The Call To Action In Emails

We know words – and their presentation – matter. Especially in emails. Yet the call to action (CTA) is perhaps the most undervalued part of email marketing.

We think once people are interested in our offer or content, they’re going to click the link.

The wording or format of that link is irrelevant, because they’ve already decided what they want to do.

That theory, unfortunately, is nonsense.

Astonishingly, a tweak or two to a simple button can do more for your clickthrough and conversion rates than an entire revamp of your email marketing program.

Don’t believe me?

Google lifted gadget installations over 50% by shifting a blue background to the CTA button. That’s a 50% conversion rate increase through a color change.

But if tweaking and testing the call to action seems like a good use of your time and resources, what should you actually tweak and test?

Here are four areas to consider, together with test results and resources for advice and inspiration.

1. Wording

Whether a standalone text link or text on a button, words drive action. And the right words drive more actions.


The phrase “You should follow me on Twitter here” increased CTR by over 75% when compared with “Follow me on Twitter”. (Source)

When ESP Campaign Monitor sent out a customer survey by email, the link text “Tell us what we can do better” scored 51% more clicks than “Give us your best Campaign Monitor ideas!” (Source)

Obox reported a 200% increase in sales after changing their button CTA from “Visit our theme shop” to “See Options and Pricing”. (Source)

Soocial added the words “it’s free” next to the main CTA button and saw conversions rise 28%. (Source)

The wording of a linked CTA should tell the viewer one or more of the following:

  • What they should do
  • Where they will go
  • Why they should go there

The best CTAs communicate all three in as few words as needed.

This isn’t as simple as it looks. Before you even start thinking about words, you have to consider whether and which of those three goals are already communicated implicitly by the location and format of the call to action.

Do people read your CTA independently of the surrounding text, images and overall messaging? Or do those elements already ensure people know why they should click the “Shop now” button?

Do you need to put “click here” on a link that is very clearly a link? Or do you only need to do that for people new to your email program?

Some, for example, argue that putting “click here” on a link is like putting the words “press” on a button. It’s a button…what else can you do with it?

Others argue that those who don’t live and breathe the Internet need more handholding. They need to be told where to click.

The importance of context and audience underlines three critical points:

1. The need to test for your own audience and email context.

2. What works for one site or one email won’t necessarily work for another. Not all CTA test results are transferable, because context and audience can change with and within each email.

3. Your audience is actually a collection of individuals, not an amorphous whole. Is there potential to use different CTAs for different segments within that audience?

As for words, consider these results from my own newsletter. The CTA takes people from an article teaser in an email to the full article at the website. CTAs using active verbs like “find out here” or “discover more” pulled an average 56% more clicks than neutral verbs like “read more”.

For advice on wording CTAs and the call to action in general, look out for Bryan Eisenberg’s articles. For example:

2. Location

Another aspect to look at is the location of the call to action.


Putting an unsubscribe link (also a CTA!) at the top of an email, rather than just in the footer, reduced spam complaints by 30% for one B2C company. (Source)

Adding links in the teaser copy itself, rather than just at the end, lifted article clickthroughs by over 25%. And the closer the distance between the in-text and end-of-text links, the higher the CTR. (Source)

There are three aspects to location.

The first is placement relative to associated images and text. How much white space do you leave? Should the CTA be above, below, to the right, to the left? How much design and color contrast do you build in?

The second is location in the message itself. A call to action can appear in various places, including:

  • subject line
  • preheader
  • menu bars and footers
  • above the content/offer
  • embedded within the content/offer
  • alongside the content/offer
  • below the content/offer

(Anything clickable also becomes a call to action, which is why many experts recommend linking images and headlines, since people tend to click on both.)

The third aspect is repetition. How often do you repeat the call to action? You’re not limited to just one placement.

3. Coding and format

The most basic call to action is a simple text link. But different formats and graphical enhancements can also change response.


A large technology vendor boosted email CTR by 67% by changing a link to a button. (Source)

Turning a plain text link into a button with icon lifted downloads over 7% for one font seller. (Source)

ESP AWeber tested buttons versus text links in their emails and found the former outperformed the latter…initially. After a few weeks, buttons actually performed worse than text links. (Source)

Whatever differences you may find between responses to buttons and text, remember that graphical elements can lose impact when images are blocked.

As a result, some marketers use so-called bulletproof buttons. These compensate for image blocking by achieving a button-like effect through table cells with HTML text and appropriate colors and styling. Here’s a simple implementation from Google:

With images:


Images blocked:


For more information, see these articles:

4. Shape, size, colors and highlighting

Button size, button shape, colors, fonts, font size, icons and arrows all also impact responses.


An online retailer lifted conversions 44.11% by using a larger “Add to Cart” button. (Source)

A fundraising email campaign doubled clickthroughs by adding an arrow to the top CTA and overlaying the main image with that CTA. (Source)

Adding a small, relevant image next to the email call-to-action lifted total clicks by over 50% for one marketing agency. (Source)

A red button pulled 21% more conversions than a green one for a software provider. (Source)

In an email test of purple, green, orange and blue buttons, the winner produced over a third more clicks than the loser. (Source)

For most calls to action, there is a size sweetspot: not too small, but not too big either. As Bryan Eisenberg puts it:

“Go extremely big so they can’t miss it, but avoid making it so big that it looks like a banner”

He also suggests you try variations on the standard rectangular or oval box theme for buttons. The GetElastic blog has numerous examples of CTA buttons to draw on for inspiration. See, for example…

The choice of color reflects both the psychology of colors and (again) context: a green button on a green website doesn’t stand out as much as a green button on a blue website.

More sources of inspiration

You’ll find galleries of call to action buttons, illustrating best practices, at Smashing Magazine and

You’ll also find email CTAs in the 12 design galleries listed in the “design inspiration” section of the HTML email design post. Retailers, in particular, should review the Retail Email and Smith-Harmon blogs.

…and if you want to see more test results, the Which Test Won and websites both collate results from website and email tests.

Final thoughts

1. All the above should tell you that it’s worth tweaking your calls to action.

Throw away any skepticism and abandon your own personal feelings and perceptions. Little changes, illogical changes, inexplicable changes…all can make a big difference to bottom line results.

2. If you do test, make sure you measure what matters.

Many of the reported CTA tests look at the impact on clicks, but don’t report the impact on conversions. One test version may have better intermediate metrics (like clicks), but poorer result metrics (like conversions).

3. As the AWeber example shows, responses change through time. Review your test results down the road and see if they still hold true in fresher tests. Beware the impact of the novelty factor, where a short-term response boost comes simply from change itself and not from what you change.

4. Remember the role of context and audience.

When we talk about segmentation, we usually think of offers and content. Perhaps it’s time to think of segmenting for microcontent: sending different calls to action to different segments.

If you can classify subscribers into characters or personas, you can build CTAs that reflect those characters or personas. Those who respond to urgency might get a “buy now before this offer expires” CTA, those who prefer deeper reflection before buying a “find out more” CTA…

Posted via email from SwBratcher’s Posts


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