Timing for sucess: When to fill consumers' in-boxes

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I recently did an informal survey asking top e-mail marketers on what day of the week, and time of day, do e-mail marketing messages get the best click-through and conversion rates?

"In truth, there is no 'best' day of the week for e-mailing," said online copywriter and site optimization specialist Nick Usborne. "It's something of an urban myth. Individual e-mailers need to find the answer by testing."

According to the MarketingSherpa Email Marketing Benchmark Guide 2007, the volume of daily e-mail traffic, from busiest day of the week to least busy, is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday, Sunday and Saturday. Stefan Tornquist of MarketingSherpa said the company periodically checks these data.

"It's usually a horse race for first between Tuesday and Wednesday, with Thursday falling just behind them," he said.

Mr. Usborne said the most popular day was not necessarily the best time to mail -because of competition from other e-mailers.

"The least busy day is Saturday," he said. "So some would say it's a great day to send your e-mail. But it's the least busy day for a reason: Millions of people are out shopping, spending time with their kids, enjoying life and not checking their e-mail."

While Josef Katz of Trump University agreed best e-mail performance was on Tuesdays with weekends performing weakest, time-of-day tactics were not as easy to pin down.

"We try to get our e-mail out early in the day but have not tested day-parts in our efforts," he said. "Naturally, we always have room to improve and test."

Ivan Levison, a copywriter in the software industry, said he did not send e-mails at the beginning or end of the week. His favorite days for sending marketing e-mails are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

As for time of day, the California-based Mr. Levison said: "Not first thing. By 10:30 a.m. PST, everyone on the West Coast is in and has gone through their e-mail already, and on the East Coast they're just back from lunch."

Katie Yeakle, director of American Writers and Artists Inc., said the type of e-mail determines the best send day.

"We've found that the best schedule for us is to send stand-alone efforts on Tuesday mornings, and then a quick 'in-case-you-missed-this' kind-of-follow-up note on Fridays at mid day," she said.

For Patrick Coffey at Early to Rise, Friday e-mails actually outperform Tuesday. Sales start to trend upward on Thursday and top with Friday, then drop off on Sunday. Here are Early to Rise's percentage of the total weekly sales revenue: Monday (14.3 percent); Tuesday (13.2 percent); Wednesday (13.8 percent); Thursday (16.6 percent); Friday (23.1 percent); Saturday (13.6 percent); and Sunday (5.4 percent).

"In the past, we thought the best day for mailing to our list was Tuesday mid-morning," Mr. Coffey said. "However, after reviewing our ad sales over the past year, we discovered that Friday is actually our best day. This definitely shows you why you need to be constantly evaluating and re-evaluating."

Internet marketer Paul Hartunian sends e-mails out at 2 p.m. EST on Thursdays or Sundays.

"My rationale is that if I send out at 2 p.m. on Thursday, people on the East Coast get them at 2 p.m. and on the West Coast at 11 a.m., both well within the work day," he said. "So the people are not inundated with early morning e-mail or wanting to wrap up the day and get out of the office. On Sundays, the same applies, but people are more at leisure."

Robert Skrob, director of membership services at the Information Marketing Association, is an exception to the "no Mondays" rule.

"Our marketing e-mails go out on Mondays," Mr. Skrob said. "If I get busy, I don't mind sending them out on a Tuesday. However, I don't bother sending anything on Thursdays and Fridays. My response is minimal on those days."

IMA's e-mails are distributed in the afternoon, after 2 p.m. EST and 11 a.m. PST.

"I hate having my messages lumped in with the overnight spam deluge," Mr. Skrob said. "That way, everyone has an opportunity to get their e-mail box cleaned out and get into transactional mode. Our e-mails arrive at a time when the recipient is dealing with important issues of the day."

One exception: When sending prospects to a landing page to hear an audio presentation over the Internet, Mr. Skrob has found that Sunday mornings get a three times higher opt-in rate.

"I'm guessing my prospects have more leisure time to review their e-mail and listening to my presentation is a nice diversion for their day," he said. "The ratio of listeners to buyers stays consistent, so more opt-ins on Sundays has meant more sales."

JMB Marketing Group's Bob Martel said the type of industry may determine how crucial timing is.

"Time-limited, direct response special offers to a house list work at all hours any day of the week," he said. "A lot depends on who you are trying to reach - consumers or people in the workplace - and the overall purpose of the communication. Is there a time-sensitive call to action?"

Mr. Martel said that the Internet is a 24/7 environment, even for the 9-to-5 employee.

"I find that while it used to be true that marketing-driven e-mails needed to be very carefully timed, or so we thought, people are reading e-mails at all hours of the day and late into the night," he said. "Sunday nights are very active, as telecommuters clean the slate for the upcoming work week."

List broker ePost Direct's Michelle Feit says she focuses on the times within each day when the marketer is most likely to find the executive receptive, uncluttered and at his or her desk. Her guidelines for business-to-business e-mail distribution include:

• Don't be in the inbox first thing in the morning or after lunch.

• Stay away from major vacation weeks.

• Fridays are fine except during afternoon in the summer.

• Avoid Monday mornings.

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