How to make more of the call to action in your email marketing

The aim of any email marketing campaign isn’t usually just “to send an email”. Which is a shame, since measuring campaign success would be a lot easier.

Instead, you’re likely to want recipients to take some kind of action. Perhaps make a purchase, download a whitepaper, donate, or read an article.

If this action is the finishing line, then email marketers tend to focus efforts on simply getting recipients to line up for the race. Think subject lines, deliverability, design and list building.
All of these are important, of course, but it’s the call-to-action (CTA) that pulls people across to the landing page where the desired end action typically takes place.

Despite this key role, the CTA is often a campaign afterthought or a fixed, unchanging element within a standard email template.

Once an email is opened, many believe it’s the fundamental content or offer alone that swings the recipient’s decision to click (or not). That sounds logical, but…um…nope…it doesn’t work like that in practice.

The text, positioning and styling of the CTA has a significant impact on whether people click and take the subsequent action desired by the sender. I’ve seen innocent button colour changes cause high double digit increases in click rates.

An unassuming “click here” button tucked away at the bottom of the email isn’t doing the job properly. Your CTAs need to be easily seen and recognised. And they need to motivate people to take the desired action.

Optimise the text

CTA text deserves the same level of optimisation given the subject line. It can do so much more than simply indicating “you can click me”.

A winning CTA typically communicates what to expect after clicking and, where possible, indicates the value of doing so:

• Shop now and save!
• Download your free template
• View the new collection

When the CTA closely complements strong copy, benefit communication can be left implicit: “Buy now” might be enough, as is “Reveal the answer” after a teaser question.

Optimise the position

The ideal location for the CTA is the point in the reading process where the recipient is ready to take the next step. Like the end of a teaser summary or immediately next to the product image and sales price.

Ensure the CTA has enough surrounding white space to stand out, but not too much so it’s completely isolated.

Consider using arrows and other visual elements to guide the reader. The model in a fashion mail, for example, might point or look at the adjacent CTA.

Think about multiple CTA locations, too. Above-the-fold CTAs can grab the reader who just scans the headline, with another CTA further down for the more considered reader who went through the copy word-by-word.

If you ever watch someone who is not an online professional, you’ll see them attempting to click in the most unusual places. So make images and headlines clickable, too. Link words in the copy itself to relevant landing pages.

Optimise the design

Experiment with different fonts (choice, size, colour), background colours and using image-based CTAs (such as buttons).

Ensure the CTA is big enough to be noticed, but not so large it looks like a banner or weakens the impact of the actual message itself.

With image-based CTAs, experiment with different button shapes and colours. Be sure to check their effectiveness when images are blocked.

Consider little tweaks, too, such as adding a small, relevant icon to a text CTA or ending the text on a button with a >>.


Given the differences between audiences, senders and emails, the impacts of alternative CTAs are often unpredictable. Which is why testing is an absolute must to identify winning approaches for your unique situation.

Just remember to judge the tests using the right metrics – don’t look at clicks alone, but also at how different CTAs impact actual end results.
Beware of temporary effects, too. An uplift in results through a new CTA approach can fade with time. I’ve even seen test results reverse six months down the road. So repeat tests regularly to confirm your approach!

Good luck or, as you might say, “Review your CTAs and increase your profits”.