Email Calls-To-Action: Six Guidelines For Conversions

6 min

Despite the increasing demand to use social media, PPC advertising, and even full-scale apps to engage prospects, email marketing remains the most profitable communication channel online … period.

In fact, on average email marketing generates $38 for every $1 spent.


Because “unlike Tweets or Facebook posts, which are put up publicly, email is inherently personal — each person receives a message straight to his or her inbox.” In other words, email is direct and action-oriented… or, at least, it should be.

In order for your business to see massive ROI from email marketing, you’ve got to follow a winning formula to get your calls to action clicked.

To do that, here are five guidelines for compelling email calls to action.

1. Begin your emails with a call to action in mind

The call to action (CTA) is one of the most important elements of your emails. After all, most emails involve a subscriber taking some kind of action. Now, what if you can’t find that CTA, or it’s not clear? There’s a good chance that this message will fail, delivering subpar results.

Here’s what Jordie van Rijn suggests you should do instead:

Before you start writing and designing your email, know what you are working up to. The email should be in function of the Action, not the other way around. Or as a famous email marketing quote says:  The email is the invite, but the party is on the landing page. Examples of Actions that you want them to take can be:

  • Buy a product,
  • Register for an event,
  • Renew your subscription,
  • Request a quote,
  • Do a demo, take a trial,
  • Requesting a call back, they are all working up to a sales.

Sometimes it is very specific actions to your industry or product, like request a test drive for automotive.

He also makes a point that not all actions may be the same as your ultimate goal:

But not all actions are the same as goals or even outcomes. Your (end) goal might be to increase sales or increase customer loyalty. But there can be a couple of steps before that happens, like the action to view a video or read an article. Especially in B2B there are long sales cycles and complex products, that require some extra steps. Examples of these are:

  • Read an article or a blog post,
  • Watch a video,
  • Take part in a prize draw,
  • Update their preferences,
  • Download a whitepaper

See the example by Secret escapes, they use an extra step “visit sale” instead of “Buy now”. The outcome is actually exactly the same, it takes you to the product page. But “visit sale” is a smaller ask. There is also a second CTA, “Set reminder” this sets an email alert that is sent just before the offer ends.

Example of an email CTA 'Visit sale" that's a smaller ask than "buy now."
Example of an email CTA ‘Visit sale” that’s a smaller ask than “buy now.”

2. Less is more

What happens when you give people too many choices?

Easy. They get overwhelmed with analysis paralysis and end up making no choice at all.

That’s why the first key to crafting high-converting emails is to have one objective — a single goal you’ve determined before you even start writing. Take Whirlpool, for example, who increased their campaign click-through rate by 42% simply by dialing back their calls-to-action from four to one.

However, once you’ve chosen your single objective, does “less is more” mean limiting each email to a single link?

Not necessarily. Copywriting expert Ray Edwards recommends in his book How to Write Copy that Sells placing a minimum of 3 links to your call to action in the email body.

Just remember: these three links all point your reader to the same basic objective. Here’s how Nathan Latka executes this principle:


Notice that the entire email and all three of the links are geared towards the single objective of getting the reader to join him on the live webinar. He places three opportunities for the click: once right off the bat, another towards the middle, and one at the very end.

3. Be specific

Your call to action has no time to be mysterious … or clever.

Simply put: if your call to action is too vague, people don’t know what you want them to do.

Start by ditching the “impressive-sounding” industry jargon and opting instead for clear and concise language that guides your reader with an expectation of what’s going to be next.

In addition, keep your audience’s goals and desires in mind when crafting your calls to action. Those will serve as a guidepost for creating the golden call to action that your reader will want to act on.

Venngage, which specializes in helping marketers make infographics, reports, and other visual collateral, makes their calls to action abundantly clear. There’s no mistaking exactly what you’re going to get, from “Watch Now” to answering specific user questions:


4. Include actions

It might seem like this point should go without saying. After all, it’s right there in the title — calls to action.

However, many of us overlook the appeal of action words: i.e., verbs. Just be careful not to use worn out verbs that indicate an action nobody wants to take. On landing pages or online forms, Peep Laja, founder of ConversionXL, warns against using the word “submit”: ”Nobody wants to submit. Perhaps they want to subscribe, but definitely not ‘submit’.”

Instead, he suggests building your call-to-action words based on the ultimate outcome.

At the risk of being self-congratulating, GetResponse’s own monthly email marketing newsletter does this masterfully. In addition to providing links to each of our featured articles and resource, we always include an action-oriented CTA button:


On top of action words, to kick up your conversions with action words try incorporating the five most persuasive words in the English language: you, free, because, instantly, and new.

5. Never include “work”

Your reader does not want to work for your offer.

Therefore, any impediment you place between them and their desired course of action is going to result in lost conversions.

What’s this mean for crafting winning copy for your calls to action?

Start with avoiding friction words, which — according to Joanna Wiebe — are “words that describe things people have to do – not things people want to do”.

Image Credit: CopyHackers

Instead, Joanna describes how your CTAs should be written from within your audience’s perspective, using low friction words like: get, discover, reveal, and earn.

6. Make it obvious

Part of directing your audience to your call to action is making it obvious what you want them to do — click.

This is true for your copy. But it’s all the more for your design. Don’t drop the ball by making aesthetic mistakes that obscure what you want your audience to do. All this really boils down to is “not making your audience think” when it comes to the three most common email CTAs.

Number one: make links look like links. It doesn’t matter what your brand’s style guide says or how you present links on your site. In email, stick to the basics: blue underlined text:

Image Credit: iconiContent

Number two: make button look like buttons. Use contrasting colors not only to highlight your email’s buttons, but to ensure they appear clickable (especially because in email “hover over” options don’t yet exist):

Adding CTA buttons in GetResponse Email Creator
Adding CTA buttons in GetResponse Email Creator

Number three: make social media icons look like social media icons. GetResponse found that simply adding social media sharing buttons to your regular emails increased the overall conversion rate by 158%:


Action means action…

Email marketing is still one of the most successful places to communicate with your prospects and grow your business.

However, increasing your email conversions means following these five call-to-action guidelines:

  1. Begin with the CTA in mind
  2. Less is more
  3. Be specific
  4. Include actions
  5. Never make them “work”
  6. Make it obvious

Did we leave out a winning technique that you use to make compelling calls to action? Let us know in the comments below.