Holiday Email Marketing Insights: Send Emails Early, Avoid Thanksgiving Day & Segment Your Lists

Top email platforms and marketing solution providers offer tips and recommendations based on last year's holiday campaigns.

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Adobe predicts this year’s online holiday sales will reach a record $83 billion, an 11-percent year-over-year increase compared to last year.

With so much up for grabs between now and the end of the year, brands are already escalating their email marketing campaigns as we enter the holiday season — but reaching consumers through their inboxes may prove to be more challenging compared to this time last year.

Email marketing provider ReturnPath reports global inbox placement rates have slid below 80 percent in 2015. According to ReturnPath, US brands identified as “legitimate senders” saw 24 percent of their marketing emails blocked or placed in spam folders this year — a steep rise compared last year’s 13 percent.

The email marketing platform blames decline in inbox placement on refined technology and filtering approaches by mailbox providers.

“While inbox placement decision-making is highly proprietary, the mailbox provider community has has been expanding its filtering criteria into engagement-based and individualized signals in recent years,” says Return Path.

To help improve holiday email engagement rates, GoDaddy recommends brands avoid sending emails on Thanksgiving Day altogether.

“On Thanksgiving Day, open rates hit their lowest rate for the entire month of November,” says GoDaddy.

The email service provider says brands planning Cyber Monday emails should be ready to compete, as it saw a huge surge of marketing emails sent on Cyber Monday 2014.

“Email is one of the primary marketing channels that drives ecommerce orders during the holiday shopping season,” says GoDaddy’s SVP of business applications Steven Aldrich, “It’s a key time for small businesses to engage with their customers, but our data shows that many are missing an opportunity to stand out when it comes to scheduling their marketing efforts.”

SendGrid reports the same, with data from 2014 showing brands sent a high volume of email on Black Friday and Cyber Monday versus sending campaigns in advance.

“We expected holiday shopping marketing volume to be concentrated in advance of the big day, [but] we found that wasn’t the case,” says SendGrid, “Plenty of emails went out pretty late in the day as well, despite Black Friday’s reputation for early morning — or even midnight — deals.”

Black Friday Versus Cyber Monday Email Send Volume in 2014

SendGrid black friday vs cyber monday

SendGrid says marketers should consider sending Black Friday-related marketing emails earlier this year, “While it probably pays to be top of mind on the big day, it may also be worth getting on shopper’s minds when they’re planning their Black Friday strategy.”

The email marketing platform also offered tips on formatting:

“Most email templates are designed for a standard desktop, with a set HTML width of about 600 pixels. This is too wide for most phones, and could result in unnecessary horizontal scrolling.”

SendGrid said brands need to offer a plain text version in HTML for their marketing emails and not overuse images, as they increase the risk of emails being marked as spam.

Additionally, SendGrid reinforces the importance of more targeted send lists versus large email blasts, using the following chart to show how engagement rates decline as the size of an email send list grows.

Email List Size Versus Engagement Rates

SendGrid engagment rates

When looking at send frequency, SendGrid reports more sends equals more unsubscribes, and that higher send rates have a direct correlation with lower engagement.

“According to our data, senders who sent 100 Black Friday emails — multiple per day — would be expected to average an 11 percent engagement, compared to 16.5 percent for senders who sent only 10 Black Friday emails.”

Email Send Frequency Versus Engagement Rates

SendGrid send frequency

SendGrid says brands should be wary of sending too many emails, as it could result in email fatigue. “You should send multiple emails per day only rarely, and only to recipients who consistently engage with your mail.”

One resource email marketers may want to check out is the recently launched email marketing search engine Notablist. Indexing more than four million email marketing newsletters, Notablist offers a broad view of the email marketing design landscape.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Amy Gesenhues
Amy Gesenhues was a senior editor for Third Door Media, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land, Search Engine Land and MarTech Today. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs, SoftwareCEO, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy's articles.

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