When is the best time to email, part 4

Let’s say you’re thinking carefully about your email marketing strategy and trying to maximize the amount of time that your prospects get to hear from you. The worst time to email, logically, would be when they’re hearing from everyone you’re competing with. But how would you actually determine this?

The answer is simple (but not easy): keep track of it! The methodology below assumes you have already done the 168 hour campaign test. If you haven’t done that, you must do that first in order to get a statistically valid result!

First, set up a new free email account on a service like Hotmail, GMail, or Yahoo.

Second, go to your competitors’ websites and subscribe to all of their newsletters. All of them, every last one, with your fresh new email account.

Third, create a spreadsheet heat map that can graphically illustrate when the most emails are being sent. The way to do this is with conditional cell formatting, where the background color of the cell automatically adjusts based on the value of the cell. Here’s an example in Google Docs:

Setting up a spreadsheet to track best time to send.

If you use Microsoft Excel, you can do the same thing using the Format menu and choosing conditional formatting.

Fourth, keep track of when your competitors are emailing the new email account by hour of day and day of week. This is a manual operation that requires you to simply log into the account with a notepad and make raw counts of when emails were received. Enter them into the spreadsheet and you should see something that looks like this after a full week of monitoring:

Use a heatmap to find the best time to send email.

Fifth, alter your email schedule based on your findings. Find the times in the heat map that your competitors are busiest and least busy. Next, look at the results of your 168 hour test and find the top 10 times and days that your emails performed well. Finally, map those top 10 results to your competitor heat map and pick the time that performed best for you while having the fewest competitors sending messages simultaneously. Send your next campaign at that day and time, and measure your results to see if your campaign performed better than average due to fewer competitors.

Try out this “best time to send email” methodology and report back in the comments in a couple of weeks after you’ve had time to try it!

Christopher S. Penn
Director of Inbound Marketing, WhatCounts

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  1. Hi, don’t you think the key is “when” people open their email instead Of “when” firms send email?

    • Cedric, the idea behind this exercise is to find out exactly when your competitors are sending their email during the week, and to combine that data with your own data after doing a 168-hour metered send, and in doing so, finding the sweet spot of when your emails perform best at a time when your competitors aren’t sending as much mail.
      Think of it this way: We all complain, at some point or another, about inbox clutter. Messages pile up during the day and they never stop coming. As email marketers, it behooves us to send our emails when the signal-to-noise ratio of your audience’s inbox isn’t completely out of whack — and while we can’t know that precise point for our list since every person’s inbox is different, signing up for all of our competitors’ newsletters and assembling the data of their send times allows us to have a decent idea of how to be arriving in the inbox (hopefully making it to the inbox, anyway) at a time when they aren’t.


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