Create a high-performing email CTA

Profile photo of author Phil Weltman
Phil Weltman
8min read
Owned marketing
December 12th 2017
Overhead view of an employee wearing a suit and typing on a laptop at a wooden table.

One of the core ways that emails convert is through the use of a call to action (CTA). Having a CTA is a tactic to get your subscriber to take a desired action.

But it’s not enough to simply insert a “Buy Now” button into your email and hang up your cleats. The design of an email CTA can have an enormous impact on the email marketing efforts of your email strategy.

In today’s post, we’ll show you the 5 building blocks that go into creating a killer email CTA. You’ll learn:

  1. Types (button, text-link, or image-link)
  2. Language (what words you should use)
  3. Placement (where it is in your email)
  4. Number (how many there should be)
  5. Color (what colors you should use)

Let’s start with the different types of CTAs.

1. Different types of CTAs in emails

When it comes to designing your email CTA, you may automatically default to adding a button to the bottom of your email. There’s nothing wrong with this. Buttons are great because they’re eye-catching and clean. You can make them as big or as small as you want and can add text to the button to let your subscriber know what they’re clicking. Although that’s a viable option, there are a couple more options to consider when designing your CTA.

  • Add hyperlinked text: The problem with these is that they sometimes get lost in the email. Research shows that the majority of people scan the text in emails, meaning that a text-link CTA might run the risk of going unnoticed.
  • Use an image-link: Turning an image into a clickable button. There are pros and cons to doing this. A pro is that it looks nice and you can customize for just the right look. A con (and a big one), is that up to 60% of recipients block images in their emails.

Logic dictates that buttons would get more clicks than simple hyperlinked text or images. But it depends on your audience, the context, and how often you use them. So take time to test what works best for your audience.

2. Use appropriate CTA language

While the type of CTA helps draw the reader’s eye, the language is what convinces the reader to click on the CTA. And one thing you don’t want to do when creating a CTA is to confuse the reader.

“Clarity is key,” says Wes Marsh, DigitalUS. “Ensuring that your user knows what to do, why they should do it, and what happens when they interact with your CTA is crucial. Having clear understandings and ensuring your reader can feel that you do understand will drastically help your CTAs. Honestly, it’s far more important than trying to use persuasive text.”

A few great examples include:

  • Encourage a purchase (shop now, save today)
  • Engage with content (read more, learn more)
  • Increasing event registrants (register now, book)
  • Contribute feedback (take survey)

The goal here to be as clear as possible. Rely on the message of your email to showcase the benefit of what you want them to do, then include a button to allow them to take the desired action.

3. Determine the ideal CTA placement

Where’s the best place to put your CTA? Some say that your CTA should be “above the fold,” which means it’s positioned in the top half of the email. Others say placing the CTA at the end of the email is the best option.

What do I say? I say it depends on the copy. If the subscriber can quickly determine what the email is about, then placing the CTA above the fold might make the most sense. If your offer requires a little context, put the CTA at the end of the email. And if you’re looking to run a test, try using both.

The key here is to make sure your reader can clearly see what you want them to do without getting distracted and try some A/B testing within your emails to get some data behind your decisions.

Some other quick tips when determining the placement of your CTA:

  • Include plenty of white space around the CTA
  • Make it bold and prominent
  • Don’t make it too small or too big

4. Identify the number of CTAs

Don’t use too many CTAs in one email. Why? According to WordStream, emails with a single CTA increased clicks 371% and sales 1617%.

Marissa Jimenez from Hawke Media sums it up perfectly: “It’s not about the quantity of CTAs, it’s about the relevancy and how compelling you can make the action.”

CTAs are meant to stand out and direct readers to one desired course of action. If there are too many buttons shouting at them, then suddenly nothing stands out, leaving the subscriber confused. And do you think a confused subscriber is going to click on your CTA? I don’t think so.

Having said that, the best way to go (but not always) would be to have one strong CTA per email. If you decide to use two or three, make sure they’re consistent, clear, and distinct.

5. What will be the color of the CTA

There’s no doubt that color can have a profound effect on people. For example, red has been shown to raise blood pressure while blue has been shown to decrease it. Why? No idea.

But what does this mean for your CTAs and what’s the best color? Well, it’s hard to say. It really depends on a number of variables including your brand, your audience, and the surrounding design of your email.

Much like CTA placement, the color of your CTA should pop. Any color change that increases the visibility of your CTA will help increase conversions. If you have a light blue background, don’t use a dark blue button. This will cause your CTA to blend and make it difficult for the reader to locate the button.

The other factor to consider is the overall color scheme of your email. If one color dominates your email, and that color is also being used for your call-to-action, it won’t stand out. To make your CTA really stand out, choose a contrasting color.

Finally, don’t confuse the reader with too many different colored CTAs. Keeping your CTA consistent within your email will give you reader an idea of what they can click on and what they can’t.

Real-life examples from email campaigns

If you’re like me, you prefer visual examples to help you better understand what goes into creating a killer CTA. Here are 3 CTA examples:

Example 1: Boden

Boden does a great job here. It’s a very creative email with a single CTA right at the bottom. The only thing I would change would be to make the button pop a little more. I might miss the button and attempt to click on the camera instead.

Example 2: West Elm

I don’t hate this email but I also don’t love it. The orange and red clash a little and there are a lot of CTAs. Do they want me to click on Shop Now or on the category I’m interested in? It’s confusing and a tad overwhelming.

Example 3: TOMS

This was one of my favorite emails. Not only is it very visually appealing, but it also lets me know exactly what they want me to do. Although it has 2 CTAs, they work perfectly with each other and stand out. There is a lot of contrast with the green buttons on lighter backgrounds which causes my eyes to levitate towards them. Well done.

Final words

The more people that click on your CTA’s, the more conversions and sales you’re going to get. Makes sense, right?

So take the time to create a great one. To review, here are the 5 building blocks to creating a great CTA:

  1. Type: Logically buttons makes the most sense. Although that works for most ecommerce stores, it might not work for all. Take time to test the different types.
  2. Language: Be clear as possible. Tell your reader what you want them to do.
  3. Placement: The key here is to make sure your reader can clearly see what you want them to do without getting distracted.
  4. Number: Stick to one strong CTA. If you decide to use 2-3, make sure they compliment each other.
  5. Color: Make sure they pop.

Although there are a number of best practices when creating a CTA, what works for some ecommerce stores might not work for others. That’s why you should be testing everything you do. While some people might prefer buttons, others might like text-linked CTAs. You’ll never know if you don’t test.

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Phil Weltman
Phil Weltman
Phil was formerly on the marketing team at Klaviyo. Prior to marketing, Phil spent a year on the growth team helping lead the charge to build a digital marketing platform for nonprofits and fundraising organizations.