How Long Does It Take for an Email To Send? Breaking Down the Timeline

how long does it take for an email to send cover image with a clock and a trigger lightning icon

When you send an email, it leaves your outbox almost right away, and most of the time, it lands in the recipient’s inbox within a few seconds. But sometimes there can be delays for up to 30 minutes due to queuing delays, network congestion, antivirus checks, or other technical hiccups.  

Stick around if you’re interested in learning more about how long it takes for an email to send and what might cause delays. We’ll explore the various factors that can slow down your email on its journey to the recipient.

What’s the Typical Email Delay? 

The internet is so fast that emails can get to their destination in just a few seconds. It’s rare to see them take longer than three seconds to arrive.

If you’re curious about exactly how long an email took to land in your inbox, you can find out by checking the email’s headers.

Most email clients have a way for you to view your email headers. The steps are typically similar. 

These are the steps to follow on Gmail: 

  1. Open the email on your desktop 
  2. Click on the three dots in the top right corner of the message. 
  3. Choose “Show Original” to see the message’s headers. 

Gmail will directly show you the delay, but if you’re using a client that doesn’t, you can copy and paste the headers into an email header analyzer

Now, let’s look at a couple of examples. The email below took only two seconds to reach my inbox: 

An email arriving its destination after two seconds
An email arriving its destination after two seconds

Although it’s unusual, sometimes an email can take a really long time to reach its destination, especially for emails that go into the spam folder. The image below an example where an email took almost 22 minutes to arrive, and yes, it landed straight in the spam folder.

An email reaching its destination in over twenty minutes
An email reaching its destination in over twenty minutes

The Email Journey 

Before we talk about the factors that might prevent emails from going through quickly, we need to describe how messages travel from the sender’s device to the recipient’s. This journey may seem simple at first glance, but a myriad of agents work to send emails as fast as possible. 

Phase 1: Sender-Side Activities

Before an email can start its journey to the recipient, three critical steps happen on the sender’s side.

Here they are: 

  1. You write and send the email: This is the part you’re familiar with. You write your email, attach the files, and hit “Send.” The email client on your device (like Outlook, Gmail, etc.) now takes over.
  2. Attachment upload (if any): If you’ve attached files, your email client uploads them to the email server. There’s usually a 25 MB cap on email attachment size, and some file types are restricted to enhance email security
  3. Email client contacts SMTP server: The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol is the standard protocol for sending emails. Your email client uses it to hand off the email to a delivery agent.

Phase 2: The In-Between Processes

Once the email has left the sender’s environment, it enters a complex network of servers and protocols. 

These steps take place before your email can reach the recipient: 

  1. DNS lookup to find the recipient’s server: The delivery agent, which is an SMTP server itself, uses DNS to look up the domain of the recipient’s email address (the part after “@” in “someone@example.com”) to find out which server can receive the email for that domain.
  2. The message reaches the recipient’s SMTP server: Once the SMTP server knows where to send the email, it forwards the email to the recipient’s SMTP server. This involves routing across potentially multiple other servers on the internet.
  3. The email goes through spam filters: The spam filters on the recipient server evaluate the email’s content, the sender’s reputation, and other factors to decide if it should go to the inbox or the spam folder.
  4. Antivirus checks: The recipient’s email server will also usually scan attachments for viruses to prevent malware from spreading. 

Final Phase: Recipient-Side Activities

The final phase of an email’s journey occurs on the recipient’s side, starting from the moment the email arrives at their server. 

The steps go like this: 

  1. Email is stored on the recipient’s email server: Once the email passes the spam and virus checks, it’s stored on the recipient’s server, waiting to be picked up.
  2. The recipient checks their email: When the recipient opens their email client (or refreshes it), the client contacts their email server to check for new messages. This is where IMAP and POP3 come in. The protocols are used for retrieving emails from a server.
  3. The email gets downloaded to the recipient’s device: If the recipient’s email client uses POP3, it downloads the email to their device and deletes it from the server. If it uses IMAP, the email stays on the server so that other devices can access it, too, and it only downloads when you actually open the email.
  4. The recipient reads the email: The recipient sees and reads the email on their device. 

What Affects Email Sending Speed?

Now that we’ve covered the basic steps of sending an email, it’s easier to understand what influences how fast an email travels. Some of these factors are common to all internet communication, but some are specific to email. 

Server Capacity 

A server is basically a computer that waits for a connection request to arrive and carries out the tasks that the connection wants to achieve — in this case, delivering an email. Servers can be standalone machines or virtual ones that operate on shared resources.

The power of the servers handling your emails is a key factor in how long it takes for your email to send. The more powerful these servers are, the faster they can work through messages and get them off to the recipients’ servers.

The same goes for the recipient’s servers. Server overload, slow connections, and slow DNS response times can affect how quickly emails reach the recipient’s inbox. 

Spam can also bog down servers. When a server gets flooded with too much spam, it can take longer to process legitimate emails. After the server gets back to normal, it’ll start sending emails again, but it might be a bit slower at first.

Large Attachments 

When you attach large files to an email, several things happen that can affect how quickly your email gets delivered:

  1. Increased upload time: Larger files take longer to upload, especially if your internet connection speed isn’t fast.
  2. Server processing time: The email server has to process your email and the attachment before sending it out, and larger attachments require more processing power and time.
  3. Network transmission: The email, now with its large attachment, needs to travel through the network to reach the recipient’s email server. Larger files take longer to transmit over the internet. 

To avoid delays, it’s better to upload your attachment file to a file-sharing platform, like Google Drive, and then send the link in an email. 

Because you’re only sending a link, your email will be much lighter. And once your file is on a sharing platform, you can easily control who has access to it and even track its engagement performance

Network Congestion 

Network congestion is like a traffic jam on the internet highway. Just as cars can’t move quickly on a crowded road, emails can’t zip through the internet when there’s a lot of online traffic.

Network congestion can cause timeouts, where the email can’t be sent at all on the first try. In other words, the email doesn’t get sent because the recipient’s server doesn’t respond fast enough. Most email systems will automatically retry, but this can add significant delays.

Email Queueing 

Email queueing is like the waiting line at a coffee shop. Just as each customer waits their turn to order and receive their coffee, each email waits its turn to be processed and sent by the email server.

Queueing is a complex process. While it helps manage server load, it can also be a source of delay. 

If the server is handling a high volume of outgoing messages from all users, your emails will have to wait in line. What’s more, some email systems support priority levels for different messages. Emails marked as high priority (such as emergency broadcasts)  might jump ahead in the queue. 

Antivirus Programs

Email antiviruses scan emails and their attachments for viruses, malware, and other harmful content before the emails are delivered. 

Some sophisticated email antivirus systems also check the links in the email body. They can verify if these links lead to known phishing sites or other harmful online destinations.

Sometimes, an email antivirus might mistakenly identify a legitimate email or attachment as malicious. This false positive can lead to unnecessary delays since the email might be quarantined for further review or bounced back to the sender.

Spam Filters 

A spam filter’s job is to separate legitimate emails from unsolicited spam. They examine the email’s formatting, content, sender’s reputation, originating email IP address, and other factors to decide if a message should go to the spam folder. 

Normally, these processes don’t take a long time. But they take longer if something is fishy. For example, if a sender sends bulk emails to a large number of first-time receivers, the spam filter may temporarily reject the message to ensure it’s legitimate. 

This process is known as greylisting — as opposed to whitelisting an email address. After ensuring the sender and the message are legitimate, the server will accept the email. This process may take a long time and lead to email delays. 

DNS Lookup Delays 

The Domain Name System (DNS) has multiple uses in email. For one, DNS email headers provide useful technical information about a domain’s security protocols and ownership. The system also translates the recipient’s email domain into an IP address — a unique set of numbers that identifies a server on the internet. Without DNS lookups, your email server wouldn’t know where to send your message.

DNS servers can become overloaded or go offline. When they do, delays will be inevitable. 

DNS is a distributed system, which means there are always several DNS servers ready to handle queries. So, if one server doesn’t respond, your email server will try another one. But switching servers like this can slow things down a bit.

How Long Do Marketing Emails Take to Send? 

Common email clients like Gmail and Outlook usually aren’t used for sending mass emails. So, when you send individual emails through these services, you’re unlikely to see significant delays.

However, sending bulk emails, like for an email marketing campaign, is a different story. For this, you’d typically use a mass email service. But these tools vary in what they can do, which can impact how fast they send emails and how likely those emails are to actually reach people’s inboxes.

SMTP Pipelining 

One key feature to look out for is SMTP pipelining. It speeds up the sending process by allowing the server to transmit multiple messages in a row. 

Usually, when sending an email, the server sends a request, such as initiating contact or indicating the sender of the email, and then waits for a reply before it sends the next request. Pipelining changes this process by allowing the server to send multiple commands in a row without pausing for responses in between.

What’s more, email marketing platforms can create multiple simultaneous connections with the server. This way, they can handle more concurrent messages and boost sending speed for mass emails. 

How Campaign Refinery Does It 

At Campaign Refinery, we’ve mastered the art of quick email delivery. We use a high-performance batching solution to make sure our clients’ messages are delivered exceptionally fast. 

Our technology enables us to send an average list of valid emails to all its recipients in just seconds, and even massive lists are completed in a fraction of the time compared to many of our competitors.

Our sending engine is exceptionally efficient, and it can handle large volumes of email swiftly. We continuously optimize its performance to align with industry standards to ensure the highest deliverability rates for all our clients.

For this reason, we have to operate at what you might call the practical speed limit for sending emails, rather than pushing the technical boundaries. This approach ensures our emails get delivered quickly and we maintain high deliverability rates.

Email Throttling Can Hinder Your Sending Speed 

When you send out a ton of emails all at once, it can raise red flags with email servers, and they might think you’re sending spam. Email Throttling or rate limiting happens when your ISP deliberately slows down how fast you can send out emails. 

If you send more emails than the ISP allows, it will start rejecting your messages. This means more of your emails will bounce, which isn’t good for your overall email deliverability.

How can you avoid email throttling

  • Spread out emails: Plan to send your emails over a longer period instead of all at once. This gradual approach is less likely to trigger alarms.
  • Segment your email list: Break down your email lists by domain or split them into smaller chunks. This way, you can manage how many emails you send to each provider at a time.
  • Keep different types of emails separate: Send your marketing and transactional emails through different channels. This helps in maintaining separate reputations for each type of email and reduces the risk of throttling.
  • Choose your sending times wisely: Start sending your emails earlier than your deadline. This gives you plenty of time to spread out the send and ensure all emails are delivered by the time you need.

Additionally, if you’re using a new IP address to send emails, ISPs might be cautious about accepting your emails right away. Your IP address doesn’t have a reputation yet, good or bad. 

To build a positive reputation, you’ll need to warm up your IP by gradually increasing the volume of emails you send over time, typically over 30 days. This slow and steady approach helps you introduce yourself to ISPs and earn their trust. 

Redefine Email Speed with Campaign Refinery 

At Campaign Refinery, we specialize in blazing-fast email marketing with sky-high deliverability rates. 

We offer a stress-free way to handle your email marketing, making sure your emails hit the inbox without a hitch. When you sign up with us, throttling and delays become a thing of the past.

Our advanced technology is designed to send emails quickly. Whether you have a small list or tens of thousands of subscribers, you can send out emails to your entire list in seconds.

We’ve designed our system to handle the complexities of email deliverability for you.

This means more time for you to focus on crafting compelling content while we ensure your messages navigate through the internet swiftly and land right where they should.

Ready to take the hassle out of your email marketing efforts?

Apply to join Campaign Refinery today and start sending emails with confidence.

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