+44 (0)1273 732 888
How to write an irresistible email CTA (with examples)
Author : Stephanie Joy Hubbard
Posted : 30 / 05 / 22
The call to action (or CTA) is one of the most important elements of an email. Whether you’re writing a newsletter, marketing email, fundraising request, or even an internal company email, a good CTA is what will motivate your readers to take action.
But how do you ensure a CTA is compelling, clear and stands out from the rest of the email? How do you make it irresistible to click?
In this article, we’ll share what makes CTAs utterly clickable and explore some examples that you can use as inspiration.
We’ll be thinking beyond calls to action in pure B2C marketing emails to those you can use in different kinds of B2B and professional emails. But as you’ll see, most of the key principles actually stay the same. (If you are interested purely in B2C marketing CTAs, you’ll find a few more tips in this article from Campaign Monitor.)
In an email, the call to action is a request to the recipient to take some sort of action – as the name suggests. This action starts with them clicking a link or button with a phrase like ‘Read now’, ‘Book now’ or ‘Get in touch’. And the action will be connected to the broader purpose of your email – for example, to increase traffic to a webpage, raise awareness or get a direct reply.
The call to action of your email is the core reason for the email to exist – the climax of your message. A CTA might show up as a button saying something like ‘Read now’, but the term describes the prompt to take action itself and the button or link where that prompt appears.
CTAs can be very effective in getting the reader to do something, but only if they are clear, relevant and timely.
Calls to action help give our emails purpose. If we write an email without first considering what we want the reader to do after reading it, our emails can end up being unwieldy or just plain pointless.
A good CTA will not only let the reader know what to do next. It will also create a sense of urgency, so they are more likely to take the desired action promptly.
While a call to action can be the core reason for an email to exist, it’s only one of many components that make the email successful. The subject line, preview text, body copy, images and CTA button(s) all need to work together to get the reader to take the step you want.
But it’s a great idea to start with your CTA in mind. Establishing this first will clarify your objective and help you design all these other elements to nudge your reader forward one by one.
Before we look closely at what makes a good CTA, let’s establish what bad looks like, to avoid falling into any of the common traps.
Here are some approaches and examples of what not to do when you’re creating your calls to action.
If someone is going to click a link, they’ll want to know exactly where they’re going (and why). So a CTA that is vague about where they’ll go next and why they should bother? Yep, that’s a bad CTA.
So avoid phrases like these:
This is pretty non-specific. Contact us … how? Via what medium – a carrier pigeon? Telegram? More importantly, why get in contact? Instead, go for something more specific and relevant to the step they’re taking, such as Get your free proposal.
It’s not clear what they’ll get access to or why they’d want to. Better would be to tell them what they’ll gain by getting access. For example: Streamline your projects now.
Take the survey
This sounds like a boring chore, with no clear benefit for the reader. It would be better to be more concrete and appeal to emotion. For example: Help others know what this place is like.
No one opens an email hoping to be pushed to spend money or do something laborious. So don’t use words that will make the reader feel pressured or like the task will take effort.
Avoid words and phrases like:
Instead, focus on the benefit and what the reader will gain or achieve – and with little effort! Try phrases like:
Sometimes being too quirky or whimsical with a call to action can turn people off. Make sure that when you’re writing a benefit-led CTA, you’re still accurately describing the action and not veering on the side of vague.
Here are some examples that could easily fall flat:
Overused words or phrases are dull and easy to overlook. However, it’s worth noting that sometimes these words could be just what’s needed if they perfectly describe what the reader should do.
Best practice is to use overused phrases, jargon and clichés sparingly and only if you think they’re the perfect match for the rest of your email content. If you can think of a more benefit-focused way to say it that’s still succinct, use that instead.
Here are a few overused and underwhelming CTAs:
A good email CTA is clear, concise and describes the benefit that the reader will gain from clicking and taking action.
Here are some real examples from businesses who’ve nailed their CTAs.
In this crowdfunding email, hosiery brand Hēdoïne makes it clear the benefit to the reader if they invest in the company and exactly how the process will work. Rather than using simply ‘Register here’ for the CTA, they added ‘& get priority access’. This not only tells the reader why they should register but also adds a sense of urgency.
It’s not just the CTA that should be trying to convince your reader to click your link(s), it’s the whole email.
From the subject line to the headings and the body copy, it should all work cohesively to build your message and keep your reader hooked. You can think of your subject line as the first CTA in your email – after all, it’s the reason a reader will either click to read or send to trash.
This email from fashion brand Reformation is a good example of this. Its overall theme is items coming back into stock, with the extended metaphor of being ‘back on the market’ after a romantic breakup. The CTAs throughout the email support this theme, giving gentle and humorous nudges to click. And, being from a fashion brand, the images of clothes in the email are as important as the words.
To be effective, an email should have one primary purpose.
Sometimes, you’ll need to include multiple CTAs for different actions, such as in a newsletter with links to different blog posts and resources. But generally, try to avoid overwhelming the reader with options.
This email from Moz (an SEO platform) is a great example of keeping it short, sweet and focused in a CTA. Note how the email copy has already built up the case for clicking the button and exploring their tool Moz Pro. The word ‘Explore’ offers a low pressure way to move ahead.
In a crowded inbox where people are short on time, it’s reasonable to assume a reader will skim your email, not read every word. So it’s important to think about how you’re going to make your CTA really stand out and attract those clicks.
Here are a few content and design ideas to try.
If your email is visual and you’re using different content blocks, it’s a good idea to add a few CTAs throughout the email – perhaps two or three. This helps lead the eye through and also means that if someone is only skim-reading, they’re still likely to spot your CTA.
It’s good to include a CTA ‘above the fold’ – that is, in the space visible before you have to scroll down to see the rest of the content. Doing this means your first CTA is in the reader’s eyeline when they open the email and makes the email’s purpose clear.
Closing your email with a final CTA means you will have a strong sign-off at the point where a reader should be ready to click.
This image shows how content blocks in an email can be arranged with CTAs throughout:
Using the same or similar language on every CTA throughout your email helps reinforce the action you want the reader to take (and why). It also helps them to absorb the message when they’re scanning through.
Writing the action in the body copy and repeating it on the CTA button is a good idea too, like this example:
When you’re designing your button, use a contrasting colour so the CTA stands out against the background. This can mean having a white button on a dark background (or vice versa), like in this email from financial app Plum.
Make your CTA bigger than the surrounding text and leave space around it to create focus and make it easy to spot. This is a great example from the School of Life:
Pro tip: Make sure your CTAs are accessible for those using screen readers. The tips above will all help, but to make sure you understand what makes a CTA accessible, try this article from The Bureau of Internet Accessibility.
Button CTAs and text-link CTAs are both great ways to encourage clicks. And an email might include both types. Generally, a text link is useful for inserting a link within the context of longer-form prose, whereas a button CTA stands alone.
You’ve seen a few already, but here’s a quick reminder of a button CTA:
And here’s a text-link CTA:
There are no hard-and-fast rules about when to use either type of CTA in an email.
However, a text link is more useful when your email includes a lot of running text, and you’re confident the reader will read the prose and get to the text link.
A button is more effective if you think the reader will be scanning through the email and you want to pull their attention to the CTA.
To understand the individual use cases, here are the pros and cons for each:
– Attention grabbing and visible
– The button design means you can separate the CTA from the rest of your email
– Direct, clear and concise
– Can take the attention away from other parts of your email
– You have less space to describe the benefit
– Can be seen as ‘salesy’
– You can fully describe the benefit of clicking the link with the text
– You can include the CTA within the flow and body copy of your email naturally
– Great in longer-form emails
– Too many words can overwhelm the reader
– Less visible
– Less useful if your email is more graphic and visual
One of the main benefits of a text-link CTA is that you have more room to include a reason to click the link. For example:
Here’s another great real-life example showing the link in the flow of text, from newsletter The Goods. The text link directs the reader to a blog article and describes what it’s about in a compelling way:
Here’s a less effective example of using text links. Even though there’s space to list the benefits and make the text compelling, I’m given no clear reason to click the links.
This email could be more effective by:
We’ve covered a lot of best practice already. But to write a truly irresistible CTA, it’s essential to focus on the audience and what motivates them.
Think about when, where and how they’ll be receiving this email. How might they be feeling? What else is going on for them? What do they care about? All this will help you identify what might motivate them to engage with you.
Here are a few in-depth tips for writing CTAs for maximum click-through.
As with most writing, creating a great CTA has a lot to do with empathy and putting yourself in your audience’s shoes.
Rather than focus on what message you’re trying to push out, think what kind of message they will want to receive. Understanding their challenges and motivations will help you work out what the benefit to them is, which will help you write a CTA that will resonate with them.
For example, say you’re writing an internal business email for your busy colleagues, and you want them to engage with a new piece of research about your sector. A simple direction to ‘Download the white paper’ probably won’t draw them in – especially when they have a to-do list as long as yours.
Instead, you could summarise the key points of the research in a bulleted list, giving them a bite-size version that they’re more likely to read. Try enticing them to want to know more with a cliffhanger or intriguing question that the paper can answer. And then, rather than use a button CTA, you can use a text link saying: ‘Reveal [how/why/what] in the complete research paper.’
There are a few different ways to approach writing a CTA. Think about what might be most appropriate in the context of your email.
You can echo a feeling: ‘I need help with my email marketing.’
You can show an actionable next step: ‘Show me my personalised proposal.’
You can be specific: ‘Start my first month for £7 now.’
Writing in the first person (using ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’) can work well if it fits with your organisation’s tone of voice. Doing this is particularly relevant in a B2C context where you don’t know the reader.
Using the first person and echoing a feeling can make a reader feel recognised and understood. Showing an actionable next step is useful for prompting action, and being specific is always key to being clear and expressing value.
The good, the bad and the clickable: how to write irresistible calls to action in your emails, via @EmphasisWriting Click To Tweet
If you’re writing a button CTA, remember to use simple action words that suggest the audience will get something in return for clicking, without having to give much in return. For example:
As we’ve said, if you’re writing a text-link CTA, you have space to use more words. The rules of thumb for the link text are:
It’s still best to keep text links as concise as you can: somewhere around 5–15 words is about right. Any more than that and the link becomes difficult to read.
An irresistible CTA is a well-timed one. If you ask for the right action at the right time, you’re more likely to get results. Ask for too much too soon and you risk losing your audience’s trust.
Think about when you’re sending your emails in terms of when the reader will read it and where they will be in their journey with you as a brand or employer.
Consider questions like these:
These questions can help you tailor your content so you send the right message at the right time.
To really make your CTA effective, test and learn. Monitor which emails have the best click-through rate and engagement, so you can learn how things land and do more of what works.
Here are a few tips for testing and optimising your CTAs.
You can set up tracking on your Google or Microsoft account, or you can use dedicated email software like Mailchimp and Hubspot.
These offer back-end data like open and click-through rates and how much time is spent viewing the email. This information will help you understand what’s working and what’s not.
If your software provides it, you can use A/B testing to see which version of an email gets better results. But if you try to monitor too many things at once, you will end up with too many variables to draw any useful conclusions.
Some of the things you can measure in your tests are opens, clicks and engagement (in terms of time spent reading).
But note that open rate measures are often not entirely accurate, so take those results with a pinch of salt.
If you’re testing out alternative CTAs, try to keep the variables in the rest of your email to a minimum. For example, don’t experiment with different body copy and different CTAs at the same time.
What better way to find out what your readers like and don’t like than by asking them? Speak to trusted clients and send out surveys asking for opinions on your emails. You can ask directly whether they prefer certain types of CTA over others.
In a corporate environment – or even within an organisation like a university or charity – emails with CTAs can be roughly divided into two main categories: marketing and internal communications. There’s plenty of crossover in intention and technique though.
You may not feel that you’re really ‘marketing’ a product, especially if you mostly share valuable and engaging content rather than directly invite people to buy anything. But any external communications are all part of your brand identity and feed into marketing and positioning your ‘brand’. Sending an email newsletter is a great example.
But your internal emails can actually do a similar job. They’re an important part of the company culture and vital for knowledge sharing. And there can be plenty of occasions where you need to persuade your colleagues to take action – to read an update, give feedback, fill in a survey or sign up to a course.
So, with both external and internal emails, take the same approach: think about your purpose, the benefit for the reader and a CTA that will express it. This will help all your emails be more effective.
Whether you’re pointing people to a new article or directly marketing a product, you’ll be asking your reader to take some sort of action in the email.
Newsletters are a great way to share what you’ve been up to as a company or your latest blog posts.
Newsletters usually won’t include a click-through to buy anything. But they’re key for solidifying your brand, staying front of mind and expressing your thinking or expertise. Generally, a newsletter will include links to a few different resources and articles, each with their own short description and CTA.
This example from content studio Storythings’ weekly newsletter is a great example of how to use CTAs in this context. They use text links in the title of the stories they’re sharing with a short description of why they’re sharing this content and why they found it interesting. Simple and effective!
If the email is focused on a product or discounts and offers, then a good CTA is one that makes it simple and natural for the reader to click and buy.
This marketing email from Patch Plants is a brilliant example of how to pepper different CTAs throughout, using a clean button style and clear language relating to each product.
Note how they don’t say ‘Buy’ and instead say ‘Pick a plant’ to make the task seem less about spending money, and more about choice, discovery and browsing. Even their use of ‘Shop’ is tied to the creative activity of propagating a plant rather than simple consumerism.
Community-centric emails generally aim to encourage people to engage and get involved.
Internal company emails – like those sent by communications or learning and development teams – often share updates and resources, tell people about upcoming training, or request feedback afterwards.
As ever, aim to bring out the benefits of taking the action in your email content and CTA. What will the reader gain from reading the article you link to? What useful skills will they build if they have the training? Put these words in the call to action.
And, where you can, make tasks sound easy. If you need them to fill in a feedback form, ‘Start the 2-minute survey’ will probably do better than ‘Complete the form now’.
University alumni emails (while not strictly internal) are also usually about knowledge sharing and participation – as well as fundraising. You’ll be sharing content to keep alumni feeling connected to the university and engaged in what it’s doing. In time, you’ll want to invite them to events and (eventually) to donate.
As you craft your emails and CTAs, think about how you can appeal to emotion and a sense of nostalgia and community with all the friends and faculty members they met.
The human angle is often most powerful. Can you inspire them with the stories of their fellow graduates or projects the school is involved in? Can your CTAs hint at the effect their involvement or support will have for current students or the wider community?
With either audience, CTAs in emails that share information can (again) be less explicit and included as text links throughout. But where the reader needs to do something beyond just passively absorbing the email, button CTAs are especially useful.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve learned a lot about how to create a call to action that your audience can’t help but click. Hopefully, we’ve given you lots of ideas to try out.
So your call to action now is to go and get crafting that irresistible CTA for your next email. Have fun and good luck!
Interested in a tailored in-company course on writing better emails and CTAs? Drop us a line to arrange a chat with one of our team.
Image credit: Sunflower Light Pro / Shutterstock
Stephanie is a senior content consultant who advises clients on all areas of their digital content – from social media and influencers to big creative campaigns. Her background is in social media and marketing, having previously been head of marketing for fashion brand American Apparel, as well as working for start-up social media app HeyHub.
Stephanie shares her expertise in making an impact online as a guest author on the Emphasis blog.
Posted by: Stephanie Joy Hubbard
24 / 05 / 21
We each have one voice – but many tones. A voice is the unwavering style in which we speak, it’s our personality. But our tone changes depending on the situation we’re in. For example, our tone will be different when we’re talking to a child than when we’re talking to an adult. This is as […]
21 / 04 / 21
Here’s a no-nonsense, manageable guide to creating a social media strategy to support your business goals. Whether you’re just getting started with your organisation’s social media activity or you want to reinvigorate your efforts, you need to start with a clear strategy. We may tend to think of a strategy as a very clever, […]
Advice and tips (178)
Choose your words wisely (46)
Bids and tenders (27)
Plain English (26)
Language abuse (22)
60-second fix (21)
Psychology and linguistics (21)
Report writing (21)
Reader-centred writing (19)
Online and social media (16)
Technical writing (13)
News from Emphasis (13)
Presentations and speeches (13)
Customer relations (12)
International issues (11)
Letters and CVs (10)
Numbers and finance (9)
Design and formatting (9)
Courses for companies (8)
Literacy and education (5)
Writing news stories (5)
Legal writing (4)
Social media (4)
Development of English (4)
Style guide (4)
Pitches and proposals (3)
PDF downloads (3)
Writing for media (3)
Live chat (2)
Learning and development (2)
Conferences and exhibitions (2)
Book reviews (1)
Policies and procedures (1)
Internal communication (1)