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How to create powerful email CTAs that actually work

Reading Time: 7 minutes

In email marketing, every email should serve a purpose. There’s always something you want the recipient to do after reading the content. For ecommerce businesses, that typically involves getting shoppers to visit your online store, use a promo, or sign up for an exclusive offer. 

But you can’t just leave your recipients to decide on what to do after reading your message. If you want your email campaigns to truly succeed, you need to use a call to action, or email CTA, to lead your readers in the right direction.

In this article, you’ll learn what a call to action is in an email, how they work, and why they’re effective. You’ll also see several good examples of real-life email CTAs that work, and get a few bonus tips on crafting your own CTAs for your business.

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What is a call to action (CTA) in an email?

A call to action is a statement that convinces people to take a specific action, like buying a product or signing up for a service. It must be concise and direct enough to influence your reader’s next step. 

In emails, these statements appear as distinct buttons or hypertext links. Readers that click on them are led to a page that enables them to complete the action you want them to take.

Check this short video about email CTAs:

How does email CTA work?

Unlike transactional emails, marketing emails are only effective if recipients eventually end up completing a purchase. They will do just that if faced with a compelling call to action.

Email CTAs work by telling people what to do next. They are strategically placed where readers would typically ask “What now?” These buttons or links answer that question directly. Most importantly, they encourage your readers to quickly act on what your email content has convinced them to do.

For example, consider that your goal for your email marketing campaign is to drive sales for a specific product. Your email copy should describe the product and the benefits of owning it. You might even include testimonials from previous customers. But what will drive customers to action is your CTA button, which might say “Order now,” “Yes, I want one!,” or ”Buy at 20% off.” 

When clicked, the button leads them to the product page where they can quickly add it to their cart and check out. Without this CTA, readers will be left to decide what to do next, and it probably won’t involve visiting your site to complete a purchase.

However, going overboard with CTAs is generally not a successful strategy: Our analysis of 229 million emails conducted during the Black Friday-Cyber Monday (BCFM) period shows that emails with 2-3 CTAs show the best click rates, while emails with more than 3 CTAs have lower click rates.

Number of CTAs vs Click rates

Here’s another quick tip: don’t overcomplicate your CTA copy. According to our data, using the classic “shop now” is both the most popular and has one of the best click rates (2.23%):

CTA button text vs Click rates

Call to Action phrases

Calls to action need to be clear and compelling, especially in ecommerce marketing where the right CTA can be the main driver of revenue. 

Here are a few different types of CTAs and examples of phrases that get clicked:

Email CTAs to encourage product purchase

  • Shop now
  • Order now, get 50% off
  • Buy it now
  • Add to cart now
  • Yes! I want one

Email CTAs to encourage shopping

  • Shop our bestsellers
  • Get the style you want
  • Check the new collection
  • View personalized recommendations
  • Shop my style

Email CTAs for customer feedback

  • Take the survey
  • Leave a review
  • Complete a 2-minute survey
  • Let us know how we did
  • Yes, I’ll share my experience

Email CTAs for exclusive offers

  • Shop at 30% off
  • Get free shipping
  • Reveal my mystery coupon
  • Claim my birthday gift

Email CTAs for the holidays

  • Shop holiday deals
  • Save on Christmas gifts
  • Shop Santa’s best-sellers
  • Get your gifts in time
  • Gift now
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Call to Action examples

Here are a few email CTA examples from real-life brands to inspire you as you write your call to action phrases for your next campaign:

This call to action example from reMarkable emphasizes a limited-time offer and then leads your eyes to the CTA button in red. But what makes the call to action even more effective is that it reiterates the urgency of buying today.

Dollar Shave Club also plays on urgency very well. In this Father’s Day email campaign, the company targets people that may have forgotten to get gifts for the fathers in their lives and the brand offers a way to save the day.

Rather than urgency, this email from Molekule emphasizes a discount:

The discount is mentioned in the copy and repeated in the call to action. Email CTA examples like this are particularly useful for browse or cart abandonment emails. They are also effective for incentivizing a subscriber’s first purchase. Check out how Felina used the same email marketing CTA strategy for their campaign: also shows their proficiency in CTA email marketing. Check out what they did in this email:

Here’s the deal > Get the deal. The path is quick and easy for the reader. For anyone that might stray from the direct path, another call to action (“Check out the link below”) is there to provide direction.

Concision also helps when asking for product reviews. In the example below, Casper asks a subscriber to review a recent purchase. The primary question appears in large blue text and then your eyes are immediately drawn to the blue button with the CTA phrase. 

ReelGood uses the same style for streaming recommendations. Check out this email where they provide a preview of personalized recommendations and then a large CTA button that readers can click to see more.

Brooks handles their email CTAs differently. Instead of placing their email call to action on a button, they make it the largest and most eye-catching part of their email. Check out this email that doubles as a quiz that will enable the brand to offer personalized product recommendations:

In some cases, a letter from the brand is more effective than creative emails. This was the case for Product Board when they announced a new round of funding to their subscribers. Here’s the email they sent out:

Ignoring the mistakes in character encoding is a clever example of using P.S. in your emails. You’ll notice that the big blue button calls you to Learn more. But the most valuable CTA in this email actually appears as a postscript that promotes a free trial of their system.

Unsurprisingly, Cards Against Humanity treats email CTAs a little differently. For a Black Friday Event, they posted a series of miscellaneous challenges. Participants that completed any challenge were given $5 (or more for more tasks). To encourage email subscribers to join, they sent this colorful yet incredibly straightforward email:

Wouldn’t you want $5 if all you needed to do was to click a big yellow button? Of course you’d click it! Now imagine how well this email would work with the same copy but without the CTA button. 

If you ask “Who wants $5?” but don’t give your readers a clear way to get it, they’re not likely to figure it out on their own by poring over your social media accounts or combing through your website.

Additional tips for effective CTAs

  • Find the most strategic location. Always place your CTA where your reader will already be convinced and ready to take the next step.
  • Appeal to your audience’s FOMO. Use words that incite a sense of urgency and let your readers feel they’ll miss out on a good deal if they don’t act fast (e.g., Shop 20% off today only).
  • Highlight your brand’s USP. If your values are a huge part of your brand identity and marketing messaging, use them to drive your subscribers to action (e.g., “Order now to help the whales”).
  • Make it relatable. Consider using first-person phrasing to make your CTAs more compelling (e.g., “Claim my free gift”). This makes your CTA clearer and more relatable to the reader. It also gives them the feeling of control. 
  • Test and improve. Experiment with different types of CTAs and use A/B testing methods to identify what works best for your audience. A good email marketing software should help you perform systematic split testing and segment your customers for optimal conversions.

Wrap up

How you craft your email call-to-action directly affects how effective your campaign will be. To write a good email CTA, use language that’s relevant to your brand and the action you want your reader to take. Use actionable words and be direct. Don’t leave your reader questioning what to do next. Command them. But do so in a non-standoffish way.

Once you’ve mastered how to write call-to-action phrases that spur your readers to action, your email campaigns will drive much more revenue and pave the way for sustainable growth.

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Bernard Meyer
Article by
Bernard Meyer

Bernard is the Director of Content at Omnisend, with a passion for good research, helping ecommerce businesses with their marketing automation needs, and beating absolutely everyone in Mario Kart 64.

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