Editorial Content Manager, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
November 7th, 2019
I know. I’ll send it at 7:30 am so it will be in their inboxes when they get to work.
No, wait — I should send it at 10:30 in the morning so they will see it after they’ve made their way through their inboxes already. That way, it won’t get lost in the clutter.
But wait, tomorrow’s Friday, and Monday is a holiday — people might be too focused on the weekend to even notice, then it will get buried by the start of next week.
So go the mental musings of every modern-day email marketer trying to reach out to a list of potential customers.
All of them are wondering the exact same things: When should I schedule my email to go out? Which day of the week is best? And, if every other business is following the same strategy, does that render moot any supposed “best” time?
Before starting my research on this topic, I surveyed a few dozen colleagues here at IMPACT.
Before we began, I asked her to tell me how many individual emails our company has sent in the last 365 days.
Considering our thrice-weekly newsletter, THE LATEST, goes out to tens of thousands of people, Stephanie came up with a pretty accurate estimate, which she quickly backed up with the actual statistic: 2,907,151.
I asked Stephanie what she would say if she were to forced her to answer, what is the best time to send emails.
Her answer: Tuesdays between 11-1, in the time zone of the recipient. (To note, there are programs that will deliver the same email to different inboxes based on local time zones. Stephanie recommends Seventh Sense.)
Now the answer that Stephanie wanted to give to my question was “it depends.”
I let her explain.
“First of all, it depends on the purpose of the email. When I invite people to the HubSpot user groups, that's going to be different than if I want someone to read something and engage with it, like our newsletter, or the community updates that I send.”
“It also depends, frankly, on how fun [an email] is. I'm way more willing to send something fun in the afternoon, and I am going to prioritize sending something business-focused early on the day.”
The fact is, the best time to send an email will depend heavily on your needs.
Stephanie noted the malicious brilliance of pizza companies, who send out coupons and other promotional coupons right around 4:15 in the afternoon.
Just when you’re starting to think about dinner, in comes an offer from Papa John’s or Domino's.
Then, on Sundays in the fall, they’ll send out coupons at 11:30, just as people are getting ready to watch NFL games.
If that’s not knowing your customer, I don’t know what is.
Similarly, marketing emails for other types of products or services might be best tied to certain hours or days of the week.
Imagine it’s your inbox.
When would you want to hear about a weekend event? When would you prefer to learn about a shoe sale? When are you most likely to open an email offering a free preview of a streaming service?
It all comes back to thinking like a customer.
According to data, when is the best time to send an email?
Considering the ever-more-mobile nature of internet access, it’s not surprising that Campaign Monitor’s researchers found that “mobile email is checked 3x more compared to desktop.”
Accordingly, they found that email open rates are not as closely tied to business hours as HubSpot suggests.
In fact, just slightly more than half (53%) of email opens happen during the business day, with the next biggest share (24%) happening between 6 pm and 11 pm.
Not surprisingly, Campaign Monitor found that the majority of these off-hour opens “occur on mobile devices.”
Think about it, you might be in line for your morning coffee, or on the couch watching TV at night. You check your phone and see a notification from your email app. Smartphones have made checking email on-the-go easier than ever, and they have, in turn, extended email’s reach.
Still, Campaign Monitor did find that there was a "best" time for emails to be opened, but it was later in the day, peaking at 3 pm.
Also, note how this curve is less steep than HubSpot’s above:
(source: Campaign Monitor)
As time goes by and email use continues to skew toward mobile, expect to see the lines of these email open graphs soften.
When Campaign Monitor compared more recent data to data from 2013, they found an increase in email opens happening before and after typical work hours.
So, the majority of opened emails do get opened during the business day (and not first thing in the morning), but there is plenty of activity after hours as well — at least according to most studies.
With so many users opting to open email on mobile devices, senders must make sure their emails are responsive to different screen sizes. While you cannot perfectly predict what device a recipient will use, mobile use swells during “off-hours.”
It is also important to remember that open rates are dynamic.
While it’s true that most emails that will be opened are opened soon after receipt, some people leave messages unread (rather than deleting them) to come back to later. So, make sure to give your emails 24-48 hours before you really look at metrics like open rate and click-though-rate. These can creep up over time.
What is the average open rate and click-through rate of a marketing email?
From all of its data, Mailchimp calculated the average email open rate as 20.8%.
In other words, for every 100 emails delivered, about 20 get opened.
Keep in mind that open rate is calculated based only on delivered emails, so if an email “hard-bounces” because an address is invalid, it doesn’t factor in.
Knowing this, in order to deliver those 100 emails, a marketer might attempt to send 110, with 10% hard bouncing.
While some industries trended higher (like government, at 26.5%) and some trended lower (like, ahem, marketing and advertising at 16.4%), these extremes more or less defined the range of average open rates.
SuperOffice, using a different data set and publishing its report in September, concluded a slightly higher average open rate, finding “the average open rate for email continues to improve year over year – albeit slowly – reaching 24.88% in 2018.”
All of this data and expertise can serve as a good way to start testing what works best for you. There is no perfect answer as to when to send your emails. But, there are many things to keep in mind about how to send the best emails possible.
The fact is this: Although when you send your email is crucial, so too is how you write and compose your email. In other words, don’t just think about the when — also keep in mind the what and the why.
You should be truly interested in adding value to your customers’ lives and helping to ease pain points when they need it. If you’re not, then perfect timing will mean little.