Email envelope on a Black Friday shopping bag

Optimize Your Black Friday Emails in 10 Steps


For B2C brands, there is no bigger email campaign than Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

These campaigns launch your holiday season efforts, and the way your emails perform set the tone for the rest of the holiday season. Historically, it’s the biggest consumer spending weekend of the entire year — in 2020, U.S. consumers spent $9 billion, up 21% year over year. 

That’s likely why Pathwire’s Black Friday survey found the vast majority (77%) of email marketers see an increase in email ROI as a result of their Black Friday email promotions. 

Source: Pathwire/EoA BFCM Survey, 2021

Are you ready to send higher volumes of emails while avoiding the spam folder? Will your designs and subject lines stand out in the inbox?  There’s a lot to keep in mind about getting ready for Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) and how to optimize holiday campaigns. Here’s what you need to know:

10 ways to optimize your Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails

When it’s peak marketing season and consumers are spending more money, sending them a flawless email can only help your cause. 

A couple of years ago, Email on Acid hosted a Twitter chat on the topic of Black Friday email marketing strategy. We’ve included some of the advice responses from folks in the email community.

The first question when taking on a momentous marketing event like Black  Friday… “Where do you start?” Brian Dayman of Kickbox says your promotional offers will likely guide your plan for using email

“There’s a lot to do, but I’d say the starting point is to figure out what your offer is going to be. All the marketing tactical prowess in the world isn’t going to do much good if you don’t start with an irresistible offer … “

~ Brian Dayman, Kickbox

Competition is fierce and brands are constantly trying to one-up each other with exciting promotions and specials. Whatever your offering is, be sure to nail down how you’re going to make it irresistible. Here are our tips for a successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday:

1. Determine your Black Friday email cadence

Once you have your offer in hand, the next step is to determine how many emails you plan to send, and how frequently you’ll send them. Beyond email frequency, you’ll also need to decide when your Black Friday email campaigns will start.

Holiday marketing starts sooner and sooner every season. The folks at Zoho Campaigns suggest starting early enough (at least two weeks) to run some split tests and optimize holiday email campaigns.

Splitting email phases into pre-holiday, during-holiday, and post-holiday will throw some clarity. Also, use a marketing calendar to mark your holiday schedules.

~ Zoho Campaigns

When Pathwire and Ascend2 asked email marketers about their Black Friday/Cyber Monday plans, only one-third (33%) of email marketers report that they are sending Black Friday promotional daily or multiple times a day. The most commonly reported cadence for Black Friday email sends is 2-6 times weekly (27%).

This number goes up for the hot-ticket segments for consumers, like entertainment, retail, and home and transportation services industries. 44% of email marketers in the entertainment industry (arts, media, sports & gaming) report sending Black Friday email promotions at least once daily (multiple sends daily or one send daily). 

No matter what you decide, stick to your cadence. This is a crowded time in the inbox, and the more predictable you can be, the more likely you’ll get that open — and the click.

2. Warm up your IP for the holidays

If your normal email frequency is more like once a week or once a month, the team at Kickbox says now might be a great time to warm up your IP before hitting the holiday season. Failing to do so could send the wrong signal, make you look spammy, and cause deliverability issues.

Verify your lists to get rid of undeliverables Gradually increase your sending cadence prior to Black Friday and Cyber Monday to get your subscribers used to a more frequent send.

~ Kickbox

Dramatically increasing your send cadence can make your IP rep look suspicious when you haven’t warmed it up.  work your teams to the bone when your ROI might not benefit from that increase in sending frequency. 

Gradually adjusting your cadence also slowly changes subscriber expectations about how many emails you send, making them more effective.

3. Do a deliverability check-up (and check it twice)

Warming up your IP isn’t the only pre-holiday check-up you should do. BFCM campaigns are some of the most work you’ll put in all year — make sure they make it to the inbox with a solid deliverability strategy well before that first send. 

Just like you’d clean your home before throwing a holiday party, Steven Sayo of Mainline Menswear says email lists need a good clean-up to help optimize Black Friday plans.

Warm them up slowly towards Black Friday/Cyber Monday, but also cleans your lists in case old email addresses have been turned into spam traps or deleted.

~Steven Sayo, Email Marketing Executive

While you won’t have perfect deliverability right away, it’s important to establish good domain and IP reputations, which will grant you more flexibility from mailbox providers as you increase sending frequency. You should also keep in mind:

  • List cleaning: Get rid of mistyped domains and high-risk email addresses to prevent bounces and other issues.
  • Seed testing: Seed testing helps you land in the primary inbox, which is the best way to get your customers’ attention and let them know your messages have value. Avoid “spam-foldering” issues before your big day.
  • Check your reputation: Major ISPs such as Google, Microsoft, and Verizon Media offer a reputation monitoring page through their postmaster pages.

4. Optimize your send times for Black Friday

“Black Friday” used to only mean the Friday after Thanksgiving, but shoppers are looking for deals earlier and earlier in November each year. That’s why it’s important to think about send time, especially around a holiday. 

To stand out, think about your broader email strategy, and your audience’s time zone. You may even want to avoid Black Friday and Cyber Monday altogether and send emails to your customers on relatively lower volume days like the week before Thanksgiving or the Sunday before Cyber Monday. 

If you do choose to schedule your message for peak volume days like Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, now is a great time to revisit your data from last year. What time of day did you send your emails, and what did your engagement look like? 

You can also use Mailgun’s Send Time Optimization feature in the analytics tab to automate sends at the optimal time.

5. Segment your subscriber list for your holiday emails

As you put together your offers, think deeply about which subscribers they’ll resonate with, and why they’re receiving each email. Remember, in the days leading up to Black Friday, your subscribers are going to get hundreds of emails from a variety of brands — not just yours.

Before the holidays, think about what defines an active vs. unengaged subscriber. Karen Talavera of Synchronicity Marketing recommends running a re-engagement campaign. Ask your subscribers their preferences for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and consider your segments in a new way.

Create (or refine) your definition of an active, engaged subscriber. Conduct a re-engagement campaign to the disengaged now (September is ideal). Then consider engagement-level segmentation for Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns  — sending only to your most engaged.

~ Karen Talavera

If you need to start segmenting subscribers, here are a few ideas:

  • Demographics: Gender, geographic location, family/household
  • Behavior: Shopping preferences, average order value, purchase frequency, browsing vs. shopping, current cart profile
  • Early Birds and Procrastinators: Target historical purchase patterns based on when they ordered in previous years
  • Deal-Seekers: If a discount is what’s going to get them to purchase, look at what offers worked in the past, and segment that group accordingly

One overlooked subscriber segment? Your newest subscribers. They may not know your brand and offerings as well as some of your longtime customers, so consider adding a specific Black Friday or Cyber Monday welcome email series, especially if you’re running top-of-funnel marketing campaigns as well. 

6. Choose catchy, eye-grabbing holiday subject lines

With a hundred new emails in the inbox to choose from, you’ll need to invest more time in copywriting a catchy, eye-grabbing subject line.

Here’s what NOT to do: If you don’t usually use all caps, emojis, or exclamation marks, now is not the time to use them. Not only can they trigger spam filters, it just seems like you’re yelling — you don’t have to be aggressive to get that open. The Kickbox team had this to say:

A/B test your subject lines. Be creative. Create a sense of urgency. Ask a question. Put that pre-header text to work.

~ Kickbox

Go back to the value you’re offering. Is it a discount? Something exclusive for subscribers? A limited-time offer? Put the most important information upfront, and leave a little room for the imagination. Ask questions, start a conversation, and focus on the emotional connection first, rather than a “Me, me, me!” vibe.

7. Build personalization and dynamic content into your holiday emails

We’re not just talking about “Hi, <first name>.”

For Black Friday and Cyber Monday, personalized product recommendations are the name of the game. Pathwire’s survey found this was the most-used advanced tactic for Black Friday email campaigns. It was in the top three for nearly every B2B vertical.

Keep in mind, however, that your typical customers may not be purchasing for themselves — it is a gift-giving season, after all. Send a survey ahead of time to your subscribers to figure out who they’re looking to purchase gifts for, and segment and message accordingly.

Lean into dynamic content, too. The last thing you want to do is hype up a specific product, only to have it sell out in minutes so the majority of your subscriber list returns empty-handed. Think about:

  • Product price changes and availability
  • Location-specific dynamic updates
  • Click-to-cart functionality
  • Countdown timers to the end of promos/sales events
  • Shipping and delivery updates for transactional emails

8. Add an element of fun to your holiday emails

The holidays are a festive time of year, so don’t forget to add a bit of fun! That can be through creative elements like countdown clocks, inventory counters, or other dynamic content elements like email gamification. Karen Talavera says you can optimize Black Friday emails by making them more unique.

“It may not be that unique anymore, but this is prime time to invest in animation, video, and creative treatments like countdown clocks and inventory counters that give your messages movement and life.

~ Karen Talavera

These kinds of creative elements don’t have to be super over-the-top or complicated to be effective. This is your time to show, rather than tell, how your products work.

9. Never let a cart go abandoned this holiday season

Perhaps the most important automated email in your ESP today is your abandoned cart. If you’re like the average online shopper, you’ve probably left a few items in a cart to hang out for a few days or weeks while you make your decision. Black Friday is no different.

Surprisingly, when we asked email marketers whether or not they had an automated abandoned cart email set up… only 18% did.

This is a huge opportunity to recapture subscriber interest and send a friendly reminder of what’s in their cart. The holidays can be a hectic time for everyone — do your subscribers (and you!) a favor and give them a nudge.

10. Test, test, test, and test!

Honestly, we were pretty shocked to see how few of our survey respondents split-tested their emails.

The results found enterprise-level companies are more likely to be implementing email tactics such as split testing content and design (35%), but that’s still vastly underusing one of the most helpful tactics for ensuring your success on your Black Friday/Cyber Monday campaigns.

If you’re wondering how best to boost your holiday email campaigns, the answer is: no amount of “best practices” is going to matter since every audience is different. You’ll have to test to find out!

Split test your:

  • Subject lines
  • Imagery
  • Offers
  • CTAs
  • Overall layout and design

Even if you’re not split testing every single email for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, make sure you have your A/B testing on lock ahead of the season. Know what works and what doesn’t so you can execute quickly and efficiently come game time.

Optimize Black Friday emails before sending

And of course, make sure you’re always testing that everything works, too. Test ahead of time and ensure that CTAs work, images are optimized, and that your emails are accessible to everyone on your list. 

Email on Acid offers unlimited testing on major clients and devices. That means email teams can preview campaigns as many times as needed before launching. Find out more about why you should test every email campaign. Sing up forIf you want to dig deeper into holiday email strategy, check out Mailjet’s Ultimate Guide to Holiday Email Marketing. Plus, you can find more Black Friday marketing insights in Pathwire’s free report, Email is the New Black [Friday].

This article was updated in November 2021 and first published in October 2019.

Get the Black Friday Email Report

Pathwire report graphic for Black Friday email survey

Download free, original research revealing how B2C email marketers approach the Black Friday and Cyber Monday season. Get your copy of Pathwire’s report, Email is the New Black [Friday].

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Author: The Email on Acid Team

The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks.

Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.

Author: The Email on Acid Team

The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks.

Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.

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