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The Importance of Your Call to Action

March 29, 2011

For email to succeed as a form of communication, your recipient quickly needs to know exactly why you are sending them an email and this reason why should take them to a clear call to action.   

Sounds obvious, but surprisingly enough, many email marketers pay least attention to their call to action, as they are so busy concentrating on their design template and in creating engaging content that their call to action can very easily become an afterthought, which usually ends up as “Click Here”.  

Moving beyond Click Here

 “Click here” is something we all understand. It's clear, concise, universally understood and easy for the reader to visualise the physical action you want them to take, because it’s far easier than saying “Please click your mouse button on this link so that you will jump from this email to the specially designed landing page we have created for you at our website.”

The click is also the basic unit for measuring the click-through rate (CTR) a common measure of success for an email marketing campaign.

However, this “one size fits all” command doesn’t always serve the needs of the call to action, which really needs a custom fit to suit the sender, the recipient and the end result. Sometimes “click here” might appear to demand a greater commitment than your customer is willing to make at an early stage in the conversation. For example: “Learn more” might actually more closely reflect what’s going on in their head.You should try to vary your call to action wording to reflect where in the sales cycle your customers are likely to be. 

Another big problem with continually using “click here” as your main call to action is simply that it’s repetitive and boring! Plus, it falls short as a call to action, because it doesn’t tell the subscriber “why” they would want to “Click Here”. 
Nor does it answer that universal question all readers have that drives so many actions: “What’s in it for me?”

Writing your Call to Action

Never forget that your recipient is only interested in “what’s in it for me”. Ignore this at your peril! 

Good sales copy should always focus on the benefits to your recipient to keep them engaged in your mailing. Once you have them interested in how you are going to make their life better, then it becomes your job to give them an opportunity to act on their need.   
If you just describe a bunch of features, without relating why someone would want those features then you leave people wondering why they should care.   So, if you do not make it clear in your email, exactly what you are trying to get your recipient to do after you have got them to read your message, then you are walking away from the conversation, without letting them know what you want from them, which is a wasted opportunity.  

Have you ever listened to someone talk about themselves for hours and wondered what they want from you?   In the end, you tune them out and do your best to look interested (if you are polite) or you look for the easiest escape route.   There may be compelling things that they have to offer you, but you’ve already tuned them out as being arrogant or self absorbed.  

In a standard email message, you don’t have a lot of space to tell people “why” they should click a link and so your call to action phrase will need to compel the reader to click the link to find out “what’s in it for me”.

Minimise any distractions or non-essential content from your email, stay concise and to the point.  You have a limited amount of space and if you have a lot to say in your email, it’s better to display a link to a web site that contains the full content of your message.  For example, use a snippet of text with a link to “read more”.  

The subject line and headlines that you use need to provide your recipient with more clues about the purpose of your email.   As many people simply skim through emails without actually reading them, you need to keep your message clear by using short blocks of texts, bullet points, a subject line that relates to the purpose of your email, and headlines that form complete sentences.    Content that is heavy and long in copy often backfires because the call to action/purpose of the email gets buried. 

In addition don't be afraid to introduce a sense of urgency to your call to action if it's applicable.  You can encourage your subscribers to respond immediately by letting them know if there are any limitations or restrictions or by using action phrases.  For example if you had limited spaces available on an event you were running you could use, "Spaces are limited, to avoid disappointment book your place now".  This call to action is clear and shows the recipient exactly what they need to do and why.

Designing your Call to Action

You should only promote one call to action. Don’t try to offer both a whitepaper and a webinar in the same email, because the result will be disappointing response rates for both.

A simple layout makes it easy for recipients to respond to your call to action.   Be realistic and clear about the actions that you want your email message to inspire, as this will help direct you to design an effective call to action. Do not limit yourself to text alone.  A call to action can also include images, brand names, and logos. 

If you do use images, then add supporting text under the image and in the “alt” tag so that your reader will know what to do if images are disabled.   A lot of email clients have images disabled by default so using “alt” tag will give the subscriber a place to go even if they do not download images on their email client.

When using text for your call to action, a simple way of catching your subscriber’s attention is to use a larger font or use boldface action words, key phrases and anything else that can drive the reader’s eye down to the official call to action. Boldface does make scanning much easier, but use in moderation and also avoid using massive font, capitalisation or punctuation excessively, as this can get you caught in spam filters!

Use white space to offset or highlight the call to action and if the action at the end of an article is simply to read the full story; use a hard return, indent to make it easy to see exactly where the call to action is.

Spreading your Call to Action Around

Obviously, the call to action must be a clickable link, but that cannot be the only path to your landing page. Giving your customers more options will increase your total click through rate. You should never hesitate to move your call to action up in the mailing or use multiple calls to action throughout your email.  

The most obvious place to place your call to action is at the end of the email after the conversation you are having with your recipient; in much the same way as you might give out a business card at the close of a conversation.   However, that is not the only way of being clear and direct with your recipient.  Why not have a call to action at the top, the middle, and the end.  It could be the header of your email, the images they see inside the mailing, headlines, or text within the body of the email.   Make headlines informative and action-oriented, so that they can perform this double duty.

Match the Call to Action to your Landing Page

A landing page gives you the opportunity to present additional information that you couldn’t fit in your email. Writing email and landing pages together ensures that you have a consistent message, which is driven by the call to action. Marketers whose email message generates a product or service should match the call to action to the landing page where the email link will send clickers.

For example: a retailer’s call to action email message may tell the customer, “Buy now!” However, the buying process may not start immediately when the reader clicks through to the landing page. Instead, the link you provide takes the customer to a product page for more information: product descriptions, pricing, image shots, discounts etc.

For example: if you have a page of images showing different varieties of the same product, the call could invite people this way: “See all 20 colours here.” Or, if you simply must include the word “click” “Click to see all 20 vibrant colours.”


Following best practice can help you to create a stronger call to action, but it is always important to remember the golden rule in email marketing: test, test and test again!  Different areas of your database may respond better to a certain style of call to action.  By doing both, you can set yourself on the to more successful email marketing.
If you would like to discuss your email marketing strategy or requirements, please call 0161 817 2929 or email [email protected] We're here to help!

Posted by Jenni Malley

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