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click-through rateIf you’re serious about using email to grow your business, you need to optimize your click-through rate.


You can write the best copy in the world, you can have the best offer, you can be an absolute marketing genius. But if people aren’t clicking your links, it doesn’t matter how good you are.

In this article, we’ll be going over some of the most common reasons why people don’t click your links. But first, let’s talk about what a normal click-through rate is and when you need to start worrying.

What’s a Good Click-Through Rate, Anyway?

So how do you know if you’re doing the right thing? If your click-through rate — or CTR — is low, couldn’t it just be the industry you’re in?

Luckily, smartinsights has collected a bunch of statistics that can help you determine whether or not you’re doing a good job.

click-through rate

If you have an above average CTR, great! Keep doing what you’re doing. If you have a below average CTR, though, you can go over the reasons below and see where you can brush up your campaigns.

Reason #1: Offering More Choice Isn’t Always Better

In 2000, Psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper ran an experiment where they went to a supermarket and started selling gourmet jam. One day, they’d offer a large variety of jams — 24 in total. Another day, they would only offer 6 varieties.

What they found was that, even though the large variety got more eyeballs and interest, when it came time to pay, the people who had more choice were about one-tenth as likely to pay as the people who saw the small variety.

If you’re subscribed to a bunch of email lists (it’s always good to see what others are doing), you’ve probably seen emails like this:

click-through rate

This email is from Costco. While it makes logical sense for them to send emails like these — they’ve got loads of things to sell — it isn’t always the best way to go.

If you look at the example above, you can see that everything in the email is fighting for your attention. This can have an overwhelming effect and will cause your reader to close the email and go do something else.

Now check out this email from J.Crew.

click-through rate

With an email like this, there’s only a couple of things to click on. This will increase the CTR of your email.

Reason #2: An Image is Worth a 1000 Words…Until it Doesn’t Display Properly

Images in emails are great. They add flavor to boring emails and they help you convey your message in a clear and beautiful way.

But if there’s something wrong with those images, that beautiful email becomes an unreadable monster. Maybe the hosting got messed up, or the email client your subscriber is using doesn’t display images by default. Either way, you might end up with an email that looks like this:

click-through rate

The thing is: this email already did the right thing. They gave every image a very clear alternative description that becomes visible when the image is broken.

The main problem with relying on images is that if you put your call to action in an image, it gets lost when it doesn’t display.

No call to action = CTR down the drain.

Reason #3: Sounding Like an Old School Copywriter

If there’s one thing copywriters are good at, it’s making copywriting sound like a dark art. If you just use these secret words, people can’t wait to “rip out their wallets and beg you to take their money.” Just hand over $9.99 and we’ll tell you what those secret words are.

Great copy sounds like you. It should be an extension of the rest of your marketing.

If your website has a friendly tone of voice, and your emails are filled to the brim with hyped-up language, there’s a disconnect that will make people distrust you.

Instead, focus on the basics of copywriting. That means:

  • Writing good headlines.
  • Using copywriting frameworks to get your message across.
  • Writing good CTAs.
  • Formulating a solid offer.
  • Storytelling

All these things make your emails more compelling and increase the likelihood of people click on your links.

Reason #4: Going Straight For The Sale

When you’re doing email marketing, it’s easy to think that people want to hear about your products. After all, they gave you their email, right? (You didn’t buy your email list, did you?)

The truth is that selling via email requires you to warm up your customers a bit. It requires some finesse to get people interested. If they go straight from signing up to being asked to hand over money, they’re not going to be too happy.

Instead, you need to give them some time to get used to your style of communicating and they need to know that you’ve got their best interest in mind. The way to do this is to send them value first, then ask them to buy.

In these value emails, you could give free tips, recommendations, or resources. Anything that solves their problem and doesn’t have to do with them handing over money.

A good rule of thumb is to send 3 value emails for every sales email you write. This helps you build up credibility before you ask for the sale.

Reason #5: Using Stop Words Throughout Your Email

A stop word is a word that sounds beneficial but actually isn’t. How many times, for example, have you seen copy that says “buy now”? Plenty of emails use that, right?

Does anyone really want to buy? Do people wake up and think: “I can’t wait to buy more stuff today”? No, no one does.

What they are thinking about is how to solve their problems. There’s a saying in copywriting that goes: “People don’t want a drill, they just want a hole in the wall.”

So instead of using words that aren’t beneficial, like “buy now,” “subscribe,” or “sign up,” use the formula below.

To create a good CTA, complete the sentence “I want to ______”.

That gives you good calls to action like:

I want to:

  • Learn more
  • Get my free gift
  • Download the ebook

All those CTAs are positive and beneficial, and that’s what you need to aim for.

Reason #6: Not Doing Your Spring Cleaning

When was the last time you cleaned your email list?

If your answer is, “What do you mean clean my list?”, then you’re going to end up with a problem on your hands. You see, email lists aren’t rigid beasts that stay the same forever. Some people lose interest, some people change email addresses, and some people just don’t open your emails anymore.

If you keep those subscribers on your list, you’re sending emails to people who won’t click your links anyway. So why keep them?

A common way of dealing with inactive subscribers is sending them an email that explains you’re cleaning up your database and you were wondering if they were still interested. If they don’t open that email, or they don’t click on the link you provided, you can be sure they don’t want to receive your email anymore.

Another option, if you’re using Robly, is to use our Engagement Management tool that lets you easily remove any unengaged contacts over a certain time period.

In the end, it’s a win-win scenario. They stop getting irrelevant emails, and you get a list that is highly engaged and that has a higher click-through rate. And since there are fewer people on your list, it may be cheaper as well.

Photojojo, a newsletter that sells photography products, sends this email to their dormant email subscribers:

click-through rate

If people don’t come back to the site, open the email, or buy, they can be sure they’ve got an inactive subscriber on their hands.

Reason #7: Sending Irrelevant Emails

One of the biggest causes of bad click-through rates is that you’re just sending the wrong email to the wrong person.

If you’re a small business with 5 employees, you don’t want to hear about software that helps massive corporations. You don’t need it, so you’re not going to check it out.

Every business has different customers. In order to sell to them effectively, you need to segment your list.

You can still sell them the same thing, but the focus of your email will be different. For example:

Brennan Dunn sells to a couple of different people. He sells to web designers, writers, programmers, etc. But the thing that unites them is that they all want to sell more of their services (or increase their rates).

Now, if he just sends the same email to everyone, it’s up to the person receiving the email to figure out how it applies to them.

Instead, when you sign up for his list, he asks you what you do for a living and sends you personalized emails based on your answer.

click-through rate

So if you’re a freelance web designer, you’re going to hear about how you can earn more as a web designer. If you’re a programmer, you’re going to hear about earning more as a programmer.

Brennan has created clear buyer personas, and he’s using segments to sell to his audience, and as a result, gets a much better click-through rate.

Reason #8: Following Best Practices Religiously

When you’re just getting started with email marketing, you can check out best practices to see what everyone else is doing. But after a while, you need to start testing to see what works for you.

In the end, an email list is just a bunch of people’s contact details. They aren’t robots, and you can’t put them in neat little categories. In order to create a message that’s relevant to them, you need to run different experiments and see what works (and what doesn’t work) well for your particular list.

Here’s an example of breaking best practices:

click-through rate

These emails by Overstock break the best practice of never writing subject lines in all caps. But according to a member of Overstock’s email marketing team, they outperform the other subject lines by far.

So test, test, and test again.

Reason #9: Messing up The Preview

Just like your subject line, the preview of your email will determine if people read on or if they delete the email. So you better make it count.

click-through rate

If your subject line and preview text promise your reader one thing, and the actual email promises them another, you’ve got a message mismatch and it can hurt your click-through rates. So what do you do about it?

From Name

Use the same name every time so people get used to seeing you in their inbox. If they don’t recognize you and you’re sending them promotional emails, chances are you’ll get deleted without even checking your email.

Subject Line

Arguably the most important element of your email, since it’s going to determine if people open your email or not. If you mess up the subject line, you can say adios to your open and click-through rates.

Preview Text

Often overlooked, this little line can make or break your click-through rate. Right after the subject line, it’s the second most important element of your email. The only job it has is to get people to read the next line of your email. A good way to do that is by using what’s called a curiosity gap or open loop.

In short, an open loop is where you start an idea or story, but you don’t finish it until later on in the email. This makes use of a psychological principle called the Zeigarnik effect, which states that people remember unfinished business better than finished business.

For example: In the image at the top of this section, you can see that one of the emails has the subject line “This is what you’ve been waiting for.” This is a curiosity gap because it implies you were waiting for something. You’re way more likely to open an email like that than an email titled “We have a new product.”

Email Marketing Is Useless If it Doesn’t Help Your Business

In the end, your marketing should drive your business forward. if you’re sending emails but no one’s clicking your links, you’ll have to analyze what you’re currently doing and see where you can improve.

Maybe it’s time to clean up your list, maybe you need to pay more attention to your subject lines, or maybe you just need to be more mindful of the preview of your email.

Either way, if you keep analyzing and improving your marketing, we have no doubt you’ll see good results.

When it comes to email marketing, what’s something you’ve struggled with in the past? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author:

Robin Geuens is a freelance content marketer who helps SaaS businesses write content that gets more traffic, subscribers, and leads. You can find him at

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