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A Beginners Guide to Calls to Action (CTAs) in Emails

Writing and sending out effective emails is a skill in itself. As an email marketer, you need to ensure that every email you send out serves a very specific purpose. No email deserves a lesser statute – whether it is to inform users of an upcoming event, the latest offers, product updates or to say a simple ‘Hi’.

Usually, the primary goal of an email is to convince the subscriber or more generally the receiver, to do something. This is where the role of calls-to-action (CTAs) begins.

CTAs aid in guiding your subscriber to the primary action you need them to take.

In this article, I will help you learn everything you need to know about the best CTA practices in email marketing.

Let’s begin by understanding the significance of CTA:

What is the significance of a call-to-action?

Email template

Although some email campaigns have purely educational or entertainment-oriented goals, most campaigns intend to market something such as an event, product, or service. Thus, an email marketer must motivate their subscribers to register for those events, buy those products, or subscribe to those services. For that purpose, they need to successfully direct subscribers from their inbox onto a landing page.

Although sending out quality content and hoping that subscribers remember you do help, it isn’t sufficient. If you want subscribers to take action at once, then CTAs are the way to get it done. Experienced email marketers and designers know well that conversion takes much more than adding a button to your email.

In this article, I’ll lay out some important things to keep in mind when designing and implementing Calls to Actions to your emails.

How to design calls-to-action?

Ecommerce email template

An effective CTA not only stands out, but also highlights the significance of whatever happens after the click. Let us now take a look at some helpful guidelines you should consider when designing CTAs.

Properly define the purpose

Obviously, the main purpose of the CTA is to get your subscribers to take action. However, you need to ask yourself the following three questions to figure out the actual motive behind your CTA:

  1. What exactly do you want a subscriber to do?
  2. How will your subscribers know what to do?
  3. Do they have any reason to do it?

You can see how important it is for every CTA to provide value for the subscriber. It should clearly convey what exactly they will get for dedicating time to your email and landing page. You can better clarify that value with the help of the above questions. After answering them, you can plan how to effectively convey that value proposition in your CTA.

Be great  in language

The design and the language are the two main components of a CTA. The design catches the reader’s attention and makes it easy to use, but it is the language that actually convinces a reader to interact. To highlight this point further, let us take a look at the two most common and worst CTAs used by email marketers in this regard.

“Click Here”

The use of weak, passive language such as “click here” is by far the greatest blunder made by marketers. Although it looks like a straightforward and effective CTA, it doesn’t provide any reasonable incentive for a reader to take action. It also doesn’t signify the value of what will happen if they do click the link.

Instead, you should try using language that clearly explains why a subscriber should click a link. I suggest using verbs to describe what they will stand to gain by interacting with the CTA. It is also advisable to artfully create a sense of timeliness or urgency.

“Buy Now”

CTAs like “buy now” assume a higher commitment on the subscriber’s part. You are clearly asking them to spend their money by clicking the button. Such propositions can be intimidating for a casual medium such as email. On the other hand, a CTA like “shop now” implies a much lower commitment and doesn’t demand a large investment from your subscribers.

Rather than using CTAs such as “click here” or “buy now”, you should try using verbs that tease your CTAs. After viewing your button text, your subscriber should have an expectation for what they will encounter after they click the button. Some examples of such appealing CTAs are:

  • Access your account
  • Start planning
  • Start testing
  • Get 50% off today
  • Shop winter collection now
  • Learn more
  • Run faster
  • Show me how

Recommended reading: 7 Deadly Sins of Bad Calls to Action

Consider size and placement

After you have made a decision regarding the language for your CTA, you need to think about its size and placement. With more and more users using their mobile devices to read email, the physical size of CTAs has become extremely crucial. You can imagine how frustrating it is to tap a CTA with your thumb if the targets are too small or cramped too closely on mobile.

I suggest keeping CTAs large enough to tap for even large thumbs. According to Apple, marketers should try to create touch targets measuring at least 44×44 pt. It is an excellent starting point when you’re designing any CTA. Also, you should provide ample spacing or whitespace around your CTAs to make them easier to find. It also prevents subscribers from getting annoyed when they try to tap a link but get another.

Use contrast effectively to make your CTA stand out

Whenever you design a CTA, you must ponder over how it will contrast with the surrounding content. A great way to add contrast is to use vibrant colors to draw your subscribers’ attention. If you prefer to use muted colors, then you should ensure that they contrast with the surrounding text, background colors, or images underneath the CTA.

Types of calls-to-action

As we’ve discussed, a CTA is intended to serve as the primary goal of your email. However, if you have more than one CTA, then each of them should serve a specific goal as well. Let’s discuss this concept in detail.

Primary CTAs

Email button cta

A primary CTA is the main action that you need your subscriber to take. Thus, it should be the most noticeable element of your email; you must style it in a manner that makes it clearly stand out. Applying whitespace is one of the best ways of accomplishing this. Other ways of making your CTA stand out include:

  • Styling it as a button
  • Giving the button a color different from the other design elements
  • Using typology, such as bold or bigger text

You should also place your primary CTA early in the email to ensure that the readers spot it quickly. Doing so also makes it more likely to reach readers who don’t usually scroll much through their emails.

Secondary CTAs

Primary and secondary calls to action

Secondary CTAs serve as additional actions you want your subscribers to take after primary CTAs. Obviously, you should style them in a less prominent way to prevent them from competing with primary CTAs. You can do this by designing their button in a relatively muted manner, such as a white button with a color border. Alternatively, you may simply include a styled text link.

How to style CTAs?

You can style both primary and secondary CTAs in various ways to make them stand out in your designs. In this section, I have listed some common methods to help readers identify your CTAs more clearly.

Text links give you a lesser level of control compared to buttons and images. Design techniques related to links, such as increasing the space surrounding them or adjusting their size within a block of copy, aren’t very effective and tend to compromise the email’s overall design. Thus, the most crucial tools when dealing with text links are color and font-weight.

You need to help subscribers recognize a styled text link as a clickable element to make them take action. For that, you can do the following:

  • Ensure that the text has a different color from the primary text
  • Underline the text

Rollover effect

The rollover effect is a kind of visual effect that can be applied to text links, images, and buttons. It highlights a clickable element when the user rolls their cursor over the same. For example, rollover effects for text links usually include a change in the color or stylizing of text (such as the underline disappearing on rollover). In the case of buttons, designers generally implement a change of colors on rollover.

Bulletproof buttons

These are CTA buttons that are built using code instead of images. As a result, the button will be universally shown in all email clients – even the ones where images have been disabled. You can see why these handy tools are called “bulletproof”!

Bulletproof buttons essentially comprise of live text that has been styled to resemble image-based buttons. Designers use them to effectively implement CTAs in their emails. However, VML code is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea. You need to learn about the coding separately if you want to use bulletproof buttons in your emails.

Related: Best Instagram Caption CTA Ideas

How many CTAs may be acceptably included in an email?

Designers often argue about the number of CTAs that should be included in an email. Retailers tend to use dozens of CTAs in order to maximize their chances of catching a subscriber’s eye. On the other hand, marketers generally focus on one or two CTAs hoping to make them more significant for subscribers.

To be honest, there isn’t any clear answer in this regard. A large number of CTAs might appeal to a wide range of subscribers but result in your message getting diluted. Similarly, including just one CTA can turn off many subscribers who aren’t interested in that particular offer, but refine the message effectively.

Therefore, you must come up with a balanced strategy that works for your subscribers by testing your campaign.

How to test your CTA?

You can test many elements of your CTA in order to make it more effective. As we discussed before, you may test the number of CTAs to determine what works best for your subscribers. Similarly, you can test the color, design, language, and type of link. By using a tracking pixel or conditional redirect tool (like PrettyLinks or BetterLinks) to check which links convert better. Email marketing services like Aweber have these inbuilt.

By doing so, you might end up discovering that your readers have preferences much different from what you imagined. For example, they might prefer a few simple text links instead of a plethora of colorful buttons.

You should always test and rely on email campaign data to determine what works best.

Keeping your promise

You mustn’t get so lost in implementing a CTA design that you lose sight of your subscriber’s expectations and your responsibility towards them. Always remember to keep your CTA timely, detailed, easily discoverable, and user-friendly. You must promise real value to your subscribers and strive to keep that promise even after they exit their inbox.

Conclusion

In this article, I have discussed all the important aspects of calls-to-action practices in email marketing. By following these guidelines, you will earn your subscribers’ gratitude and receive better returns on your email campaigns.

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