How often you should update your automated emails

“Set it and forget it” is a standard pitch for automated emails. Set up your welcome series, your cart abandonment recovery series, your order confirmations and shipment notifications—and that’s it. Then your email provider handles them, automatically, and you can move on to other things.

It’s an alluring proposition, for sure: All of those emails, out there making you money, without a single bit of additional effort from you.

But… maybe that’s not the best plan.

It’s easy to neglect your automated emails; you’ve got a thousand other things to do in managing your business and, truth be told, they are sending themselves and making you money.

Still, it is worthwhile to regularly evaluate, refresh, and update those emails. After all, your automated emails are a big marketing opportunity. Even transactional emails, like shipping confirmations or password requests, can pull marketing duty. It’s an email interaction between your brand and a customer, one that probably contains your logo and color scheme, your writing style and voice, and a link to your website. That’s marketing.

And it’s quality marketing. Automated, transactional emails have extremely high open rates, with welcome messages, back-in-stock alerts, and cart abandonment notifications often tripling the open rate of broadcast emails. They also have fantastic conversion rates, again doubling or tripling broadcast emails.

With impressive numbers like that, they certainly warrant at least a little attention. The question is: How much? Fortunately, the demands aren’t excessive. You don’t need to update your automated emails weekly, monthly, or, in many cases, even yearly. Even giant corporations with entire divisions dedicated to email marketing aren’t usually tinkering that frequently.

Here are three timeframes for updating your automated emails, as well as some strategies you can employ to maximize the value of those emails.

Automated emails to update annually

Once a year is a nice, manageable timeframe for giving a refresh to some of your automated emails. Here are the emails that would benefit from having a yearly update.

Birthday and anniversary emails

It’s good business to automatically send a happy birthday or customer anniversary message (and perhaps a coupon or freebie) to customers. It’s even better business to send a different happy birthday or customer anniversary message year-after-year.

Check out what StitchFix does with its birthday emails. By updating them year-after-year, they’re insuring that a loyal, longtime customer is getting something different on every birthday. Will everyone notice? No. Will the people who do notice admire (even subconsciously) that on-brand attention to detail? Absolutely.

Emails with clever or memorable copy

Quite a few automated emails will be dry—when you’re delivering necessary order information, account details, or “your card is expired” email nudges, there’s not a lot of room for cleverness.

But some of your automated emails will showcase your voice in a memorable way, like, say, a win-back email featuring an irresistible guilt trip from a puppy.

Via: Mail Bakery.

Those are emails where a refresh once a year can do some good. You want to avoid a scenario where a customer gets the same clever email that worked on them once but now makes them go, “Sooo… still making the same joke a year later, huh?”

Automated emails to update quarterly

There aren’t many automated emails that need to be updated multiple times a year. (After all, there are only so many different ways to say, “Your order has been confirmed.”) However, there are a few campaigns where it’s apropos.

Seasonally-relevant content

Based on our research for this article, not a lot of companies seem to add seasonal content to their automated emails—but some larger retailers definitely partake.

For example, here’s Crate & Barrel’s welcome email for new subscribers in the winter.

Via: Litmus.

And here’s how H&M jazzed up its shipping confirmation emails for the 2015 holiday season.

Via: Mailcharts.

Obviously, in both cases, those templates needed to be updated by January.

While updating your automated emails with seasonal flair isn’t a necessity, it is a nice touch—and could bring more traffic to your store since the graphics cleverly imply you’ve got seasonally-relevant products to sell.

Static recommendations

It’s great if you can include recommended products in your emails to cross-sell, especially if those recommendations are automatically inserted into the email based on personalization or relevant segmentation to the specific customer.

But there also might be a scenario where you want to push or promote a specific product to everyone. Here, for example, is a static recommendation for products from Thrive Market in their welcome email. They’re using the opportunity to promote best sellers here—those products aren’t deep linked, they’re part of one graphic that’s linked to the best sellers product page.

There are a number of reasons why you might feature static recommendations. Maybe it’s something that makes sense for the season, maybe it’s a new product you want every customer to know about, or maybe it’s a case where you’re way too overstocked on a product and want to make one last push to move all that inventory.

Whatever the case, you’ll want to update those static recommendations to make sure they’re relevant—and because, eventually, your repeat customers will just start ignoring them as they’re seeing them over and over. (That happens thanks to something called ad blindness, and it’s why we all learned to ignore banner ads on websites.)

Automated emails to update only when something changes

For the rest of your automated emails, there’s no pressing calendar need for an update. Sure, it’d be great to give them a look on a semi-regular basis, but it doesn’t have to top the priority list.

But you’ll just definitely to update whenever something changes.

New branding

If you change your logo, your color scheme, your slogan, your company’s name, or anything else with your branding, remember to update your automated emails. Here’s an example of Walmart’s order confirmation email through the years. The branding is updated as the logo and design aesthetic evolve. (The copy barely changes—but in the most recent version it’s moved to the bottom of the email to fit the more modern, white space-heavy design aesthetic.)

Program policies

When you change a policy (for example, you raise your free shipping price threshold), you’ll need to go through your automated emails and make sure they all reflect that change. You don’t want to convey outdated or inaccurate to customers.

Here is the email Starbucks used to automatically send to new members of their rewards program. Now, with recent changes to their program, where it takes more stars to earn rewards, they’ll need to make sure there’s no trace of this better, more generous version of the program in automated emails.

Changes beyond your control

It’s common to have links to your brand’s social media accounts in your automated emails. Those are very much a “set it and forget it” scenario. Just remember to update when, say, an entire social network shuts down.

Here’s a great example of a company staying on top of every single link in their marketing emails. The email on the left is Newegg’s email from April 1st, 2019, the day before Google+ shut down. The email on the right is Newegg’s next blast, on April 4th—now with the Google+ link removed from the header.

Your emails stop working

Keep an eye on the stats for all of your automated emails. If you notice their open rates, click thru rates, conversions, and other engagement rates trending noticeably downward, that could be an indication it’s time to switch them up. Your audience may’ve grown blind to them, or you may need a new approach with a growing and changing customer base. Maybe you’re even using a reference that’s out of date (if I get a welcome email next year making Game of Thrones references—something like “Winter is coming and so are BOGO deals on stainless steel straws”—it’s not going to feel fresh).  

Monitor the situation for a little bit to make sure the decrease isn’t from a different factor; say, a seasonal crowd of less engaged customers. But once you’ve reasonably concluded your automated emails aren’t having the same effect they used to, it’s a good time to switch them up.

Strategies for updating your automated emails

Here are some recommendations to make sure your automated emails get the attention they deserve—without becoming an unnecessary additional burden on your schedule.

Put reminders on your calendar

Add reminders to your calendar (or put them in your email marketing calendar) to review your automated emails to make sure everything is still relevant, and potentially give them a small refresh. It shouldn’t be too much of a project to update your automated emails—maybe a few hours a few days a year.

Test out different copy and images

Quite a few of your automated emails rely on a good headline, quality copy, smart images, and an effective call-to-action to accomplish their goal. So for those high-stakes automated emails, like cart abandonment or win-back, it’s great to A/B test different elements to see what brings in the best results.

An Experian study found that small tweaks to automated emails can make significant differences:

  • Personalization in the email body increased clicks by 26 percent.
  • A navigation bar in the header increased clicks by 23 percent.
  • An order tracking link in an order confirmation email increased clicks by 46 percent.
  • And an order tracking link in a shipping confirmation email increased clicks by 62 percent.

Plus, if you play around with your emails, you never know when you might strike gold. Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, decided the straightforward order confirmation his company was sending didn’t match their vibe. So he says he took 20 minutes and wrote this instead:

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Friday, June 6th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as “Customer of the Year”. We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

That confirmation email wound up referenced in thousands of articles, blog posts, social media posts, and message board comments—which led to thousands of new customers. Sivers eventually sold the company for $22 million.

Continually monitor your stats

You want to make sure your automated emails are effective. So as we said earlier, if your automated emails aren’t getting the engagement they used to, it’s time to change them up. The best way to know when it’s time for that change up is to keep a close eye on your stats to watch for drops.

Add dynamic content

Sure, it’s a bit of a cheat when it comes to “updating” your automated emails. But if you feature dynamic content in your automated emails, they’ll really be updating themselves—always featuring the best products, segmented recommendations, and targeted cross-sells.

Adding dynamic content to your emails can keep them fresh in a hands-off way—which, really, is what automated email marketing is all about!

Key takeaways

While it’s easy to look at automated emails as something you set up once then rarely—or never—touch again, there are some real benefits to periodically giving them a look and a refresh.

  • Annual updates are a good idea on your birthday and anniversary emails, so your customers are getting something different and current every year. It’s also good to give a yearly update to particularly clever or memorable emails, as you want to make sure customers who get those emails more than once see you’re not just a one-hit wonder with your cleverness.
  • Emails that warrant quarterly updates are rare, but it’s worthwhile if you’re going to add any seasonal touches to your welcome, thank you, or other automated emails. Quarterly updates are also a good idea if you’re making any static product recommendations in your emails.
  • Other automated emails really only need an update when something big changes like your branding and color scheme or your program policies—or when there’s a change beyond your control like a social network shutting down or the emails start losing their effectiveness.

There are also a few strategies you can employ to make the automated email updating process more efficient and effective.

  • Add the update dates to your calendar so you’re never caught off guard.
  • Experiment with different copy and images—you never know when you might strike gold.
  • Monitor your stats to make sure your customers haven’t gone blind to your automated emails.
  • And add dynamic content to your automated emails so they’re staying fresh without your intervention.