At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if none of your emails go to the junk folder, if your content is amazing, if your email open rate is sky high, and if your email template displays perfectly. What matters is if your users ultimately did what you were encouraging them to do in your email, whether that is a revenue-generating event or just a click-through. If you can't write a compelling call-to-action, then you're likely due in for an underperforming email campaign. While there are entire marketing books devoted to the art of the call-to-action, here are some important tips that can improve your email call-to-action, and therefore improve your email performance.

Rule No.1: Don't Trap Your Email Call-to-Action in an Image

If it feels like we're repeating this point frequently, it's because it's very, very important. Image buttons and graphics certainly work better on a webpage to entice actions such as purchases or sign-ups. However, in an email template, those images may be hidden or not displayed at all. Even if you've applied a text call-to-action in the alt or title text behind the image, that small, perfunctory text may not be enough to get a user to click. We recommend that you avoid image-based calls-to-action entirely and use only text links. However, if for brand or design reasons you're obligated to include a graphic button as your call to action, make sure that it has an equally prominent text link call-to-action right next to it.

Rule No.2: Minimize the Number of Email Calls-to-Action

The more decisions that you ask users to make, the more they may not make any decision at all! Keep the number of things that you ask your users to click-through to or actions that you ask them to take to a minimum in your email. After all, one click is better than no clicks. If you ask a user to choose between many different options, you may find that they choose none.

Rule No.3: Keep Your Email Call-to-Action Simple

We certainly aren't implying that you "dumb down" your email call-to-action, but if you overcomplicate it with too many words or "high concepts," you'll lose appeal and results. You don't want to make users or readers think too hard about what it is that you're asking them to do. You want them to understand, immediately, that they are supposed to click or buy or join. A call-to-action is not the place to get out your thesaurus and look for interesting ways to say things. It's a place for you to use the most powerful, relatable and easily understood words and concepts to guide your readers or users to an action. Don't ask users, for example, to "Embrace our company on the world's largest social network!" Keep it simple and tell users to "Like us on Facebook." Fewer words that mean more and that users quickly understand are they best way to write a call-to-action.

Rule No.4: Make Your Email Call-to-Action Stand Out

From a design perspective, you want to ensure that your email call-to-action stands out. Don't hide it within a block of text. Separate the call-to-action out and ensure that there's white space surrounding it so that it stands out. Use a bolded font and even a font that is a larger size than the rest of your email content. While it's not an ideal "classy" design look, you may want to consider using "carrots" to draw attention to your call to action. For example, your email call-to-action may look like this. >>This is a Call-to-Action<<. It's not the most sophisticated call-to-action design ever. However, chances are that if you tested it against a similar design without the carrots, the call-to-action with the carrots would perform better. Keep in mind, always, that your end goal is to drive clicks through performance and revenue-generating actions.

Rule No.5: Make Your Email Call-to-Action an Obvious Link

This is true of any link in your email, but it's particularly true when it comes to your email call-to-action. We always recommend blue links with an underlined decoration style. Your online brand design may not match this, but making your call to action look clearly like a link will improve click-through and will thus improve overall email campaign performance. If you absolutely cannot make your link a blue font, at least be sure to make it an underlined font. Do not use a "mouse-over" effect to make the underline appear. That effect will not work in all email clients, and it won't make the link obvious to users who are quickly scanning your email.

Rule No.6: Segment and Tailor Your Email Call-to-Action

If your email list is large enough that you're segmenting sub-lists, then you can also segment the writing of your email call-to-action text. Any time that you can make a call-to-action more specific to the demographic who is reading the email, you can improve the performance of that call-to-action. For example, if you are segmenting users by state, you may have one call to action that reads "Sign Up for Texas' Favorite Summer Activity List" and another that says "Sign Up for Florida's Favorite Summer Activity List," even if both lists provide complete national information rather than state-specific information. You can also tailor calls-to-action by gender, customer loyalty, and just about any other criteria that you could come up with to segment your customer list. The more tailored the call-to-action is, the better it will perform.

Rule No.7: Personalize Your Email Call-to-Action

Much like making your email call-to-action more specific through list segmentation can improve performance, using variables to personalize a call-to-action can also improve performance. For example, if your email marketing platform allows you to replace variables with fields from the database, such as Comm100 Email Marketing does, then you can easily have an entirely personalized call to action for every single user. For example, instead of saying "See custom sales items selected for you," you can create a much more customized and conversational call to action that says, "Suzie, see the sale items we picked out just for you." While you'll want to be careful that your personalization doesn't sound too much like customer spying, a personalized email and a personalized call-to-action will almost always improve performance.

Rule No.8: What, Why, How

If you're struggling to write good calls to action, following the "What. Why. How." rule can help to improve your performance. In short, have your email call-to-action tell users what they should do, why they should do it and how to do it. Here are three examples:

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The key, of course, is to keep your email call-to-action short and understandable while hitting all three major points: What? Why? How? Your subscribers' or users' brains will understand the thought process and know exactly what they need to do to benefit from your offer or promotion.

If you want to shorten the call-to-action, skipping the "Why" is often a way to accomplish that goal while still clearly conveying to users what they should do and how. Here's how the three calls-to-action above would read if you made that change.

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You'll need to test and determine for yourself which method works best for you. You may also be limited by design space as to which method can work best in your email marketing or newsletter template.

Rule No.9: Above-the-Fold Call-to-Action

Another best practice that it may sound like we're repeating, but we're repeating it with good cause! Always remember that you want to get at least one call-to-action in above the fold of your email (within the first three inches or 500 pixels). In case users do not continue to scroll and read below their email preview pane, you want to be sure that they have an opportunity to click through on your email call-to-action in the portion of the email that they see.

Rule No.10: Most of All, Make Your Email Call-to-Action Persuasive with Action Words and Commands

This, of course, is easier said than done! Determining which words, commands and concepts will resonate with your audience and cause the best response can take time and creativity. However, it's well worth the effort. Of course, you'll need to then implement…

The Most Important Rule: Test! Test! Test!

The call-to-action is the most important part of your email, and it's worth the time to test every element of it. Test different locations, different words, different font colors and sizes, images versus text. In short, test everything that you can think of. Of course, don't test them all at once because you won't' get usable data. Don't worry. The final chapter of this book is devoted entirely to email testing.

Your email call-to-action is important, and it's important that you put time and thought into writing it, placing it within your email, and designing its look. The ten rules above, plus a rigorous round of testing, can mean that your call to action is perfectly optimized for every segment of your list and every email that you send.

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