Loren McDonald, May 07, 2009 10:15 AM

Just about every email expert, consultant or workshop speaker has fielded this question: “What’s the best
time to send emails so my recipients are most likely to read them?”

This is one of those “It depends” questions, because no single mailing list is like another. In addition, your recipients aren’t all in their inboxes at the same time, unlike the mass audiences that tune in to the Super Bowl every year at the exact same time across the continent.

Remember all those studies over the last few years that claimed to pinpoint the best time to send? I conducted what I think was the first study of this kind at a former employer back in 2003, which showed, at least across that company’s
client base, Tuesday through Thursday mornings delivered the highest open and click-through rates.

But even then, I wrote that the “best day” was different for every company. I saw that firsthand with one client for whom I tested various days and times and found that Sunday mornings was its best time, consistently
delivering the most conversions and revenues. However, even the idea that there is a specific day of the week and time of day that is the right time to send emails to your entire list is a completely flawed view.

Consider all the variables that factor into finding the single best time to send:

Demographics: Suppose you market largely to women. Women who work in an office might act on emails at different times than stay-at-home moms. Unless you are capturing detailed demographics, you won’t always know which is which.

Time: You have seven days, 24 hours and up to 40 time zones around the world for global marketers. The variables are endless.

Mindshare: With both consumers and business people spending an increasing amount of time on social networks and services like Twitter, being at the top of a recipient’s inbox is becoming even more critical.

The right time to send emails, of course, is when each individual recipient is most likely to respond: the time when they consistently open and act on your emails.

Getting so granular sounds nearly impossible, especially if you have a large list, but it can be done using recipient time-of-open and click data.

Mini Case Study: Cart-Abandonment Emails

Email consultant John Caldwell recently told me that one of his clients saw an overall 4-times increase in conversion rates when it began sending cart-abandonment emails based on the times when customers had previously opened emails.

In the past, the client had batched cart-abandonment emails and sent them out at one time. With this new strategy, emails launch within 75 minutes from when the customer abandons items in the cart.

If the customer opens the email but doesn’t return, the client’s ecommerce system sends a second email (and a third and final email if necessary) based on when the customer opened the first email.

Optimizing Send Times

My employer has also seen marked results for clients using an automated feature called Send Time Optimization, which calculates the optimum send time based on a rolling average of times each recipient opened or clicked on previous
messages, then schedules individual message deliveries at that time.

For example, one client, Encyclopedia Britannica, saw a 40% increase in net revenue by tying delivery times to historical open and click times.

Across a sample of just a few clients using this feature, we’ve seen these results:

* 20% to 46% increase in open rates
* 30% to 50% increase in click rates
* 52% to 75% increase in total revenue
* 30% increase in total number of orders per campaign (CPC client)
* 35% to 47% increase in per-order value.

These numbers are extremely exciting not just because of improved performance, but because like trigger and drip campaigns, they leverage the power of marketing automation. In this era of tightening budgets, reduced resources and
overflowing inboxes, email marketers need all the advantages they can muster.

While segmentation, personalization, great creative, cadence and other factors are critical to email success, getting your email located at the top of recipients’ inboxes above all the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter notifications will increasingly become an additional key email success factor.