Email Best Practices for Small Businesses Series: Use One Clear Call to Action

Email Best Practices for Small Businesses Series: Use One Clear Call to Action

By Nathan Rich

This is the fourth post in our ongoing Email Best Practices series. In our previous posts we covered Easy Reading Is Key, Use Natural Language and Successful Emails Focus on Benefits Instead of Features. Today we will cover Calls To Action (CTA) in emails and some tips on how to use them effectively.

Let’s start with the basics; a call to action is simply the language you use to drive the reader to take a specific action. You are “calling” on your audience to take “action” of some sort.

Email, from a marketing lead generation perspective, typically has one primary goal—compel someone to act. That is, “buy this product,” “read this case study,” “download this ebook,” etc. An effective email is typically short and to the point with the goal of continuing the conversation beyond the inbox. This is where the CTA comes in. If your email has hooked your reader’s attention, you want to motivate them to act by clearly telling them what to do next. The next steps can vary depending on the goal of your email. The CTA works together with strong copy and imagery. What are the steps to creating an effective CTA?

  1. Keep your CTA short and use active language
    You might be offering an e-book to help further educate your prospect on their buying journey or you could be linking to a product detail page on your website to move them through the buying cycle. In either case, be as short and clear with your next steps as possible. I recommend using three words or less (if possible) on your CTA button and a short, concise lead in sentence if you need. Make sure to use action words (Download, read, watch, etc). Avoid phrases like “click here” as they are removed from the ultimate action

    EX. Get a copy of our Estate Planning ebook
    [Download Now]


    Discover how ABC Widget can cut production time in half
    [Learn More]

  2. Clearly communicate what happens next
    Make sure the prospect knows what to expect next. If you are offering an ebook, ensure when they click the link that they are presented with a page where they can download the ebook (or fill out a form to receive the ebook). If you are discussing a certain feature of your widget, provide a link directly to the area of your website discussing that feature. If you link elsewhere on your site, you are adding a barrier to the expected content and hindering their action. The prospect did not find what they were looking for and will be less likely to interact with your content in your next email. Let them know what to expect and be certain to follow through.

  3. Use large, high-contrast buttons
    For effective CTAs, one big button works best. By big, I mean around 45px high. This height works well in desktop email, but also when reading emails on a mobile device. This is large enough to easily press with a finger.

    Also, make certain the button has enough contrast from the rest of the email to stand out. There is enough research on color theory and placement for a separate post, but for the sake of simplicity, create buttons that are clearly visible within the email.

  4. Focus on ONE call to action in an email
    You’ve got their attention, why not give them several CTAs in one email? Remember, the inbox is a very crowded, noisy space. Good emails cut through the noise with short, concise messages. Prospects have mere seconds to skim and determine if an email is worth their time. Focus on one thing; if you find there are several potential CTAs, consider breaking your messages into separate emails.

    The more actions you ask people to take actually drives more inaction because they aren’t clear as to what is most important. If they have to think too much, they hit the delete button or just move on to the next email.

    To be fair, there are ways to leverage multiple CTAs and there are situations where they work well (transactional B2C retail, for instance). But, for the most part, honing your message to one CTA will drive the best results.
Nathan Rich

About the author

Nathan Rich is the Creative Director for ECi Corporate Marketing and has more than 15 years’ experience in marketing and advertising. Outside of the office, Nathan can be found focusing on music (a major passion of his) or honing his video craft.

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