Beyond ‘click here:’ 4 rules for better email CTAs
Getting straight to the point: “send” and “click here” are ineffective calls-to-action (CTAs) for your email campaigns. (I’ll explain why a few paragraphs down.)
If you need help with CTA examples to test out, language models like ChatGPT or Google’s Bard can be your best new copywriting tools. But you still need to get the pump pumping with a well-written prompt that recognizes the values of a good CTA.
If you don’t structure your request effectively, you’ll end up with variations of “send” and “click here.” You are still at the beginning.
Case in point: I asked ChatGPT to send me 10 email calls-to-action of five words or less each for a Mother’s Day campaign that aims to address emotions. I’ll spare you the results, except that each one contained “click here”.
The way to effective CTAs
Developing a better CTA starts with understanding what a call-to-action means and why finding a good call-to-action often fails.
A call to action is like a Regarding. There is an art to writing a text that convinces your readers to do what you want them to do. And just like subject lines, they’re often one of the last things on the campaign creation to-do list, and there’s little thought or creativity left to create a standout request.
An effective call to action tells your customers what will happen if they click. It’s one of the reasons “click here” is a terrible CTA.
Yes, you want them to click. But we no longer have to tell them to do it. They already figured that out. “Click Here” focuses on the process of clicking, not the outcome or benefit.
So instead of stating the obvious, tell them what happens when they click and, subtly or not so subtly, what benefit they get from clicking.
Remember, your email is only the first step to a conversion. Your goal is to get customers to visit your website, where the conversion takes place. This is why the call to action is so important. It’s not the only marketing copy in the message, but it’s the nerve center where the action takes place.
Dig deeper: The Art of Natural Funneling: How to Lead Your Readers Without Forced CTAs
4 rules for better calls to action
1. Focus on the relevant next step
This tells customers what happens when they click on your website and gives clues as to why they should take the next step. “Download White Paper” is better than “Click Here” but only marginally. What will they learn when they receive your white paper? “Streamline your operations” might resonate more with clients who are pressed for time.
Ditto for “read more” or “learn more,” popular CTAs for publishers and content marketers who send out newsletters with article snippets that lead to the full version on the site.
They’re not terrible, but they don’t deliver the “wow” that drives a casual reader to action. Look for ways to make your reader want to read more.
2. Experiment with different content styles
Can a CTA be too long? Too short? It’s about writing a meaningful, attention-grabbing CTA with a on-brand voice that tells the customer the next step along the journey to conversion while subtly conveying why they should do so.
So it’s okay to deviate from the script at times. Use what you know about your customers to create an effective letter.
Consider these two suggestions:
Use sequential CTAs. Who says you can only have one CTA per email message? You can use an action-oriented CTA and a benefit-oriented CTA. Or let one CTA flow into the next. This offloads a single CTA and allows you to be even more compelling without making readers read more.
Include an explanatory copy or supporting statements with the CTA. This can reinforce your CTA if your template or button style limits you to a certain number of characters or words. Your text could ask a question and your CTA could answer it.
Email on Acid took up this example nicely in a recent newsletter. The synopsis of a featured blog post reads: “Okay, so your email lands on Gmail’s Promotions tab. But is it really? The bad?” The CTA below says, “Let’s find out.”
A traditional rule of thumb for a CTA is that they should complete this sentence with, “I want…” This still holds true, although you’ll need to experiment a bit to make sure it doesn’t sound fake or artificial.
Should your CTA include a verb? Yes, but this is another copywriting rule that isn’t absolute. The verb can be understood. Or you could skip it if you can replace it with a clever alternative.
3. Be careful what you ask for
Email CTAs are different than what you use on your website because email is a push channel. You can forward the messages to your customers without having to wait for them to find you. But that also means they may be at the top of the purchase funnel and not as ready to buy as they could be if they had come to your site through search.
Email is usually the beginning of your journey. It plants the seeds or creates or amplifies a desire. That’s why you need to be careful not to include over-the-top requests like “buy now” in your email. This is likely to put off customers who have to read the fine print, browse all available options, and compare prices from different providers before committing.
Give your customer something to expect, for example, “Discover your best new style.” This invites action, offers a benefit, and is prefixed with a verb—those sexy action words that grab our attention.
You can switch to a variant of Buy Now after your customers click on your landing page. You’ve qualified yourself as a prospect, so you’re already further down the buying funnel. After reading your well-written product training, it makes more sense to ask directly for acceptance.
4. Talk to a person, not an audience
The best CTAs sound like you’re asking a friend for a favor. Would you give someone a book and say, “Learn more?”
This is especially important if you work in B2B, where the “B” in B2B often stands for “boring”. In B2C emails, it’s easy to visualize the customers we’re talking to. B2B emails, where the human connection can feel more fragile, often sound more “institution to institution”.
But you’re not sending an email to a company. You’re speaking to people who requested your email and have needs or challenges that you can help with. Target them with a CTA that can motivate them. Even if they aren’t the decision makers, they are probably influencers.
CTA examples to learn
Who gives a shit: “Where can I buy TP?”
That’s the real name of a consumer brand that supplies bamboo toilet paper and regularly wins CTA games. Her emails are a pleasure to read – well crafted, totally serious yet entertaining, regardless of the wonders of proper toileting. You need carefully designed licenses with the rules for CTAs. This one is much more interesting than Find a Business.
Chipotle: “Order and Earn”
Chipotle quick service restaurant brand uses email to drive online orders, increase engagement with brand storytelling, and promote its rewards program. This CTA in an email promoting a new product accomplishes two things: encouraging customers to place an order and reminding them that they’ll be rewarded for doing so.
McDonald’s UK: “Sign up and get more”, “Get it from our app”, “Unblock it from our app”
Many emails from McDonald’s UK promote their mobile app. This set of consecutive emails is from an email campaign urging non-users to download, install and order the app. The first CTA focuses on the benefits, while the follow-up CTAs show customers their benefits of using the app.
Pitch: “Start with this template”
I love this CTA because it’s a prime example of prompting your customer to take the next step while also explaining the value of that next step. This B2B brand leads to the CTA, with the text emphasizing the benefits: the templates are free, have a minimalist design, and help users “craft the perfect pitch faster than ever.” The CTA is the logical next step.
eMarketer: “Read more about Apple’s impact on the market”
Like other publications, eMarketer’s newsletters are based around CTA buttons that say “Read More” and “Download Now,” but occasionally they’re replaced with a text link that gives you a reason to click, like this one. This style can provide you with additional interaction options if you can’t shake the “read more / learn more” format.
When my team and I are working on email campaigns for our clients or publishing our twice-monthly newsletter for email marketers, we spend a lot of time working on the calls-to-action.
Our newsletter is a kind of laboratory for us as we focus on building our brand and getting our readers to read the full versions of the news we’ve selected to keep them up to date on the latest news and trends in email marketing to keep up to date. We often use sequential CTAs to get readers to click, express our brand’s voice, and generate interest.
For a newsletter sent out just before Christmas, we used a series of three CTAs, each relevant to the accompanying article summary but collectively lending a playful holiday vibe:
- “Building a List” – About a list of email experts to follow
- “Check twice” – About trend predictions
- “So there was a rattle” – About an article by fellow MarTech Ryan Phelan discussing “earth-shattering kabooms.”
Yes, they’re violating the call-to-action rules I mentioned earlier. But in context they make sense.
Test CTAs: Take a holistic approach
Your CTA should work with all elements of your email message to have the greatest impact and get your customers to click. This is another reason why “Shop now” or “Read more” are less effective. They’re costing you an opportunity to amplify your message, even if it’s subtle.
Your email platform likely includes a simple A/B split testing platform or module that compares one element against another. That might give you some insight, but you’ll learn more by testing two campaign variations. For example, one might focus on cost savings and the other on urgency. Your CTA should change to reflect the focus of the campaign.
Get MarTech! Daily. Free. In your inbox.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of MarTech. Staff authors are listed Here.