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It’s no secret that with the proper strategy and implementation, your company can see an incredible ROI from email marketing. According to a study by Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Demand Metric, the average ROI produced by email marketing is 122% — 4x higher than any other digital marketing channel.

Yes, email can be incredibly lucrative for your business. And while many things factor into whether your emails make your company money or not, the call to action (CTA) is, without a doubt, one of the most crucial elements. But not all calls to action are created equal.

In this post, we’ll explore all things CTA in regard to email: what they are; and how to write, design and optimize them for success. After reading this guide, you’ll have the tools you need to increase your click through rate (CTR) and better use email to supercharge your business. Let’s do it.

The Call-To-Action: A Definition


If you’re new to this crazy field we call digital marketing, you may be wondering what a CTA actually is. Don’t worry, we’re here for you! As we wrote in a recent post on writing better email subject lines:

“A call-to-action (CTA for short) is a general marketing term that refers to any statement; written, spoken or otherwise, that prompts the audience to take immediate action. In email, the CTA is any link or button that you add to the content of your messages in order to drive traffic to a specific web page.”

Got it? Good! Now let’s discover the secrets to high converting email CTAs.

CTA: What is the Goal?

Goals. It’s hard to do anything meaningful without them, and your email calls-to-action are no exception. So the first step in crafting effective CTAs is to clearly define what exactly it is you’re trying to achieve. We can break this process down into two parts:

Part 1: The Click

calls-to-actionEvery single email CTA ever written shares this in common. If you want to see success with your email marketing — the kind that produces the type of ROI we mentioned earlier and moves your business forward — you first need your recipients to click on the link you provide in your emails. That’s part one.

Part 2: The Action

The “action” refers to the action you want your recipients to take once they’ve clicked on your email link and will vary from email to email. What are you trying to accomplish with this specific campaign?

Possible “action” goals include persuading recipients to read a blog post or watch a video, interact with you on a specific social media platform, take a customer satisfaction survey, or purchase a product. You just need to decide what action you wish to promote with your CTA before you begin to write it.

Your Target Audience

calls-to-actionFinally, it’s important to match your CTA’s goal to the audience you plan to send the email to. You might not, for example, want to send a brand new subscriber an email about a high end product or consulting package.

You just started a relationship with this person and attempting to sell them an expensive product or service right off the bat might not be wise. Then again, it might be. But you have to really understand your target audience to know for sure.

Armed with this knowledge, you can then segment your list and match specific CTAs to the exact groups who are most likely to click; thus improving your CTR.

How to Write a Killer Email CTA

Now that the CTA’s goal is defined and understood, it’s time to write. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing your next email call-to-action:

The Value Proposition

calls-to-actionYour value proposition is the “why” of your CTA. It’s the benefit a reader will receive in exchange for their click. For example, the value proposition in the following CTA is easily understood:

“Get 40% Off Now”

Recipients know that, if they follow the link, they will receive 40% off. That’s a compelling reason to click. So what value can you offer your audience? And how can you present it in a clear and enticing way? Answer these questions and you’ll see your click-through rate go up.


As a general rule, people don’t appreciate the unknown. So the more specific you can make your CTA, the better. Let your audience know exactly what they should expect to experience after they click on your link.

Take a look at the following example:

“Download Your Ebook Now”

This CTA has a high probability of success because the recipients are clearly told what will happen after they click: they will immediately be able to download their new ebook.


calls-to-actionMarketers have known for a long time that writing CTAs in the first person — e.g. “Get My Discount Now” instead of “Get Your Discount Now” — can drastically improve click-through rates. Why is this? Can one word really make that big of a difference?

Yes, it can. When you write your CTAs in the first person as shown above, you give your subscribers ownership of your offer. This, in turn, creates a stronger desire in your audience to click on your link.

Power Words

Power words are words that increase desire and/or encourage action. These include “Discover,” “Free,” “Try,” “Easy,” and “Save.” But there are many, many more.

When used correctly, these words can help urge your readers to respond to your call-to-action. For example, which CTA do you find more persuasive: “Start Free Today” or “Start Today”?

Most people would rather click on the first option because the power word “Free” is desirable and helps clarify the benefit they will receive.


calls-to-actionThe attention spans of your subscribers are incredibly short. And with so many potential distractions — other emails, social media, etc. — you need to compel your readers to click on your link now rather than later. If you don’t, you’ll never see a successful CTR.

Adding a sense of urgency to your CTA is a great way to do this and can be done in a couple of different ways. One is to make your offer time based:

“Claim My Limited Time Offer”

And the other is to include an offer that the reader will find so beneficial, they won’t be able to resist clicking through as soon as possible. The CTA, “Eliminate My Student Loan Debt Now” would be quite compelling and induce urgency to someone up to their ears in student loan payments.


Curiosity can be a powerful motivator. As humans, we desperately want to know what happens next and if you can tap into this desire when you write your CTAs, you’ll likely see a boost in CTR. A great way to do this in your emails is to tell the beginning of a compelling story in the body text of your email. Then include a CTA such as:

“Get The Full Story”

If you’ve written the body copy of your email correctly, your audience should be curious and want to know how the story ends — and they’ll have to click on your link to find out.

How to Design an Appealing Email CTA

If you only send plain text emails, the design aspect of your CTA isn’t a factor. You simply write compelling anchor text (using the above mentioned tactics) and link it to the page you’re driving traffic to — piece of cake.

But if your company uses HTML emails as part of your strategy and branding, then design becomes very important. Indeed, the way you present your CTA visually can have a significant impact on whether your audience decides to click on it or not.

And since you’ve already spent so much time crafting the perfect copy for your next email CTA, you don’t want to blow it with mediocre design, right? Fortunately, there are a few tips you can use to make sure your design doesn’t sink your CTR.

Make It a Button

Rather than simply linking your webpage to a bit of text in your email and calling it a day, make your CTA look like an actual button. This can help your CTR in a few different ways:

  • First, a button will stand out from the other text inside your email. This will help your audience notice it and increase your chances of scoring a click.
  • Second, buttons are made to be clicked on! We’ve been taught this simple truth our entire lives. From the arcade or video games we all played as kids to the digits on an ATM, when we see a button, we automatically know what it’s there for and what to do with it.

Use this kind of familiarity to your advantage and make your CTA look like a button. Just remember to not make it too fancy. Keep it simple and make sure each of your subscribers can easily tell what it is and what it’s there for. Spotify gets it right:


Use Contrast

The color of your button can have a dramatic effect on your campaign’s CTR and overall success. One of the best ways to use color to your advantage is to make your CTA a different hue than the rest of the email — something that stands out and will draw visual attention. By using contrasting colors, you’ll ensure your CTA button is easily noticed.

In this Priceline email, the button color is yellow, which helps it stand apart from everything else.


Be Aware of Surroundings

Another way to help your CTA button stand out from the rest of your email is to make appropriate use of the area surrounding it. White space, in moderation, not only helps any colored button “pop” off the page, but can also help your entire email look more professional and less cluttered.

See how mattress maker Casper expertly uses white space to their advantage below. Most of the email is written in plain text, which makes the CTA button really stand out!


Location is Everything

Now that you’ve written and designed the perfect CTA button, you just need to place it in your next email campaign. But where?

There’s a lot of differing opinions on this one. Some experts claim that it’s always better to place the CTA “above the fold,” which simply means they suggest you insert the CTA in a location that can be seen without the need to scroll down.

What do we think? It really comes down to the nature of your email and the complexity of your offer. For offers that can be quickly and easily understood, a CTA above the fold makes sense. But if your offer is more detailed and needs a more thorough explanation, place the CTA at the end of your email.

In the following example from Levi’s, the offer is quite clear so they’ve appropriately placed their CTA button toward the top:


How to Optimize an Email CTA

The real key to high click-through rates and successful email marketing in general is the optimization phase. Without this crucial step, every decision you make — the copy you use, the color of the button, etc. — is just a guess.

So do yourself a favor and don’t skip this step! Especially since it’s so easy.

The best way to optimize your CTAs is to run simple A/B tests, also known as split tests. Simply create your CTA using the tips and tactics we’ve outlined in this guide. Then create a few different variations of it and mail them each to small segments of your list.

For example, you could quickly test whether a red or blue button gets more clicks, or if your CTR goes up or down when you compare “Get Your Free Download” to “Start Downloading Now.”

Just remember to only test one variation at a time — e.g. just button color, not button color and button copy in the same A/B test.

In Conclusion

Though email calls-to-action only consist of a few words and a simple design, they can make or break your email marketing efforts. The strategies and tactics outlined in this guide will ensure that the CTAs you craft from now on have a much greater chance of success!

So how ’bout it? Give us the juicy details on your best email CTAs in the comments below!

Jacob Thomas is a freelance copywriter and content marketer based in Bend, OR. His professional writing approach has helped numerous businesses gain more traffic, leads and sales. To contact Jacob, visit

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