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International Email Marketing: How to Master Time Zones

Sending your email at the “wrong” time can derail the most well-crafted campaign. So it’s no surprise that many email marketers put significant effort into optimizing their send times to make sure messages reach subscribers when they’re actively checking their inboxes. Twenty-three percent of all email opens occur within the first hour after delivery, GetResponse found; within the second hour, opens drop by half.

When you’re sending to a global audience, though, things can get tricky. An email sent at noon in New York City reaches inboxes in Sydney, Australia, at 2AM. Your Australian subscribers might check their emails as they wake up in the morning, but the longer your message waits for the open, the more competition it has in the inbox as emails pile up.

Optimizing emails for different time zones is one of the key challenges for email marketers who send to international subscribers. Here are some hands-on tips to help you master this task.

Get to know your audience: Where are your subscribers based?

Finding out where your subscribers are located is the first step toward time zone optimization and making more informed send time and copywriting decisions. Collect geolocation data during the opt-in or use email analytics to better understand the geographic distribution of your subscribers. With the help of geolocation data, you’ll get a better understanding of:

  • Where your subscribers are based
  • How many subscribers you have in each time zone
  • Whether your subscribers concentrate in specific parts of the world or are scattered across a broad range of time zones

Where are your subscribers located?

Get to know your audience and dive into detailed geolocation data with Litmus Email Analytics.

Sign up for Litmus →


Optimizing send times for an international audience

Based on the results of geolocation analysis, email marketers can choose between two strategies: Choosing a send time based on the most important time zone, or segmenting their list to optimize for different time zones individually.

Prioritizing time zones

If the majority of your audience is based in a single time zone—or in time zones close to each other—it can make sense to focus your optimization efforts on this region. The number of subscribers is one factor that determines time zone prioritization. Also, consider business-related factors such as average customer value for each region and strategic expansion plans for your targets.

Prioritizing time zones and sending your campaign at a time that fits your most valuable region does not require list segmentation and is thus particularly appealing for marketing teams with limited resources. However, you’ll likely miss out on immediate opens and clicks in areas outside of that region, especially when sending time-sensitive promotions.

Segment your list by location to optimize send times in each time zone

If your subscribers span across a range of time zones, and important markets aren’t close to each other, segmenting your list can be the best approach. This doesn’t mean you have to create a segment for every time zone on your list. Instead, cluster subscribers into manageable segments.

But what if you don’t have the geolocation information for all of your subscribers? This can happen when you only track location with email opens, but not during the sign-up process. Most geolocation analytics rely on a tracking pixel that loads when a subscriber opens your message. If subscribers have not opened any of your emails before—because they’re new on your list or an inactive subscriber, for example—email analytics can’t provide geolocation data for them. Or, if they are reading your email with images disabled, then geolocation data won’t be counted.

Also, Gmail’s image caching makes it impossible to track geolocation. Instead of seeing where a Gmail reader is located, email analytics will show the IP address and location of Google’s proxy servers, potentially placing your subscribers in a wrong time zone.

So what can you do? Create a segment and pick a send time for all subscribers that lack reliable time zone information. You can pick your local time zone or the one of your largest market for this fallback segment.

A segmented approach not only allows you to send emails at the same time in each time zone (for example, always at noon local time), but also gives you the opportunity to test and optimize send times in each location. Reading time preferences differ by audience, and regional habits and schedules can play an important role, too. For example, MailChimp found that most subscribers in Spain read emails between 10am and noon, while optimal send times in Egypt peak at 2pm.

Optimal send times by country, according to MailChimp
Optimal send times by country, according to MailChimp

Depending on the range of time zones you cover, the number of segments you choose, and the level of testing you commit to, this approach can become very complex and time consuming. However, accounting for local differences and acting on them when sending emails can be a powerful way to increase open and click rates with your international audience.

Time zone management through your ESP

Many email service providers (ESPs) have features to help their customers through their time zone struggles.

Time zone management features can be a key criterion when picking an ESP, especially for companies looking to reach subscribers in various time zones but may not have the resources to handle segmentation themselves.

Many ESPs offer features that allow you to send your email at the same local time for each subscriber. For example, when you’re setting your campaign to go out at 9am, the ESP will delay sending to anyone until it’s 9am in their time zone.

If you’d like to experiment with different sending times for each time zone—for example, sending the message at 9am local time to US subscribers, but at 10am local time in Spain—you’ll have to set up manual segments and test them individually.

Time zone management in email marketing goes far beyond testing and optimizing send times. They also impact the content of your email, especially when you’re sending time-sensitive promotions or announcements that contain dates and times.

Time Zone Empathy

Whether you’re segmenting your email list or focusing your efforts on your most important time zone, always make sure your message is relevant to your audience. A lack of time zone empathy won’t just mean you miss out on clicks and opens, but also can damage your brand reputation.

Being empathic about your subscribers’ time zones is especially important when sending time-sensitive campaigns. The more you emphasize timing in your email—with “Today only” or “Sale ends at midnight” campaigns, for example—the more crucial it is to double-check your campaign for time zone conflicts. Let’s say you’re sending a “Monday only” offer at 10am on a Monday morning in San Francisco. Without segmentation in place, your subscribers in Sydney will receive it on Tuesday, 3am local time, and will likely end up confused and frustrated.

Put yourself in your subscribers’ shoes and ask yourself: What does the timing of this email mean for my subscribers in different time zones? Does the message make sense no matter where people live? Does the email contain time and date information that need special attention?

Handling dates and times in email

Time zone challenges become most obvious when your email contains actual information about dates and times—for example, for events, webinars, or deadlines.

Here are three things to remember when sending emails that contain dates and times:

  1. Always state what time zone you’re referring to

    Never let your subscribers guess what time zone you’re referring to. Make checking for time zone information part of your email proof-reading process, especially when the time changes during daylight savings time. If your automated emails contain times and dates (like weekly webinars, for example), set a reminder to switch templates at the beginning and end of daylight savings.

  2. Let subscribers view times in their local time zone

    Stating the time zone you’re referring to allows subscribers to convert to their local time zone. However, converting time zones can be tedious and confusing, so don’t let your subscribers do all the work. Instead, offer a link to a time zone converter, like Permatime, to make it as easy as possible for your subscribers to translate a date and time to their local time zone.

  3. Make your email relevant, no matter where your subscribers are located

    Even if you optimize events so that they are at a time when most of your subscribers can attend, it’s not always possible to make it work for everyone. And that’s fine—as long as you find a way to still make your email relevant for every single subscriber, no matter where they’re based.

Example of time zone empathy in a webinar email
Example of time zone empathy in a webinar email

In the email above, for example, we’re promoting a webinar that subscribers in the US and some parts of Europe can attend. However, for our audience based in Tokyo, Japan, the webinar takes place at midnight, making it impossible for them to join. Without additional information, this email would be of no benefit to our subscribers in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Australia, likely causing confusion and frustration.

However, the email asks subscribers to sign up even if they can’t attend the live webinar, because the webinar recording and slides will be shared with all registrants. Subscribers who cannot attend the webinar—because of their time zones or any other reason—can still get the benefits from it.

Availability and response times: Managing expectations

Email is a great way to receive vital feedback from customers, answer questions, and create a line of communication between brands and consumers. When sending marketing messages to an international audience, you can adjust your send times to fit your subscribers’ time zones; your support hours, however, might not always match your subscribers’ business hours and you might not always be available when your subscribers hit reply. Here’s how you can set the right expectations if your team can’t offer 24h support.

Email is an asynchronous form of communication and most of your customers will not expect an immediate response. But when time differences come into play, subscribers might have to wait longer than usual before they’ll hear back from you. Keep this in mind, especially when sending emails that likely trigger responses and questions, like major feature announcements or pricing changes.
Consider setting up an autoresponder for your reply-to address that reflects your time zone, your support hours, and give an estimate of when subscribers can expect to hear back from you. This helps to set the right expectations.

How do you manage sending email across time zones?

Do you have more tips for sending email internationally? Share them with the email community!

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