8 Effective Email Marketing Strategies, Backed by Science

email marketing strategies, emailThe cutthroat inbox of your standard consumer roils with marketing messages, competitive subject lines, and scores of attention-seeking emails. With over 144 billion emails sent each and every day, email marketing remains one of the elite channels for business communication. So how does the signal separate itself from the noise?

To be sure, finding the key to a stand-out message is critical to your bottom line—whether that bottom line is cold, hard cash or community engagement or anything in between. What follows are eight inbox-tested email marketing strategies that successful senders have used to get their emails clicked.

1. Personalize your email without using the recipient’s name

No more “Dear [INSERT NAME HERE]”.

The practice of personalized email greetings is not nearly as effective as it may seem. In fact, research by Temple’s Fox School of Business suggests that this particular kind of personalization could be harmful.

Given the high level of cyber security concerns about phishing, identity theft, and credit card fraud, many consumers would be wary of emails, particularly those with personal greetings.

A significant element of email marketing is relationship. Does a recipient trust you? Does a recipient even know who you are? When an email jumps the gun by forcing familiarity too soon, the personalization comes across as skeevy. Intimacy is earned in real life, and it would appear to be the same way with email. Take this example from my inbox; no one has called me lowercase kevan l lee in years.

Amazon personalization, email strategies


Faking familiarity with the subscriber turns many wary email readers off. But this isn’t to say that all forms of personalization are off-limits. In fact, a particular brand of personalization can pay off big time: Sending email that acknowledges a subscriber’s individuality (e.g., purchase history or demographic).

(The study) also found that product personalization, in which customers are directed to products that their past purchasing patterns suggest they will like, triggered positive responses in 98 percent of customers.

The takeaway here is that if you are to use personalization as an email strategy, do so in a meaningful way. It takes little knowledge or relationship to place someone’s name in your greeting. It shows far greater care to send personalized email that is specific to a recipient’s needs and history. Again, an example from my inbox, this email from Rdio dispenses with the formalities and simply provides an update on music I actually listen to.

email strategies, Rdio personalization

2. The long and short of subject lines

When it comes to deciding how to craft that perfect subject line, there appears to be really only one area to avoid: the subject line of 60 to 70 characters. Marketers refer to this as the “dead zone” of subject length. According to research by Adestra, which tracked over 900 million emails for its report, there is no increase in either open rate or clickthroughs at this 60-to-70 character length of subject line.

Conversely, subject lines 70 characters and up tested to be most beneficial to engage readers in clicking through to the content, and subject lines 49 characters and below tested well with open rate.

In fact, Adestra found that subject lines fewer than 10 characters long had an open rate of 58%.

Short subjects came in vogue with the success of President Barack Obama’s email fundraising. He saw incredible engagement with subjects like “Hey” and “Wow.”

email strategies, Obama Hey email

So the question becomes: Do you want to boost clicks (response) or opens (awareness)? Go long for clickthroughs; keep it short for opens.

Either way, a helpful email strategy is to squeeze out more words or cut back just a bit to avoid that 60 to 70 character dead zone.

3. 8:00 p.m. to midnight is the prime time to send your email

While many a quality email may be built during business hours, the ones with the best open rates aren’t being sent from 9 to 5. The top email strategy is to send at night.

In their quarterly email report for 2012’s fourth quarter, Experian Marketing Services found that the time of day that received the best open rate was 8:00 p.m. to midnight. This block not only performed better for open rate (a respectable 22 percent) but also for clickthrough and sales.

email strategies, Time of Day email study

The chart above shows that the 8:00 to midnight window is also the least used—a key factor in helping those late night emails outperform the rest. From Experian:

Optimal mailing time often depends upon your customers’ behaviors, inbox crowding, and the deployment times of other marketers.

Inbox crowding and the deployment times of other marketers go hand-in-hand; if your email goes out when few others do, it stands a greater chance of getting noticed (so quick, start sending between 8:00 and midnight before everyone else catches on).

Optimal mailing for your customers’ needs will be up to you. Test, test, and test some more to find out how your customer ticks and when he/she opens email.

4. The best content is free content: Give something away

Consumers love a free lunch—or a free template.

In a study on their email list of 6,300 subscribers, Bluewire Media tested various types of content to see what led to the highest rates for opens and clicks. The winner was templates and tools, just the kind of freebies that email readers want.

Here is a freebie example from Help Scout:

email strategies, Help Scout free ebook offer
Many a consumer will ask, “What’s in it for me?” When it comes to resources, Bluewire Media’s test results say that templates and tools outweigh ebooks, expert interviews, brain teasers, and even photo albums. You will want to test with your own list, but certainly use Bluewire’s research as a head start.

5. Mobile opens accounts for 47 percent of all email opens

Mobile opens accounted for 47 percent of all email opens in June, according to numbers provided by email marketing firm Litmus. If your email list accounts for $100,000 in sales each month, could you afford to wave bye-bye to $44,000 just because your email looks funky on a mobile phone?

Design responsively to ensure that your email looks great no matter where it’s read. Here are some quick mobile design tips:

  • Convert your email to a one column template for an easy mobile fix.
  • Bump up the font size for improved readability on smart phones.
  • Follow the iOS guideline of buttons at least 44 pixels wide by 44 pixels tall.
  • Make the call-to-action obvious and easy to tap. Above the fold is preferable.
  • Consider ergonomics. Many users tap and scroll with their thumb, so keep important tappable elements in the middle of the screen.

emaili strategies, mobile email


6. Email still reigns over Facebook and Twitter

Social media may be the young whippersnapper nipping at email’s heels, but the content king of the inbox still holds sway in social influence, according to a study by SocialTwist. Over an 18-month period, SocialTwist monitored 119 referral campaigns from leading brands and companies. The results showed a significant advantage to email’s ability to convert new customers compared to Facebook and Twitter.

Of the 300,000 referrals who became new customers, 50.8 percent were reached by email, compared to 26.8 percent for Twitter and 22 percent for Facebook.

Email ruled supreme, by almost double.


7. Send email on the weekends

While not as overwhelming a winner as the 8:00 p.m. to midnight time of day, Saturday and Sunday did outperform their weekday counterparts in Experian’s study of day-of-week performance.

email strategies, Day of Week email study

Again, the volume of email sent on the weekends is low, just like the volume for evening emails, which could help those messages stand out more. The margins for clickthrough, open, and sales rates were not substantial, but in email marketing, every little bit counts.


8. Re-engage an inactive group of subscribers

Your list is huge. Great! The only problem is that two-thirds of it may be inactive.

Research has found that the average inactivity for a list is 63 percent, meaning that once someone joins they are less likely to ever follow-up with your follow-up emails. Email marketing firm Listrak goes so far as to identify the first 90 days as the window for turning a sign-up into a devotee (and they lay out a plan for doing so).

What’s to become of that inactive 63 percent? Re-engagement campaigns are an excellent place to start.

Recently, a re-engagement campaign from Digg wound up in my inbox. The subject was catchy (“This Is Not An Email From 2006″), and the content helpfully explained what the email was all about.

email strategies, Digg email

As with everything that we call science, it’s all about doing experiments. Very likely, if you are doing your own experiments, you might actually have found different results. What are your best email strategies and email marketing tips? Tell us in the comments below!

PS: If you enjoyed this post, you might also like our best tips and tools for managing emails. Oh and Buffer le’s you schedule your retweetstake a look in case that might be helpful for your Tweeting!

  • http://www.brightcube.ca/ Dave Gallant

    Super helpful post! Thanks Buffer and Kevan!

  • http://officevibe.com/ Jeff Fermin

    My thoughts…

    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      Follow-up thoughts on science:

      • http://officevibe.com/ Jeff Fermin

        Hahaha nice

      • sarah plante

        i agree….sometimes

    • LeoWid


  • http://www.matthewbarby.com/ Matthew Barby

    This is fantastic. Have been in an email scheduling dilemma recently whilst I try to find the optimal sending times – I wouldn’t have even considered post 8pm or the weekend before reading this. Thanks!

    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      I hope you get good results, Matthew. The advice seems counterintuitive – aren’t people doing things at night and on the weekend? Best of luck!

  • James Markwick

    Great content. .. very helpful and will test the theories when I’m next contacting my database.

    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      Hope it helps!

  • Tina

    8 p.m. to midnight in what time zone?

    • kaidid

      I guess depends on where your target is located.

    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      Great question, Tina. Services like Mailchimp can send to each subscriber at the chosen time so that time zones are not of a concern. So long as you have some geographic data about your list, the email software does the rest.

  • Keith Tomasek

    I send emails about cultural events and find that 5:00am – 6:00am gets high open rates. Perhaps because it’s more likely the email will be at the top of the box when the recipient first checks their email account.

  • http://www.amperspectives.com Andy McClung

    So, how many people have an 8pm email scheduled for tonight? *raises hand*

  • http://www.BluewireMedia.com.au/blog Adam Franklin

    Hi Kevan,

    Thanks for Bluewire Media’s shout out in No.4 ;-) Templates are still converting well for us.

    Also, I love the tip for an 8pm to midnight send. Not tried that on a weekday yet. My go-to is 6am for best open rates. Gotta love testing hey!!


    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      Thanks, Adam! I am a 6am email reader, so I definitely see the value in that!

  • Mary Jantsch

    Going to try sending out our newsletter at 8 tonight, thanks for the great advice!

  • http://www.ampercent.com/ Soumen Halder

    Any insight on what day is best? Coz I’ve read a dozen reports but all of them only increase the confusion more.

    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      Experian’s research would say Sat/Sun. I’d start there and test, test, test to see what’s best for your list.

  • Mike @ Mobify

    Experian’s suggestions regarding campaign timing seem to contradict Mailchimp’s research.

    Re: 8pm-12pm, Mailchimp says:
    “Subscribers are likely to open email after 12pm in their respective timezones, and the most active hours are 2-5pm.”

    Re: day of the week:
    “Most emails are sent between Monday and Friday, with the highest volume on Tuesday and Thursday. More subscribers open email, however, on Wednesday and Thursday.”


    Any idea which one to trust? (I’m leaning towards Mailchimp)

    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      Good find, Mike. This is the way I look at it: Mailchimp’s stats measure overall opens for all email whereas Experian’s measure stats for individual campaigns.

      So, yes, more email gets opened in the afternoon on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but that can be a byproduct of more email being sent around those times.

      Fewer emails are sent late at night and on the weekend (acc. to Experian), but the stats seem to suggest that the performance of these is greater. I guess it comes down to a matter of email volume – overall, weekday afternoons see more opens but your email will have a whole lot more competition to get those opens.

    • http://devolute.net devolute

      Maybe they’re trying to stop us all sending at the same time so we don’t overload their servers ;)

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Raymond Duke

    Email IS the way to go. One technique that works surprisingly well when you want an action to be taken is the 9 word email. I don’t know the magic behind it – maybe it’s because of the length of time it takes to read, or the amount of syllables commonly in 9 words, or it catches people off guard. Who knows?

    Try it now. You’ll be amazed. It simply works.

  • http://brandonhilkert.com/ Brandon Hilkert

    In your opinion, is the 8pm – 12am timing due to people opening the next morning or b/c their not doing anything else that night?

    • http://www.obnug.com Kevan

      I’m guessing that a significant portion of those opens are happening the night of since the midnight to 4:00 a.m. window doesn’t see nearly the same open rate as 8:00 p.m. to midnight.

  • Jen K.

    Hey – loved the article. Did notice that your “let’s” in the P.S. should be “lets”, and the sentence that word is in is technically a run-on. Put a period after “retweets” and a captial “T” on “take” and you are golden!

    • Belle

      Fixed! Thanks for heads up, Jen.

  • http://crankleft.com/artists/brad-hodson Brad Hodson

    Strange… This goes completely against the majority of other studies I’ve seen on email timing. Most say Tuesday-Thursday are the best days and early mornings are the best time…

    Maybe this means there has been a big change in the way people are looking at emails, or it might just mean these figures could provide better end results in terms of engagement. We’ll have to test…

    • http://www.pogostick.co.nz Jas

      It does seem like its not an exact science – for me the key point seems to be send when everyone else isnt – which means it will be a moving target.

    • http://solidgrounddesigns.com/ Emad Haddad

      I’m with you on that. My most successful emails are sent Wednesday at 3:00 AM and opened by Thursday morning. Worst was sent Monday at 10am. So many unsubscribed that week haha. Frustrations of Monday I suppose.


  • Barry

    To your first point, chances are that is how you entered your name whenever you opted in to receive emails (account creation, email opt-in, etc). So, in trying to respect you (after all, that’s how you entered it) they come off as robotic and tone deaf. A better approach would be for them to figure out a way to scrub user names so that first names could be separated and capitalized. While it is true that personalization is a goal of any company that emails, not all have the resources to make that happen. Having a first name is a good interim step.

    Completely agree on the mobile point. Curious if time of day/day of week timing holds true across mobile as well. Also curious if international varies as well both in mobile and computer (talking about consumption, not time zone for sending).

    Finally, on the re-engagement, it should be undertaken with caution. Sometimes it can cause and ‘unsubscribe’ from email (not good) but can also cause an ‘opt out’ of buying (terrible).

  • deforeman

    I have some difficulty accepting the conclusions reached regarding email send times. The article makes no mention of market segments being addressed by an email campaign – an extremely large variable in open rates.

    My insurance client, mailing a B to B campaign to insurance executives, will certainly have a different optimal send time than my fishing guide client mailing a B to C list of outdoor enthusiasts. And indeed they do!

    In the absence of context, blanket statements from Experian OR MailChimp are likely to be misleading, even useless.

  • http://aurelius.in/ seosanjayupadhyay

    Waaoo!! very nice post . but in my opinion Placing a short subject like “Hey” or “waao” may increase CTR But writing a informative Subject can increase much more as compare to “Hey”. and another thing is that subject is always related to your mail so anyone can easily understand what is your email talking about.

  • http://www.webdeveloped.com/ Kevin Joseph

    This is a great article. To support your first point even more, if you’re collecting email addresses through a web form, you’re more likely to have a user engage by just asking for their email as appose to asking for their name as well.

  • http://billyelusiv.com/ Ben Smith

    I always think retrospectively at what captures my attention and what is working on me. Really long subject lines with detail are capturing my attention right now, it stands out in the inbox and as I scan it a certain phrase or point will resonate with me so I then click through.

    I’m assuming that as people respond to different things and individuals relate in different ways to a subject, more detail gives you a better chance to connect with them.

    Be sure to test this approach and see what happens.

  • http://www.rockstarpresentations.com/ Donovan Farrell

    Holy cow! Real, statistical, useful content about e-mail marketing. Love it!

  • me

    Of 20+ articles related to promotion that I’ve read today, this is the only one that has actionable value. Thank you, Kevin.

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    • http://www.expertvillagemedia.com/ Ruby USA

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  • http://www.netgainstechnologies.com/ Rishikesh Somshetti

    Interesting observations. Sending mailers at night seem to be good option for B-C kind of businesses.

    NetGains Technologies Pvt Ltd

  • Mithun Banerjee

    Excellent post!

    The success of email marketing depends upon the
    strategy you have applied. You are always required to understand the
    behavior of your customers and prepare a solid strategy. The above
    mentioned points will lead you to make an effective campaign and gain
    success. Here is a big thank to you Mr. Caleb for this outstanding work.
    Keep it up…..

  • mike clark

    Really nice article.

  • Ogden O’Reilly-Hyland

    All of the information you’ve mentioned will other people who are holding charities and fundraising events because they need to email people who will be involved in the said cause. Honestly, I did not apply some of the things you’ve suggested in your post as I don’t know about it. That’s why I am thankful that I’ve come across your blog.

    Ogden O’Reilly-Hyland

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  • ravi

    It was so impressive.I would also recommend a powerful feature where in you can send free bulk emails with ‘schedule time’ option.’

  • Online Marketing

    I agree with the majority of the points in this article and it’s great without any doubt. Really a wonderful post! I like it very much. Here I find everything in details. I hope I will see this type of post again in your blog.


  • sarah plante

    I love this post, thank you!

  • Jorge Franco

    Thanks Kevan, great insights. It kind of crushed me with time_of_the_day and day_of_the_week opens, clicks and average buy stats! Bets everything I had in mind so far. I’ve been around for a while, not enough to be an expert, though.
    With 47% of mobile email opens, I kind of understand why evenings are winners. And weekends. Mobile inboxes are checked more often than desktops and laptops ones. So, to get your piece to be opened, the challenge is in trust on Sender and Subject line copy, I dare to say. I´ll give it a try and test these days/hours choices, as part of A/B testing.

  • Shahin KJ

    Great info! I have seen many people using long subject line for their broadcasting email.It will really create an adverse effect in email marketing campaign.Make your subject line short.You have to impress your customers as quickly as possible.So using short subject line can really help your marketing campaign.

    Want more tips.check out my video: http://youtu.be/q82Ev98sf9M

  • Pavel Volkov

    In addition I suggest you to read about follow-up strategies http://business-strategy-brs.com/follow-up-marketing-strategy/

  • http://www.helloworldmagazine.com Hello World Magazine

    This is a great article i enjoyed reading this :)


  • Trilogeek Studios
  • John James
  • Gennie Candy

    Should also make it a point to filter stale emails regularly. Can just use a service like MailboxValidator.com where you just upload your list of emails and wait for the validation to be done.

    At least you won’t be wasting time sending emails that will just bounce. Have a look at http://mailboxvalidator.com and give it a go.

  • http://juleskalpauli.com/ Julie S Kalungi

    Absolutely fantastic attention to detail and I definitely will be referencing this article in my email marketing Blog post today if you don’t mind Kevan! I wasn’t aware that posting on Monday mornings is a no no, now I know why I get so few clicks on Most Monday Broadcasts! I was seriously wondering why! Thank You so very much

  • Yodalearning

    How to manage sending email at appropriate time to subscribers when many are from different time zones? Due to proxy, not always we get the correct location of the subscriber. So it becomes very difficult to decide.

  • John Allred

    This is really a good stuff! Thanks for sharing. Thanks

  • http://www.amagees.com/ Amonica Sparlin

    I agree with you