Laptop with coffee cup and piece of cheesecake
Hospitality Marketing

Restaurant Email Marketing #4: Email Optimization for Better Results

Welcome to Part 4 of my email marketing series! 
Missed parts 1 – 3? Here you go: 

Part 1: Build That List
Part 2: The Welcome Email
Part 3: Content Tips for Better Emails

Like a recipe for Gateau St. Honoré, email marketing can get complicated. There are infinite little bits to tweak and metrics to check, copy to fiddle with and images to update.

That’s why I’ve broken this email series down into parts. Once you’ve begun list building, established  your welcome email, and you’re reaching out to your subscribers semi-regularly, you can work on small email optimization adjustments that will get you better results.

What is email optimization?

It’s changing your content to improve metrics like open rate, click-thru-rate (CTR), and unsubscribe rate. When you pay attention to these minor ingredients, they can add up to a more effective email campaign — just like the puff and choux pastry in that tricky gateau.

Avoid spam filters

No one will open your email if it goes to spam, right? So the first thing we need to do is prevent your carefully crafted messages from ending up in the folder that time forgot.

First — only email people who have opted in. That means no buying lists, no adding people who ordered online but didn’t explicitly sign up for marketing emails, no website scraping for email addresses. It’s crummy and illegal.

Next, avoid spam trigger words in your subject lines, like:

  • Free
  • Guarantee
  • Cheap
  • Discount
  • Now

If it sounds like it came from a Sham-wow infomercial, cut it. This can make it a bit tricky to include discounts or coupons in your email, so you need to get creative. How about “Let us buy you a snack” instead of “Free appetizer”?

Another important note — take it easy on exclamation points and attachments. They can also flag your emails as spam. If you want to send your subscribers a download or a document, use a link instead of an attachment.

Test your email’s “spamminess” factor with this free tool from Email Analyzer. Send your test email to their email address, and they’ll check it out for free within just a couple minutes.

Email Analyze screenshot with a score of 5/10

Time it right

There are certain times of day and days of the week when your subscribers will be more likely to open your emails. But when?

Some research says between 9am to 11am on Tuesdays is your best bet. Other studies say Saturdays get more clicks — especially for ecommerce.

But those results can vary based on factors like industry, target market, and what it is you’re promoting.

The best solution is to test a variety of different days and times and see what works best for you.

CoSchedule suggests testing these 12 days and times. Then check your analytics to see what gets you the best open rate

Dates and times to test emails - Tuesday 6am 10am 2pm 8pm Wednesday 6am 10am 2pm 8pm Thursday 6am 10am 2pm 8pm

Optimize for mobile

We need to consider mobile in just about everything we do. That means we must design our websites, online ordering platforms, and emails with mobile in mind.

An email looks drastically different on a phone than on a computer. And 46% of people read email on their phones — so plan your emails with a mobile-first strategy.

This can get a bit complicated, because each email interface (like Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail) also displays email differently.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a low-cost way to verify how your emails will appear across email platforms. There are services that will send you screenshots of your email on dozens of different devices and email clients, but they can range between $40 and $99 per month.

If that’s not in the budget, here’s what I’d suggest. 

First, keep your emails simple. Don’t use too many images and make sure they’re on the smaller side. And add alt text to those images, describing what they show. Some email services automatically block images, so including a description of the image can be helpful.

If you want to use video (which can be great for clicks), don’t embed it right into your email. Instead, add a thumbnail image, and link it to the video on a separate landing page.

Write great subject lines

Here’s another place where that mobile vs. desktop approach is important. Look at Eater Austin’s subject lines on my desktop.

Desktop email inbox showing full readable subject lines

And now look on my phone.

mobile email inbox with truncated non-optimized email subject lines

Your subject lines have to be so much shorter than you think to prevent them from being cut off on mobile. Think 60 characters or fewer.

Skip words like “newsletter” or “update” that just waste your valuable space. They know it’s a newsletter. Instead, focus on grabbing their attention with something surprising. Build some curiosity!

Keep in mind, we’re each seeing between 4,000 and 10,000 ads and marketing messages each day. So it can be hard to stand out.

I got an email once with the subject line, “What STD tests and airlines have in common.” You better believe I opened that one!

Personalization can also help. People generally like to see their own name in a subject line. But don’t do it every time, or it gets predictable.

You can also give them a hint of what’s inside. How about, “There’s cake in here!” for an email offering a free birthday dessert? Everyone likes cake!

Emojis can also work, but use them sparingly. They can get a little too cutesy if you overdo it. Plus, they can create an accessibility issue. Screen readers read out every emoji, and that gets very annoying to people who are blind or have other disabilities that prevent them from reading.

(Learn more about subject lines in this blog post.)

Use a single CTA

It’s very tempting to shove as many buttons and calls-to-action into an email as possible. You might think that providing more options will increase your chances of getting a click.

The truth is the opposite. Each marketing message should have one goal and one CTA in service of that goal. An email that asks readers to follow you on Instagram, place an online order, and buy tickets to next month’s prix fixe dinner is overwhelming. Readers will bounce, taking no action at all.

One frequently repeated study says that a single CTA rather than several can boost sales by 1,617%. Take that with a grain of salt — that stat is from 2015, and may rely on a lot of other factors as well.

But the idea holds up. One email, one CTA.

This week, push online ordering. Next week work on sales for the prix fixe dinner. You get the idea.

Tips for a better CTR, fewer unsubscribes, and more sales.

Bonus Tip

As you look for ways to boost open rates and CTRs, you’ll find all sorts of crazy stats for email optimization. You’ll find claims that a GIF will increase CTR by up to 26%. And that using a red CTA button instead of blue will improve your clicks by some crazy percentage.

The most important thing to remember is that those numbers all depend on a ton of factors, like:

  • Industry
  • Target market
  • Quality of your subject line
  • Value of your offer
  • Warmth of your email list
  • And a lot more

A red button is no magic bullet. Test everything.

Many of the so-called “best practices” are focused on ecommerce or big digital agencies. What works for them will not necessarily work for a mom and pop deli.

So you have to test all these little tweaks to see what works and what doesn’t. And remember — only test one thing at a time! If you change three things, you won’t know what worked.

We’re almost to the end, folks!

Come back next week for our final installment, where we’ll talk about list management. And then you’ll have an excellent foundation for email marketing for your hospitality business. 

And let me know if you’d like a little help getting started with your email copy!

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