written about the best time to send email, and many a nifty infographic has captured the curiosity of our ecommerce email clients. With the email analytics for hundreds of diverse ecommerce email marketers and millions of emails at our fingertips, here is how I respond to the frequent questions about the golden bullet time to send email.

There is some value in the time of day data (but only some)
Generally speaking, I would agree that there are some times of the day that could be better for a response than others.  But time of day optimization isn’t really low hanging fruit. Most articles and infographics seem to be more focused on creating a need and featuring a particular product or platform than an attempt to move the needle with regards to engagement and revenue.

Not all audiences are created equal.  Not all customers are driving at 5PM, and not all are ordering pizza at 6PM. And, while it is clear that you don’t typically want to send email at 3:30 a.m. , there are actually some strategies that may allow for that.

The bottom line is that if you look at the numbers presented in articles and inforgraphics, emails are opened throughout the waking hours of the day, and the differences are measured in fractions of a percentage point. If you run those fractional differences against your numbers – unless you are Coke or Pepsi – the actual lift in success for sending at one time versus another is probably not worth the time it takes to click the extra buttons to achieve the time-targeted send.

Even if you have a feature that is supposed to send an email at the “best” time of day for a given recipient with zero extra effort on the sender’s part, there are a number of reasons why that may not be the best attempt at improving your stats.  For instance, most lives aren’t regimented in such a way that there is always a “best” time to reach a contact. Additionally, most so-called “smart” software is smart in name only. Frankly speaking, when you pull back the curtain, there isn’t enough sophistication to automatically pick or assign a “best” time of day.

Engagement and relevancy are the true low hanging fruit
At the end of the day, the real low hanging fruit in improving open rates, click through, and ultimately conversion, is engagement and relevancy.

Engagement is the term used to describe activity and interest in your brand and email program. It represents the amount of activity a contact shows toward your marketing efforts. You can create, nurture and maintain engagement through strategy and solutions.

Relevancy is the value you create in your messaging and within your email program as a whole. Relevancy can be achieved by getting valuable content in the hands of contacts in a timely manner. And timeliness isn’t really based on what hour of the day an email is sent, but much more so on individual behaviors. Relevancy is another aspect of email that can be improved on through the application of strategy and solutions within the email channel.

Engagement and relevancy are both great metrics that can also be used to determine frequency of sends, and engagement, relevancy and frequency are all much better pursuits and represent much ROI than attempting to pinpoint a time of day to send. I often respond to time of day send questions with a simple response:  “It doesn’t matter when you send email if you have an engaged audience and relevant content.”  It is somewhat of a “if you build it, they will come” response.

In general, I just don’t see the best time of day to send email as a real business challenge. Marketers who are convinced they have a definable and problematic send time issue are either 1) a victim of marketing, believing that a .5% – 1% lift in opens represents some real value, or 2) they have their email program so dialed in that they have nothing else left to take up their time.

Data clearly shows that subject line, incentive and merchandising testing can swing open rates by 3-5% -or even more. So let’s focus on building engagement and relevancy. Once we have that dialed in, and you are twiddling your thumbs looking for a new marketing task, then maybe we can take a look at your send times.

Joe Devine is a solution consultant and senior ecommerce email marketing strategist with Listrak.