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Email Call to Action Best Practice Guide

Buy now. Sign up. Click here. Try for free. Subscribe. Calls to action are one of the most important aspects of any marketing email. You can create the most engaging email ever, with a stunning subject line, clever copy, and incredible imagery, but if you’re not prompting your subscribers to take further action, it will ultimately be of little value. 

The numbers don’t lie: emails with at least one call to action enjoy 371% more clicks and 1617% more sales[1]. In fact, calls to action are so important that, according to Wingify, nearly 30% of their A/B tests are for call to action (CTA) buttons[2]

Unfortunately, creating the perfect CTA is slightly more complicated than telling your customers to simply ‘click here’. So, to help you create awesome, high-performing CTAs, we’ve put together this helpful best practice guide for email calls to action. Covering best practice for both copy and design, our best practice guide is here to help your CTAs stand out! 



Personalisation has become increasingly important in email marketing. Emails with personalised subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened[3]. Personalised emails also enjoy 14% higher click-through rates and 10% higher conversions[3]. Calls to action aren’t exempt from this trend. 

In fact, according to an analysis of more than 330,000 CTAs by HubSpot, personalised CTAs have a 202% higher conversion rate than standard CTAs[4]. Their analysis concluded that ‘Smart CTAs’ have an average conversion rate of approximately 3.5%, compared to an average conversion rate of just over 1% for ‘Default CTAs’[4]

Personalised CTAs can include obvious things like the users’ first name, or more subtle factors like location or purchasing history. Either way, personalisation makes perfect! 

Use first person 

Speaking of personalisation, a simple switch from second person to first person can make a huge difference to the performance of your CTAs. According to a study by Unbounce, changing one word in your CTA from second person (i.e. ‘Start your free trial’) to first person (i.e. ‘Start my free trial’) can lead to a 90% increase in clicks[5]

A similar test by Instapage supports this, finding that a CTA which includes first person possessive determiners (‘End My Scheduling Hassles’) performed 24% better than a standard CTA (‘Try Schedulicity Free’)[6]

They’re called calls to action for a reason, so it makes sense to use active, first person copy. 

Reverse Psychology

Please don’t click this button. We sure would hate it if you clicked this button. While reverse psychology isn’t always the best CTA tactic, it can be effective if used appropriately. Rather than offering a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option, using reverse psychology in your CTAs forces users to think slightly harder. 

One successful example of this tactic comes from Neil Patel’s blog[7]. The CTA asks users ‘Do you want more traffic?’, to which they can either respond ‘Yes, I want more traffic’, or ‘No, I have enough traffic’. Obviously, there’s no such thing as enough web traffic, forcing any website owner to think twice before selecting this option. This particular experiment led to a 39% increase in clicks[8]

Using reverse psychology can be a tricky balancing act. It is important to not get so clever with your copy that you confuse or alienate users, or make your message unclear.

Patagonia have also successfully employed this technique. They created an advertising campaign that instructed users ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’, which lead to a 40% increase in sales[8].

The lesson? Definitely don’t use reverse psychology in your calls to action!


Crafting perfect CTA copy can be difficult. Too few words and you risk not getting your message across, too many words and you risk users losing interest. Most experts advise the sweet spot is between 2 and 5 words. CampaignMonitor says that “two or three words is best but no more than five or six”, while a study by HubSpot advises you should keep your CTAs between 90 and 150 characters[9]

According to a comprehensive analysis by Copy and Check, the average word count for a CTA is 2.68[10]. As such, while the ideal length of your CTA copy will vary depending on the action you are encouraging users to take, it’s typically best to keep CTA copy short, sweet, and to the point. 


If you want users to take action, it pays to tell them what action to take. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s crucial to use action oriented words to create a sense of urgency. That’s where verbs come in. Verbs are doing words, so make sure you actually tell users what to do! 

According to Copy and Check, 93.4% of CTAs include a verb, with the most common being ‘Learn’ (15.5%), ‘Get’ (11.9%), ‘Start’ (9.5%), Request (8.2%), and ‘Read’ (6.1%)[10]. Their analysis found that ‘Get’ and ‘Activate’ were the most effective verbs to include in a CTA, while vague instructions such as ‘Submit’, ‘Download’, or ‘Sign Up’ performed poorly. 

By using action-oriented phrasing that creates a sense of urgency, you can tap into users’ FOMO. Time-focussed phrases such as ‘today only’, ‘now’, and ‘don’t miss out’ are great for generating urgency. 

Quick, don’t miss out, create urgency in your CTAs today! 

Copy best practice summary: 

  • Personalise your CTAs for higher conversions
  • Use first person language in your CTA copy
  • Reverse psychology can be an effective tactic, but be careful not to overuse it 
  • Keep your CTAs short and sweet – ideally between 2-6 words
  • Use action-oriented verbs to create a sense of urgency 


Make it a Button

Buttons make a big difference to your CTAs. According to an analysis by CampaignMonitor, CTA buttons increase conversion rates by 28% compared to text hyperlink CTAs[11]

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, buttons are both larger and more eye-catching than a piece of hyperlinked text, while buttons can also include colour and design elements that make them stand out.  

Buttons can also make use of ‘whitespace’. When a button is set apart from other parts of an email, the whitespace surrounding it creates a distraction-free area, making it easier for users to find. 

Buttons = better!


Colour is just as important as copy when it comes to conveying your message. While there is no one colour which definitively converts better (after all, if there was, everyone would use it), different colours send different messages. 

For example, red means stop, green means go, white can represent surrender, and yellow often symbolises happiness. Of course, context is important, as white is the colour of mourning and death in China, while purple is the colour of death in Brazil[12]. It’s important to consider what subtle messages your colour choices convey. 

Additionally, 92.6% of people say ‘visual dimensions’ are the #1 influencing factor in their purchasing decision, while studies show that people make a subconscious product judgment within 90 seconds, with 90% of that judgment based on colour alone[13]

To demonstrate just how influential colour can be, Performable changed their CTA button colour from green to red, achieving a 21% increase in conversions[13]. Similarly, RIPT Apparel changed their CTA button colour from green to yellow, resulting in a 6.3% increase in sales. Clearly, small colour tweaks can have a huge impact on the performance of your CTA, so it pays to A/B test. 

In general, experts believe orange and green perform the best as CTA button colours[13]. However, the most important thing is to utilise contrasting colours to ensure your CTA button stands out. Look at the colour palette of your email, and choose the opposite colour for your CTA button. In simple terms, if your email is blue, you don’t make your CTA blue as well. Your CTA button should also make effective use of whitespace. 

Ultimately, it’s preferable to choose a bright, vibrant colour that will stand out from the rest of the email and immediately attract the user’s eye. 

Location, Location, Location

Location matters. Put simply, you want to position your CTA button somewhere that users can easily find and click it. Of course, that position will vary from email to email, but there are some overarching guidelines to follow. 

In general, it is advisable to keep your CTA button above the fold, that is, somewhere the user don’t have to scroll to find it. While this is a more contested topic as email marketing analytics become increasingly sophisticated – some specific case studies show a 304% increase in conversions when a CTA button is moved below the fold[14] –  it still holds true as overall best practice. 

According to a study of 57,453 users, 80% of user attention is focussed above the fold, compared to just 20% below the fold[15]. Additionally, the 100 pixels directly above the fold get seen 102% more than the 100 pixels directly below the fold[15]. Likewise, a recent Google study found that ads which appear above the fold have 77% visibility compared to just 44% below the fold[16]

Still, an A/B test conducted by Marketing Experiments found that placing a CTA button below the fold led to a 20% increase in conversions[17]

This is where the quality vs quantity argument becomes important: while more people are likely to see your CTA above the fold, those who do take the time to scroll below the fold are usually more engaged. It is important to take these points into consideration when choosing the most appropriate CTA location for your emails. 

Clearly, there is no definitive solution to CTA location. While it is generally better to place your CTA above the fold, there are specific instances where placing your CTA below the fold is preferable. The only way to find out which works better for your brand is consistent A/B testing.

Size Matters

Size certainly matters when it comes to CTAs, although it can be a delicate balancing act. Your CTA needs to be big enough that it is immediately visible to the user, but not so big that it is lost due to ‘banner blindness’ (users intuitively ignoring banner-like information). 

It is also important to consider mobile vs desktop users when designing your CTA buttons. While it is fairly easy to click a precise point using a mouse on desktop, your CTA button should be large enough that a user can easily tap it with their thumb on mobile. Apple recommends a minimum size of 44×44 pixels, which serves as a useful guideline[18]

When it comes to CTAs there’s no one-size-fits-all for size, but bigger is often better!

Design best practice summary:

  • Make your CTA a button, rather than a text hyperlink
  • Use bright, vibrant colours that stand out and contrast with the rest of your email
  • Utilise whitespace to ensure your CTA is eye-catching
  • Location matters – above the fold is usually advisable, although below the fold can increase conversions in specific circumstances
  • Size is important – your CTA should be big enough to see, but not so big that it’s lost due to banner blindness

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