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What is the Right Newsletter Frequency?

7 min

If you want to increase your email revenue, you should consider increasing the frequency of your newsletters. Two emails may be better than one, after all.

However, bombarding subscribers is not a long-term recipe for success either. It’s a careful balance between too little and too much.

In recent years, top US email marketers have been increasing their email frequency, as AlchemyWorx research shows.

They used data from EDS Analyst to compare how email volumes have changed between 2013 and 2017 for the top 200 US senders.

send volume vs opens 2013 and 2017.

Compared on the chart are the number of campaigns (blue), the number of emails sent (orange) and the number of opens (yellow) for 2013 and 2017.

It’s evident that all the numbers went up significantly in those four years.

On average, the top brands increased their email volume by 2.2 times. The total sent email volume increased from 470 billion to 1,040 billion.

The number of emails sent didn’t get higher because of brands having bigger lists – the median list size was unchanged.

So, were the top 200 brands wrong to increase the frequency? Or did they increase the frequency because it increased the revenue?

Interestingly, not only did the volume increase but the open rate increased too, shown by the grey line on the chart. I’ll come back to that.

Optimal frequency

You’d be right to think about list fatigue and turning off subscribers with too much email. The question is – how much is too much?

The latest GetResponse Email Marketing Benchmarks stats provide the most useful data to calculate the optimal frequency for the best business results.

Previously, I calculated the optimal email frequency using data from ReturnPath. They published data from fashion brands with a total volume of 199 million emails. The analysis showed the ideal frequency to maximize opens was 6.21 emails/week.

The latest GetResponse report provides average open rates and click rates, for frequencies 1 to 15 a week.

Newsletter frequency vs email metrics.
See full table here: Number of newsletters per week

The reason this data is better for frequency calculation than the ReturnPath’s data because clicks are a much better indicator of conversion than opens.

The key to understanding optimal email frequency is to change the way you think about what it is you’re maximizing.

What’s the objective of an email?

In most cases, it’s the click-through. Usually, an email aims to get someone to go to a website where the journey can continue. Turning conversation into conversion.

Maximum email revenue comes from maximizing the number of website visits per month.

See that switch? It’s visits per month not per campaign. This change is subtle but profound.

Let me give you an example.

Say you have a list of 100,000 subscribers. You send four campaigns per month with a 4.88% click-through rate. The number of web visits generated is 19,520 (4 x 100,000 x 4.88%).

Now, multiply the campaigns to 8 per month. The benchmarks show the click rate drops to 3.53%. The number of web visits generated during the month is 28,240 (8 x 100,000 x 3.53%).

Increasing the email frequency made the visits number rise from 19,520 to 28,240 per month – performance boost of 44%.

Case study: Learn how TechSoup Polska, an organization helping nonprofits get access to new technologies, increased their orders’ value by 1200% year over year thanks to targeted email campaigns.

Wait, what about unsubscribes?

The campaign unsubscribe rate doesn’t typically increase along with the frequency. But the number of people unsubscribing per month does increase.

Sounds like a contradiction? It’s not.

Imagine you have 200 contacts unsubscribe every campaign. That number doesn’t change much when you increase frequency; it’s still 200 per campaign.

If you send four campaigns per month then at the end of the month 800 people unsubscribed.

If you send eight campaigns per month then at the end of the month 1,600 people unsubscribed.

Think of it like this. The more you email, the more opportunities people have to click and convert. But you also provide more chances to unsubscribe.

Increasing frequency does increase the number of people who unsubscribe over time, which reduces long term revenue.

Additional to list size reduction is email fatigue, sometimes called opaque churn. As frequency increases some subscribers stay on the list but open less frequently or not at all.

The benchmark stats show this clearly, campaign response rates decrease as frequency increases.

Putting it together

The optimal email frequency is found by finding the maximum number of web visits over a long period when these metrics account for a reduced performance:

  • Campaign click rates reduce with frequency, as shown by the benchmarks.
  • List size reduces due to unsubscribes, reducing success from future campaigns.

The chart below plots the average number of web visits per subscriber over three years against the weekly email frequency during the three years.

The impact of click-through rate reduction and unsubscribes with increased frequency causes the drop in the performance as you move to the right on the chart.

total web visits over 3 years

The maximum number of visits occurs at six emails per week though there is little performance difference for frequencies five to seven per week.

Remember this analysis is after considering email fatigue, list churn and any deliverability impact of frequency increase. Even with these impacts, the optimal is five to seven emails per week.

Only interested in the short term? This is the same analysis, but for the scenario when we’re optimizing performance over just three months.

total web visits over 3 months

If you want to optimize your performance over the next three months, the answer is almost alarming. Just email as much as you can. The impact of list fatigue and unsubscribes don’t bite in the short term.

But it will damage your success for the months following, and I don’t recommend it! Better not show this to the board if they worry only about the short term.

Healthy lists are growing lists

List churn due to unsubscribes and bounces means whatever your email frequency is, your list reduces with time.

Unlike the number of unsubscribes, the number of email addresses becoming invalid and bouncing each year isn’t related to frequency.

I don’t recommend you trying to reduce unsubscribes by hiding the link in small font in a dense footer. This practice often backfires as usability studies show.

Because of unsubscribes and bounces, lists reduce by 20% to 40% per year. The optimal frequency analysis charts above account for this.

Growing your email list is a must. You need some new subscribers every month to replace those who left your list.

So, aim for the optimal send frequency when you have an email list growth strategy (if you don’t here’s a good article on email list building).

Are six emails per week right for me?

The analysis shows aiming for five or six emails per week is a great choice – on average.

But it’s not right for every brand.

What’s right depends on the type of product or service you offer, e.g.:

  • Stressed purchase. Car repair, emergency products, and services
  • Necessity purchase. Annual insurance policies, toilet tissue, printer ink
  • Desire and impulse buy. Holidays, fashion, gadgets, hobby goods

If you are selling goods that are desirable or an impulse buy, then a higher frequency is recommended more than for something that is a stressed purchase.

Consumers may be happy to browse travel and fashion offers, even when they don’t intend to buy. They read out of curiosity, and to stay up to date with the latest trends.

That isn’t the case for insurance. Few people are curious about insurance except in the run-up to renewal.

Every brand, offer, and audience is different, so the optimal frequency is different for every brand.

As a guideline for desire and impulse buys think in the range of 1 to 5 per week, for necessity once or twice a month and stressed – a couple of times a quarter.

Frequency and Relevance

By now, you’re probably wondering about relevance. Shouldn’t I be sending more relevant emails rather than just more emails?

The answer is simple: do both. Frequency and relevance can work together. Making your emails more relevant means you can increase frequency without the negative downside, unsubscribes and list fatigue. You’ll keep your subscribers engaged even when sending them a lot more content.

Going back to the chart at the very start of this article, where the opens increased from 40 billion to 130 billion. In terms of the open rate that’s an increase from 8.5% to 12.5%.

The top 200 email marketers not only increased frequency but open rates too. Great strategies to do this include:

  • Segmentation
  • Personalization
  • Automated content based on behavior such as browsed, purchased or abandoned.
  • Send targeted triggered emails at the moment of interest.

There are also other email best practices worth keeping in mind.

Getting the sending frequency right has a big impact on results. When was the last time you reviewed how often you send?

Sending more emails is harder than sending fewer because keeping engagement also becomes harder. But not impossible.

So, practice creating emails so engaging, that they’ll allow you to increase your email frequency without any damage :)!

Author: Tim Watson, a specialist email marketing consultant focused 100% on email marketing, Zettasphere.