Determining Email Send Frequency

Have you ever attended a live horse race or even watched one on television? You may notice a few jockey tendencies as they guide their horses around bends, through crowded straightaways and down the stretch. Most people see the jockey just beating his colt non-stop all the way to the finish line, waving his little whip like a fly swatter against the horse’s back side. Many untrained eyes will not see the jockey trying to restrain his horse, especially early in the race, as he works to conserve energy for some crucial gallops to come.

In the same way, many email marketers feel the tendency to whip their once promising programs into a state of exhaustion. Some experienced email marketers with a keen sense of who their recipients are and what they want will pull back the reins slightly and limit send frequency to avoid audience burnout.

In both cases, this point is true: sometimes it’s best to force restraint to win the long game.

email send frequency

How Much is Too Much?

One of the biggest challenges with sending recurring messages to a singular audience is determining how often to deliver messages. The table below shows the ideal and worst case reactions to messages with varying degrees of frequency.

Frequency Ideal Audience Reaction Worst Case Reaction
Low “Great to see you. It’s been a while.” “Who are you again?”
Medium “Nice – another valuable message” “Why did I subscribe to this?”
High “Keep them coming!” “Enough already!”


The Perils of Delivery Diarrhea

A major con to sending messages too often goes beyond annoying previous and potential customers. When asked, most email recipients will give one of three excuses for wanting less email from you:

  • “Your messages aren’t relevant.”
  • “I get too much from you.”
  • “I get too much from everybody.” (i.e. inbox overload)

When one of these situations occur, your subscriber can simply unsubscribe from your list or mark it as SPAM. The more SPAM complaints you have, the more likely your sender reputation is going to suffer. Poor sender reputations often lead to lower delivery rates, which means less of your intended recipients actually get your message.

In other words, email marketers who abuse the relationship with their recipients by over-sending will pay a price – as they should.

Segmentation Plan

The trouble with asking the question, “how often should we send?”, is that the answer is different for various members of the audience.

Since no email subscriber is like any other, segmentation is paramount for maintaining list quality and subscriber interest. One approach to provide optimal frequency for all is to segment based on previous behavior and activity.

In the example below, a portion of the list is very active based on open and click behavior. We can infer that this segment will continue that behavior with the current level of frequency. Let’s call these Actives.

There is also a segment of the list who is less active or who hasn’t clicked or even opened an email message for some time. Le’s call these Inactives.

Email Segmentation for Frequency

Based on this sample setup, the Active group would receive regular communication from your brand. The Inactives would receive seasonal messages or crucial information from time to time. Other than the obvious increase in open and click metrics, segmenting the list by behavior and sending to the Inactives less would help the program in a few ways:

  • Mitigate risk of losing a subscriber completely.
  • Likely improve the sender reputation for your program as a whole.
  • Provides an opportunity for the brand to enact testing programs with the active group that can be carried over to the entire audience.


Context & The Dependency on Truly Great Stuff

Google is notorious for advising search engine optimization professionals to “just create really great content that the audience will want to consume and share.” When asked what will always improve email metrics, I often have to pull a ‘Google’ and give the same advice for email content.

How often should you send email?
As often as you have something truly valuable to send.

That advice is unfair but accurate. The decision to send an email either daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually should really depend upon how frequently your brand can create amazing stuff the audience for which the audience hungers. How that content manifests changes based on your selling proposition and audience expectations.