Too Much, Too Little, or Just Right — How to Find the Perfect Email Sending Frequency
This post was originally written in June 2017 and was updated February 2021.
“The last straw” is a common phrase. This idiom describes a situation where something small sets off existing tensions to trigger a larger response than would normally be appropriate.
Too often, an email message from a marketer is the straw in this metaphor. Though small on its own, a single email often carries just enough weight to tip things over the edge. It’s often a final terse email from your boss that pushes you to look for a new job or that last pushy, promotional email that causes you to cancel your season tickets.
A marketer’s main concern is the email that causes a prospect to become disengaged. With all the effort that goes into building an inviting pipeline, having a qualified lead drop out is a big loss.
These anti-conversions are a lot more common than you might think. According to Campaigner, 49% of recipients say they receive too many emails from business owners and marketers. That’s a huge chunk of your audience that could be a poorly-timed email away from the door.
So, how do you know if your sending frequency is driving your audience away and what can you do about it?
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’RE SENDING TOO FREQUENTLY?
The short answer is, your audience will let you know. More specifically, you’ll see your audience’s displeasure in their engagement — or, in this case, disengagement — metrics.
The first sign of trouble with sending frequency is diminished engagement on your emails. Open rates and click-through rates are metrics to watch. If you have advanced email analytics tools, like Litmus or Email on Acid, open duration and other advanced metrics can also be important to consider.
Benchmark each of your email communication threads — newsletters, promotions, campaigns, etc. Get a baseline for each. Then, compare broadcast to the baseline, looking for diminished performance. That’s not to say that you should sounds the alarms after your first underperforming broadcast, but you should be concerned if a pattern starts to form.
Unsubscribes are a more concrete indicator of audience unrest. While diminished engagement could have a variety of explanations, unsubscribes carry a pretty clear message.
Some degree of churn is natural in any email marketing. As is the case with the engagement metrics, email unsubscribe rate should be benchmarked and tracked on a thread-by-thread basis. Again, you’re looking for a continued pattern of higher than average unsubscribes. If more and more people are telling you they no longer want to receive your emails, it’s time to start paying attention.
The final and most unmistakable sign of oversending is spam complaints and other damage to your sender reputation. Hopefully, your audience relations never get to this point.
Sender reputation can be a compounding problem for brands. Your sender reputation considers factors like engagement rate and unsubscribe numbers, which are also common precursors to spam complaints. Consequently, when the complaints come, you will often see major drops in your reputation and deliverability.
Generally, your audience will only go out of their way to report your messages if they continue to receive undesired messages after ceasing to engage or opting out. That’s why it’s important to catch problem contacts early on.
If you encounter a problem, it’s best to limit your sending volume and focus on those with the best chance of engaging. Over time, better engagement and lower volume can help to restore your sender reputation.
In any case, it’s better to keep yourself from getting to that point.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SET THE RIGHT SENDING FREQUENCY?
There’s not a single optimal frequency for every company. The ideal frequency will depend on your offering, your messaging, and, most importantly, your audience. If you’re working for a grocery store, your audience might want weekly deals and discounts emails. On the other hand, if you work for a manufacturer of specialized industrial parts, your audience might only want to be contacted every several months for status checkups.
In general, there are a few steps you can take find the ideal sending frequency for your audience.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU’RE SENDING
When setting an audience-friendly sending volume, ensure you’re sending worthwhile messages. Make sure that your emails are clear and concise. More importantly, ensure your emails provide value to the recipient, whether it’s news, content, a trial, or a discount. The tolerance for valueless emails is little to none.
LET THE AUDIENCE DECIDE
The ideal situation for sending frequency is to let your audience decide on their own frequency. Don’t try to “feel it out”. Actually ask them their preference. Typically, this information is collected during the initial opt-in or as one of the introductory messages in a nurture track.
Ask prospects for their preferences in terms of frequency, timing, and types of emails that are sent to them. (It’s also important to allow them to change these settings later.) Though not entirely foolproof, this approach is the best way to get it right for the largest portion of your audience.
FIGURE IT OUT YOURSELF
Although personalized sending frequencies are preferable to one-size-fits-all, personalization depends on the capabilities of your marketing automation system, meaning it’s not always an option.
When personalization isn’t an option, it’s left to marketers to extrapolate preferences from engagement data. Using reasonably-sized lists or, preferably, segments of lists, test various sending frequencies. If you don’t know where to start, look at industry standards or the tactics of your competitors.
Once you have data, refine your testing based on the frequency with the best results. You’ll want to continue testing on a regular basis to ensure you keep up with preferences as your list/segment grow. You can repeat this process for other factors, like the type and timing of communications.
WRAPPING IT UP
When a single email could be the last straw before an unsubscribe or a complaint, sending frequency becomes a marketer’s best tool for keeping email communications effective and sender reputation high.
Pay attention to your analytics. They’re critical in tipping you off about a possible problem with sending frequency. Your analytics are also a great tool for discovering the right sending volume for various segments of your audience.
Overall, the right sending volume comes down to your audience. Get insight into their preferences via surveys or analytics.