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  • Orit Wittenberg

How frequently should you email your list?

When it comes to digital marketing, email is your best friend. Use it to generate more leads, sales, and repeat clients. Here's how.

Fifty-five years old and still got it

Email may be old, but it’s unquestionably the most lucrative digital marketing medium around. Use it right and you’re looking at increased sales and long-lasting customer relationships. But woe unto ye who misseth the mark and misuseth this powerhouse medium.

We're going to delve deep into the data and come up with 11 practical takeaways for entrepreneurs and SMBs.

By the end of this post you'll know:

Why email is the digital marketing boss

How frequently you should email your list

What to send when you email your list

How to curate a highly-engaged list

Why email?

Email first made its way on the scene in MIT’s Mailbox program in 1965. Since then, it’s grown into the most widely-used e-communication medium in the world, with over 4.6 billion email accounts in operation today.

It’s the digital marketing avenue that offers the highest return on investment, anywhere from $38-$44 for every $1 spent.

Let's appreciate that stat by comparing it to the ROI of some of email’s competitors (per $1):

  • SEO $22.24

  • Internet display $19.72

  • Catalogs $7.30

  • Keyword ads $17

  • Banner ads $2

And social media? Email leaves the 3 biggies (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) behind. Like, way behind.

You are 6x more likely to get a click-through from an email than from a Tweet.

But let's let the averages speak for themselves:

Email has far higher engagement rates than social media.

Takeaway #1: Properly used, an email list will give you the best bang for your digital marketing buck.

The power of email marketing lies in the fact that users have invited you into their inboxes. They've opted in, hopefully twice, so you're 100% certain they want to hear from you. (And if they didn't opt in? Well then you've got some spam ranking and GDPR problems on your hands, my friend.)

Email is also a wonderfully testable platform. Direct success metrics like opens, click-throughs, bounces, and unsubscribes give you an optimal platform for A/B testing and tailoring your strategy to your audience.

Takeaway #2: Study the data you glean from your email campaigns and tweak your strategy accordingly.

Indirect results are less testable, but equally valuable. DMA’s Marketer email tracker 2019 (sponsored by dotdigital) found that:

  • 27% of email list recipients said that an email would prompt them to go to the company’s website

  • 12% said it would prompt them to visit a physical store

  • 9% said they would check out the brand on social media

  • 5% said they would call the organization

All in all, it's safe to say that email is a rock-em-sock-em-knock-their-teeth-out form of digital marketing.

How often should you email?

Now that we're all hip to the value of email, let's get more into the nitty gritty, starting with sending frequency.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how often to engage your list.

The guiding principle is to strike a balance between over and undersending.

  • Oversend and you risk decreasing user engagement, increasing user opt-outs and complaints, and reducing customer loyalty.

  • Undersend and you risk losing revenue, decreasing your brand recognition, and raising your spam ranking due to inaccurate metrics and inability to maintain a clean list.

That said, data shows that as long as your emails offer value, your list will tolerate hearing from you more often than you might expect.

The case for frequent sending

Some marketers and business experts believe there is no down side to overemailing – that businesses stand only to gain from more frequent customer communications.

A powerful case study by Alchemy Worx demonstrates how UK insurance company Aviva increased their number of quotes by 48% and clicks by 400% simply by upping their send frequency.

In their Frequency Matters: The Keys to Optimizing Email Send Frequency report, Return Path found that in the retail industry, "engaged, Primary accounts will tolerate up to about five emails per week from a given sender. Beyond that, the ensuing complaints increase dramatically, and read rates drop significantly."

Screenshot from Frequency Matters: The Keys to Optimizing Email Send Frequency.

Five emails per week is a lot of emails. But what exactly is an "engaged, Primary account" and what does "tolerate" mean?

According to Return Path, emails accounts on your list can be divided into 3 types:

  • Primary. If you've been added to a user's Primary account, you can expect a high level of engagement, but also a high level of sensitivity. These account for 83% percent of reads, but also a disproportionately high percentage of complaints.

  • Secondary. If you've been added to a user's Secondary account (think side email used just for promotions and lists), you can expect fewer reads. On the other hand, Secondary accounts are also less passively monitored, so recipients are less likely to complain.

  • Dead. If you've been added to a dead account, expect close to 0 reads and 0 complaints.

"Tolerating" simply means not complaining, unsubscribing, or marking you as spam.

Takeaway #3: if you've made it to a user's Primary account, the data says they will tolerate up to 5 emails per week.

Similarly, research conducted by OmniSend concluded that in B2C businesses, "customers positively react to emails sent to up to 19 times a month." Interestingly, while opens and clicks decline with more frequent sending, sales increase, and that's the most important metric.

Takeaway #4: If you're a B2C company, go ahead and send, send, send.

The case for less frequent sending

While frequent sending may be overwhelmingly beneficial for B2C companies, the stats are different when it comes to B2B.

Within the B2B niche, most companies tend to send emails twice a month. Upping that frequency to more than once a week skyrockets the unsubscribe rate. Here, the old and reliable approach of one monthly update with a couple of relevant articles works just fine – this does not overload the inbox, doesn’t annoy your recipient, provides just enough value for them to appreciate your emails, and keeps you top-of-mind among loyal customers. – Helen Holovach,

But even if you're a B2C company, you may want to increase frequency with caution.

TechnologyAdvice surveyed 1,358 U.S. adults in a report called Do Your Subscribers Read Your Emails? They found the most common complaint from email recipients was that companies emailed them too frequently.

Emailing too often was respondents' #1 complaint when asked about marketing emails.

An important caveat: just because users say they want fewer emails, it doesn't mean fewer emails will result in more sales. Following sales is even more indicative of a successful campaign than user feedback.

"Email fatigue" is a ubiquitous challenge all email marketers need to face head-on. People are tired. They're tired of receiving emails. They're tired of opening, reading, and clicking on them. Your emails have to stand out if you're going to generate more revenue from them.

Takeaway #5: Account for email fatigue.

That's why upping your email frequency with forced fillers is a bad strategy. Always. If you don't have kick-*ss content or offers for your list, skip it.

This might explain the case of an ecommerce store that lost 30% of its revenue when they introduced a weekly newsletter.

Takeaway #6: If you're a B2B company, 2 emails a month is a good number to strive for.

Takeaway #7: Never send filler emails just for the sake of increasing your send frequency.

What should you email?

The golden rule here is to offer personalized value.

Personalized means you're making your customer feel heard: you know them, you care about them, and you've got something in this email that's just for them.

Email segmentation, automation, and merge tags, features offered by almost all email service providers, are great personalization tools.

  • Segmentation. Say you're a shoe retailer. You're not going to offer the same content and promotions to your 18-year-old male first-time customer as you would to your 70-year-old female who's been with you for 20 years, are you? Segment your audience and send only relevant content to each demographic.

  • Automation. Sending automated messages at strategic points in the sales process gives your customers the feeling that you see them, care about them, and truly value their business. For example, "We haven't seen you around in a while. Here's a coupon for 15% off your next purchase," or a follow-up message after a purchase, cart abandonment, or referral.

  • Merge tags. Merge tags enable you to customize your subject line and email body to include a recipient's personal info, like their name or membership status. Even though they're largely overused, they still give customers a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Takeaway #8: Use segmentation, automation, and merge tags to personalize your emails.

Value means providing content or offers that are truly useful. Think about what kinds of emails you like to receive. Content that answers your audience's questions, teaches them a new skill or idea, or sheds new light onto something they think they know are always safe bets.

Similarly, on-point deals and offers are likely to make your audience feel good about opening your email, whereas unenticing offers ($1 off your HVAC system!) or irrelevant ones (50% off Martian bathing suits!) produce the opposite effect.

TechnologyAdvice found that "consumers want businesses to send emails less often and include better content when they do push send."

Screenshot from TechnologyAdvice's report Do Your Subscribers Read Your Emails?

Takeaway #9: Pack your emails full of true value to increase sales and customer loyalty.

Curate a highly-engaged list

Sure, you don't want list members to flag you as spam, but that's just the first step.

It's far more important to curate a high-quality list than a large-volume one. In fact, a large, unengaged list will harm your metrics and your spam ratings.

Takeaway #10: When it comes to your email list, quality trumps quantity.

In order to ensure your list is high-quality and super engaged, be sure to:

  • Create a double opt-in to be absolutely certain a user subscribed intentionally

  • Make the unsubscribe option prominent in your email footers

  • Prune your list of recipients who hard bounce

  • Send targeted, relevant content by segment and trigger

Finally, no matter what your industry or how large your list, you can always find a way to offer connection, authenticity, and a human touch.

And that is what will keep your customers coming back.

Takeaway #11: Find a way to offer human connection.

The final takeaway

Your audience wants to hear from you. They've invited you to their inboxes to offer them great content, valuable offers, and human connection.

What will you do with that invitation?

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