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Strategies for timing your email marketing for maximum return

You’ve been told the “industry standard” for how to time your emails, but your return on investment may be going down the drain if you’re sticking to someone else’s script. here are three tips for maximizing your return on email marketing.

Timing is everything

Does it matter what time your email lands in their inbox? Of course it does. Most real responses will happen within two hours. If you time your marketing emails properly, you will be seen by more people and get more out of the whole process. Why wouldn’t you give it some thought and try to maximize your return?

More often than not, senders will click to send immediately after they are finished building their email. It’s human nature. They work for hours writing the message. Sometimes toiling, or even arguing over every word. Time and money are spent finding just the right pictures to include. In some cases, time is invested to have others proofread it (as you should!). And then, a deep breath and click – without giving much thought to when that message will land on the other side. I’ve seen it a thousand times, whether it is 2am or 2pm, people are just glad to be done and want it to go out. Been there, done that – more times than I’d like to think. But quick senders are missing out on a big piece of their potential. When it comes to mass email for promotional purposes, timing isn’t everything but it is very close.

The best time to send a mass email

So, when is the best time to send a mass email? There is actually a standard answer in the email marketing industry – most will say to send mass email on Tuesday or Wednesday between 10am and 3pm. Don’t write that down just yet.

Remember, that is the “industry standard” and it makes sense if you think about it. It avoids the great delete of Monday and the “I’m leaving early” on Friday. It also skips past the first open of the day and the last. A sort of “business hours sweet spot” for email delivery. But go look at your inbox. That industry standard can now be translated into an awful lot of emails. This is when you yourself are getting the most promotional email. So are the people on your list. The competition for attention during this timeframe is high. Are you sure you want to throw your email into the mix up against all of the other marketers out there? Maybe, but maybe not.

There is a time that is just right for you

You have to time your emails to your own audience and try to land on their desktop at the moment when they are most likely to respond. There is no industry standard timeframe for that. The right time for your business to send is specific to you, and there is a simple way to figure out exactly what day of the week and what time of the day works best for you to deliver your messages.

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Find your best time in three simple steps

1 . Look at your contact list and divide it into three equal lists – equal in number, but also equal demographically. If you have a particularly large list, this works with segments just as well. And if you cover a large geography, it can sometimes be helpful to do this by area or city. Obviously, you need to time international or out of state emails differently from your locals, and in some cases it can make sense to do this by city. My Austin list responds at a different time than my Dallas list. True story.

2. Choose three days of the week that you want to test. So, maybe you go with Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Maybe Tuesday, Thursday Saturday. It’s up to you. If you are B2B, you need to steer clear of weekends and nights. If you are B2C, nothing is off limits. Now, send the same email out on each of those days, using your three lists of contacts.

Example: list one gets the email on Monday, list two on Wednesday, list three on Friday (send them all at the same time of day to make sure you are testing day of week only). Now look at the responses, and you will know which day performed the best. If you are using an email marketing service, you should have actual data – opens, clicks, forwards, shares on social media, etc… If you are not using a service, well, you should use a service if for no other reason than the tracking tools they provide. You can track some response manually, without a service but most are so inexpensive ($15 – 30 per month) and most offer a free trial, so you may as well use one at least for this exercise. There are other reasons to use a service instead of your regular email account to send mass email, but that is worthy of a another article. Or seven.

3. Now that you know the day of the week that performs best, you wait a little bit. The next time you are ready to send out a mass email, you use your same three lists of contacts. You already know what day of the week to send, based on what you learned in the first step. This time, choose three times of day you want to test. 10am, 2pm or 4pm, for example. Or, if you want to test an evening email, try 10:30, 2:30 and 6pm. Do the same thing you did with days of the week – send out the same exact email to your three lists at the three times and then measure response. Pretty much every time, a winning time will emerge.

Now you know what time of day and which day of the week works best for your audience. No more guessing, hoping, praying. Well, you can still pray. That can’t hurt. But make these decisions based on data and fact, not on whether you finally finished the email and just want to get on with it. Knowledge is power. Good timing and the strategy behind it have the power to increase your return on the time and money you spent on the promotion.

A few things to keep in mind

Consider the different types of people on your list and the possibility that you may need to segment them based on what you are trying to get them to do. Do different groups respond differently? Cater to their specific patterns if you think it’s worth your time. For example, if you were working with a church trying to drive attendance on Sunday morning, you should probably send one email to teens in the youth group the day before with one kind of message about what matters to them and a different message to senior citizens on Wednesday or Thursday with a completely different message, giving them time to plan to attend. This applies to all business and organizations. If you are serving different audiences you might want to test each of them separately.

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Try to avoid that first and last open of the day. That “industry-standard” has some value for you there. It’s very difficult to win the battle of priorities in a long list of emails like the list waiting for you the first time to open your email in the morning. Similarly, it is very difficult to elicit responses at the end of the day because people are trying to find reasons not to do anything else. They are done.

Ease of response should be top of mind

What are you trying to get recipients to do? And when do they typically do that anyway? Ever notice that you get pizza offers from delivery companies near the end of the day or just before dinnertime, often on Fridays? That is when many working people are finishing up at work and that email can solve the one last decision they have to make for the day.

Do not assume anything

You may be surprised by your audience. Do not assume that you already know when they are likely to respond. Look at the stats. I once sent an email out at 10pm because I was running late and had to travel the next day. I was in a hurry, not being strategic and just clicked send to be done. Imagine my surprise when I had a huge uptick in my open rate, upwards of 80% (the average is between 18 and 32 percent depending on your industry and geography). I would not usually have sent at night and was surprised to say the least. Assume nothing.

Do not be romanced by the open rate

Obviously people need to open your email to read it and respond. You want a good open rate. But that number, the percentage of people that open your email, is not the real measure of success. You have to measure the responses and the actions people took. Did they click, reply, buy, forward, share on Facebook, pick up the phone and call you, etc.? This is what really matters.

That 80% open rate I was surprised by did not change my timing for future emails. Lots of people opened it. Great. It looked good on paper. The reality is that almost no one signed up for the workshop my email was touting. 10pm is when they were doing that last inbox review before going to bed, they were not in the frame of mind to take real action and sign up for my free marketing class. That big beautiful open rate was a disguise for my big waste of an email because I didn’t stop and think about timing before clicking send.

Rinse and repeat

Your business and the list of people you are emailing for promotional purposes is like a growing, living organism. What works for you today may not be what works in a year or two. I recommend re-testing your best time for delivery at least once a year, and in some cases where you have a very large list or rapid growth, every six months. If you see a decline in response, do not assume that people stopped caring. Test a new time or try something different, and never test a big change on everyone at once. Try new ideas on ten or twenty percent of your list first. If it fails, you didn’t screw it up for everyone, just those poor guinea pigs that happened to be in your beta. You can fix that.

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Be strategic. Be smart. Deliver when it works best for your people and they will reward you with more opens, more clicks, more forwards and shares. More business. Less wasted time, money and energy. It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your email is?

Written By

Niehoff speaks and writes about marketing strategy and best practices for small business and nonprofits. She is the Director of Education & Development for Constant Contact, and serves as Vice Chair of Marketing Communciations for the Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations


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