The One-Way-Out Formula For Improving Email CTRs
by Aaron Orendorff last updated on 0

The One-Way-Out Formula For Improving Email CTRs

“100% email click-through rate is possible,” said no marketer ever. But beating the 2016 average of 3.75%? Absolutely.

Naturally, skyrocketing your email open rate is a good start. Yet we both know that’s not enough. Revenue comes from action. And action is all about the click. Many email marketers try to force their subscribers to take action by flooding them with clickable options. After all, common wisdom says: the more things to click the more clicks you’ll get.

Wrong. Neil Patel put it best when he compared people given too many options with kids in a candy store:

When you take a kid to a candy store, what happens? They don’t know what to buy, right? The same goes for the web. Giving people too many options or asking them for too much information can quickly reduce your conversions.

The good news is – unless you’re a massive ecommerce retailer with uber-targeted product offers – you can demolish the average CTR of 3.75% by using the one-way-out formula.

There are, of course, other ways that increase your chances of achieving high click-through rates, too.

What’s the one-way-out formula?

Every email you send should have one goal. And everything inside your email – every link, button, or image – should compel subscribers relentlessly toward it: one landing page, one product, one upgrade, one consultation, one webinar… One way out.

Make your one-way out singular

That subhead might sound a bit obvious, but it’s not. Limiting your emails to a single CTA has been shown to increase click-through rates upwards of 17% to 42%. That sort of brave austerity, however, isn’t always necessary. Highly clickable emails can have multiple CTAs – meaning, multiple buttons or hyperlinked texts – but each and every one of those CTAs should lead to a single destination.

For instance, when Strong Women Strong Girls included two CTAs in their email, they increased clicks by 30%. But notice, both CTAs led visitors to the same destination: SWSG’s tickets page. By doing that, SWSG gave readers the option to click (1) at the very start of the email or (2) after learning more about the offer.


Also, notice that SWSG places their CTAs – nothing more than linked URLs – towards the end of sentences. This is known as the Gutenberg Diagram and works for two reasons:

  • First, it will make readers consume the information before the offer itself. It’s your chance to influence their decision.
  • Second, it’s more natural for them to perceive this information when reading from left to right: after all, it’s logical to respond and take action after you’ve finished reading about the offer.

Susan Su – who’s run growth at both Appsumo and 500 Startups (and who also happens to be my email marketing heartthrob) – encapsulates this principle brilliantly:

One of the principles I talk about the most when I talk about email marketing for growth is ‘one email, one CTA.’ It’s a simple rule: Each email campaign should only have one tight, focused call-to-action.

And just in case you think I disagree with Susan’s principle by saying your email can have multiple CTAs, she immediately follows up with this clarification:

It’s ok, and even preferable, to include multiple instances of your call-to-action destination within one email. For example, if the desired action is for your subscriber to click through to your landing page, then you can link to that landing page in 2 to 3 different places.


Make your one-way out obvious

According to Dr. Benjamin D. Nye and Dr. Barry G. Silverman, affordance – defined as “an action possibility formed by the relationship between an agent and its environment” – is the single most powerful factor in driving action. That can sound a bit academic, so consider the definition offered by “cognitive scientist and usability engineer” Don Norman:

Affordances provide strong clues to the operations of things. Knobs are for turning. Slots are for inserting things into. Balls are for throwing or bouncing. When affordances are taken advantage of, the user knows what to do just by looking: no picture, no label or instruction needed.

Think about it like this: if you’re stuck in a room with only one exit and you want to go out, then that’s the door you’re going to take, whether or not it’s got a sign. In that scenario, you have 100% affordance. How does this apply to email marketing?

Easy, make your exit – your email’s one way out – unmissable by mixing and especially testing buttons and hyperlinked texts. Back in 2014, Gorilla Doctors noticed their CTR grew by 30% after they added a button to their email template.


And today, content strategist of Bid4Papers, Mike Hanski, confirms:

Clicking is people’s natural reaction to buttons. When launching our new service, MC2 Bid4Papers, we used the email button with a clear ‘Learn More’ call to action that led to one particular landing page. It worked brilliantly: with a 32% of open rate, we got 27% click-through.


And that’s how TheMuse use buttons to make people click:


And so does TheSkimm:


But here’s the kicker. In and of themselves, buttons aren’t magic bullets. What all the above examples contain, are high-levels of affordance. The buttons are clear, unmissable, and responsive; meaning they automatically resize when displayed on a mobile device.

People are visual creatures, which means they most naturally look for patterns and clues to show them what to do next. If your “what’s next” visual isn’t obvious, they’re not going to act.

The squint test can help you determine whether your CTA is efficient: blur the screen resolution and make sure you still see the button. Crazyegg nails this by using a contrasting color for their CTA even when the rest of the email looks very much like plain text:


However, CTA buttons don’t impose a veto on text links in emails. You’re welcome to use them as additional CTAs, but make sure these links are noticeably long, and (again!) each of them drives visitors to one way out.

Scott Oldford’s plain emails have been a building block of his multi-million-dollar e-learning platform Infinitus. With each, he not only sticks to one-way out, but his linked text is also obviously the only thing within the email that subscribers can do:


Test it out

Whether text links or buttons, all CTAs in your emails need to stand out and influence a reader’s decision to click. Even more vital, all your CTAs need to compel visitors to a single action.

Give your emails a purpose, develop a clear message, and only give them one way out: one landing page, one product, one blog post, or one offer.

Back to you

What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts. Please use the comment section below to share your view.

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