Time Is on Your Side… If You Follow These Simple Guidelines

A recent ClickZ article on the role timing plays in email campaigns struck a chord with me. Timing is one of my hot buttons when developing email initiatives — yet it’s difficult to get my clients to put much thought into it. They’ll agonize over copy, lists, HTML design, and even shades of color, but they don’t want to think about timing.

I was eager to see responses to the article to learn if other industry professionals are as focused on timing as I am. And if not, why not? Thanks to those who provided input, here are some highlights from your answers and from my experience:

  • Do think about timing. One respondent reported a dramatic increase in click-throughs when a weekly email to business subscribers was sent on Thursday afternoon rather than Friday evening. In an email series (a daily or weekly email), consistent timing is key in making your email a habit with readers. If they know to expect it every day at 11 a.m., for instance, they may start to time their morning coffee/reading break around it. If they’re looking for it, they’re more likely to open it and read it right away.
  • Do trust your gut instinct, and test if possible. Use what you know about your readers to “guesstimate” when they’ll have time to read your email, and try to arrive right around that time. Even better: Do some testing. You can do A/B splits on a given send. Even if your fulfillment house isn’t that sophisticated, you can learn by sending to the entire list at different times. Be careful not to do this so often that you confuse your subscribers. Compare open rates and click-throughs to gauge the most effective time to land in your readers’ in boxes.
  • Do take time zones into consideration. Are the majority of your readers East Coast? West Coast? Outside the U.S.? Try to deliver at the local time that is best for the majority of your readers. (Hint: This is one more use for country and zip code information you may have collected at registration.) My rule of thumb for business-to-business (B2B), U.S.-based lists: Send between 1 and 3 p.m. EST, to land in in boxes during business hours, no matter where in the country they are.
  • Don’t let the technical group drive timing. Technical issues must be weighed against campaign effectiveness. Being told you are unable to send at the most effective time to reach your audience as a result of tech staffing issues or bandwidth limitations is not uncommon. Finding your perfectly timed sends consistently delayed by having to queue up behind other campaigns is a frustration we experience far too often. Push to have these issues addressed by fixing the underlying problem. Don’t compromise the success of your campaign by changing your send time to a less-than-optimal one.
  • Don’t take the timing thing too far. One daily email newsletter I worked with had the right idea — it sent midafternoon, when subscribers had time to take a break and read industry news. To help get this time frame across to its readers, it included “at 2:00” (meaning delivered at 2 p.m.) in the name of the newsletter. This created issues.

    Only a portion of the audience actually received the mailing at 2 p.m., a result of different time zones around the country and the world. This creates a disconnect for readers outside of your time zone. Worse, any delay in getting the newsletter published or sent was extra stressful, because of the explicit delivery promise in the subject line. We tossed around the idea of using zip codes to determine time zones and staggering the send to arrive at 2 p.m. in individual zones, but there were technical as well as editorial complications with the idea. The obvious lesson: Don’t include a specific delivery time in the name of your email newsletter.

Timing is one of many ways to optimize the results of your email initiatives. Perfect timing can’t salvage a campaign with below-average copy or messaging, but it can make the difference between good and great return on investment (ROI). Give it a try!

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