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E-Mail Frequency and List Control

  |  March 14, 2005   |  Comments

Guidelines to determine mailing frequency, and six steps to controlling your list.

Whenever I speak on email marketing, there’s always at least one question about frequency. People want to know how often they should mail to their house lists. Simple enough.

Often, there’s another issue they’re trying to solve: control of the house list. You know what I’m talking about: everyone in the organization wants to use the email list to get her own message out, without considering how much email list members are receiving.

Here are some quick tips to determine the right email frequency for your organization, and to create a situation whereby you control the list and protect recipients from being bombarded.


There’s no quick answer to the frequency question. It depends on the goals for your email and the type of content you send. Some rough guidelines:

  • Mail at least once a month. Mail less often than this, and you risk being forgotten by recipients. Monthly is the bare minimum if you want to keep your brand or company name top of mind (a common email goal).

  • Let content be your guide. Look at what you provide readers and you’ll get a feel for proper frequency. Analyze how often the information changes and how quickly readers must receive it to act on it.

  • Take the lead from your readers. Some organizations offer daily email newsletters as well as weekly summaries of the same content (as ClickZ does) to give readers a choice. Always tell potential readers how often you mail at sign-up, so they can decide if the frequency works for them.

  • Work within your resources. A daily email requires many more resources than a monthly. Better a well-done monthly email than a shoddy weekly or daily. I usually recommend clients start with a monthly. Once that’s going smoothly, they can think about moving to weekly. You need to walk before you can run!

  • Watch for trends. Declining response, open, and click-through rates can be signs of list fatigue. Though some decrease is normal, watch carefully and cut back frequency if you see a problem. Don’t assume if the unsubscribe rate is stable you’re OK. Many people prefer to forward email directly to their delete folder rather than unsubscribe.

Controlling Your List

If you work in a large corporation or association, you may notice every internal group wants to send to the entire email list all the time. These folks mean well. But they often don’t consider the big picture.

For any organization, a house list is an asset. As such, you want to protect it for use over the long term. Using frequency as a way to maintain control isn’t bad, but why not address the control issue right up front?

Here’s an exercise I use with clients to protect their lists:

  1. Get input from all internal groups. Learn what types of content they want to send and how often. Get as much detail as possible:

    • Who. The entire list? A certain segment?

    • What. Is it an email newsletter? A promotion? What type of content is it? What products/services will be promoted?

    • When. Does it need to coincide with offline promotions? With monthly events?

    • Why. What’s the call to action? What’s the email’s goal (quantitative, if possible)?

  2. Sort it out. Here’s the real work. After you’ve compiled an email communications wish list, look for ways to consolidate. One organization I worked with had two groups producing almost identical industry news summaries. By combining them into a single email, we saved time on content development. And saved our readers from getting email messages with redundant information.

    You may also find different groups’ promotions may be lumped together or a single enterprise-wide e-newsletter is the best vehicle for content from multiple groups.

  3. Create a master calendar. Develop a set schedule to follow each month. You may need some flexibility for breaking news or other very timely information. Otherwise, groups should stick to the schedule. This should alleviate last-minute "gotta sends," which often cause over-mailing.

  4. Appoint a gatekeeper. This person has the power to veto any email communications that are, for any reason, not appropriate. This person is an advocate for list members. You need someone tuned in, who understands what list members opted in to receive.

    I once had to veto a promotional email for a home product an internal group wanted to send on behalf of an advertiser to my client’s entire list of top business-to-business (B2B) executives. That group’s position was these were successful people who all probably owned homes. Therefore, it was a fit. My point: these people signed up to get industry information from us, not consumer good promotions. Using the list in this matter would not only have been inappropriate, it would have hurt our credibility.

  5. Consider segmentation and dynamic content. Most high-end email service providers (ESPs) offer these tools, which are often underutilized. By targeting messages better, you can help keep list fatigue at bay. You’ll also see better response, open, and click-through rates.

  6. Watch performance. E-mail is an evolving process. If one group’s email consistently falls short of stated goals, work with the group on it. If it still doesn’t perform, consider removing it from the calendar. Continuing to send email that’s doesn’t accomplish its mission makes no sense.

I hope these tips help you to better control your list and maintain one of your organization’s most valuable assets.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and managing director of digital marketing for Digital Prism Advisors. She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to digital strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their online marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Digital Prism Advisors helps established businesses unlock significant growth and revenue opportunities in the digital marketplace; our clients learn to develop and implement successful digital strategies, leveraging data and technology to better meet bottom line goals. Want to learn more? Check out Jeanne's blog and Digital Prisim Advisors.

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