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US-Email-Open-Rate-by-Hour-Scheduled-Comparison_Aug2013MailerMailer recently published the results of its annual analysis of email marketing metrics, with a section devoted to open and click rates by hour scheduled as well as by day of the week. This type of analysis always proves interesting to email marketers, although it always comes with the requisite disclaimer: results will differ by region, industry, and other such variables. So when Eloqua recently published its own set of timing data, it was worth seeing how the two studies’ results matched up.

A few brief methodological notes before proceeding:

  • The data provided by Eloqua comes from a random cross-section of its client base, which is very B2B-heavy (no such skew was indicated for the MailerMailer study);
  • Both data sets reflect sender time, not recipient opening time;
  • The MailerMailer data is adjusted to local US sender time, while the Eloqua results are all Eastern Standard Time.
  • The MailerMailer data covers 2012, while the Eloqua data covers a 3-month period ending in mid-August.

So were there any commonalities in the results? Interestingly, when it came to open rates, the trend lines from the data sets were fairly similar, despite the difference in samples and time periods.

Chart: US Email Open Rate, by Hour ScheduledDescription: US-Email-Open-Rate-by-Hour-Sent-Comparison-Aug2013Tags: Author: MarketingChartscharts powered by iCharts

Most notably, emails sent during the workday hours saw fairly consistent open rates in both studies, but not the highest of the day, as rates rose for emails sent at the end of the workday before hitting a peak somewhere between 11PM and 1AM, depending on the data set used.

Eloqua theorizes that the higher open rates for emails sent overnight is due to the emails either being requests for information, such as form submissions, or that they are being batched and read “first thing in the morning.” Separate data from the MailerMailer data supports that latter possibility, as those results show that recipient open rates generally rise in the early morning hours before hitting a peak at 10AM.

What About Click Rates?

While there was some consensus in the data regarding open rates, none such emerged when looking at click rates. The first result that’s apparent from the Eloqua data is that, unlike the MailerMailer results, there are no real daytime trends to speak of. What is interesting to see from the Eloqua data, though, is where the two peak times are for click rates: 8AM and 12PM. (Remember: these rates are for emails sent at those hours.)

Chart: US Email Click Rate, by Hour ScheduledDescription: MailerMailer-Email-Click-Rates-by-Hour-Scheduled-in-2012-Aug2013Tags: Author: MarketingChartscharts powered by iCharts

The MailerMailer data had shown midnight and 6PM to be the scheduled delivery hours that resulted in the highest click rates, but the Eloqua results appear to be more conventional, and the data sample may be the reason why. The highest click rates being reserved for emails sent at 8AM and 12PM tracks with how a B2B audience might be digesting emails. That is, while they might be opening them during off-peak hours, it seems more likely that they would be clicking on emails that are at the top of their inbox at the start of the work day or at lunchtime. (Click-to-open rates didn’t quite move in lockstep, but hewed closely to the click rate pattern in the analysis, too.) Eloqua’s researcher posits that while recipients will open emails at off-peak hours, they’re less likely to be able to act on those emails, and might be less inclined to follow through with them during those peak workday hours when they’re sorting through a long list of messages.

(Just for fun, a separate study from Experian looking at emails sent by an array of industries during Q4 2012 found results more similar to MailerMailer’s. That is, unique open and click rates tended to be higher for emails sent during off-peak hours.)

Weekends: To Send or Not to Send?

The data sets showed at least some similarities on a time of day basis, but they diverged completely when looking at days of the week. For MailerMailer, emails sent on the weekend generally saw below-average open rates, while for Eloqua, weekend emails had the highest open rates. The opposite results continued when examining click rates: these were highest for emails sent during the weekend, per MailerMailer, but lowest for those sent over the weekend in Eloqua’s study. Just to throw a spanner in the works, Experian’s results showed weekend emails having higher open and click rates.

The varying results can easily be explained away as deriving from methodological differences, such as industry (with Eloqua’s data heavily skewed towards B2B) or time period analyzed. Studies looking at a cross-section of industries are naturally more indicative of broader trends than those that focus on a more niche audience, and shouldn’t be expected to align. (Newsflash: different data sets yield different results.)

Neither study is “wrong,” of course, but when analyzing data that covers a broad spectrum of activity it’s always important to consider the results as useful (particularly on a directional basis) and meaningful bases for discussion, but not necessarily prescriptive. The profoundly different results found for click rates and days of the week only serve to reinforce the disclaimers that accompany these studies: while they do provide useful starting points from which to evaluate marketers’ own data, they cannot be expected to substitute for brands’ own testing.

Even with all of that, it’s still interesting to see that the three studies cited found open rates to be relatively higher for emails sent during off-peak hours. Was that commonality a coincidence, or a strong indication that off-peak hours really are best if a simple open is the end goal?

Marketers, your studies can further inform that discussion and are welcomed. Related data can be sent to editorial@marketingcharts.com.

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