How to create a call-to-action (CTA) that works

The final piece to the email conversion puzzle is to give your readers a compelling reason to click.

If you've read the previous chapters of the Ultimate Guide, you know how to write effective subject lines and content that clearly communicates your message. There's just one last step to complete your email masterpiece. 

You need a call-to-action (CTA) that works!

In this chapter, we will share everything you need to know about CTAs—from the placement to button text and design. But first, we’ll let you in on the secret to a successful email call-to-action.


The best CTAs are more than just a bright button with catchy text. The reality is that every element of your email contributes to making the CTA work.

A successful CTA does not function independently. Instead, CTAs work more like the climax of a compelling story. 

Every great story follows the same format. First, you are drawn into the story, then you learn the premise, which ultimately builds until you reach the most important part of the story—the climax. 

The end of the story depends on what happens at its peak. This is how email conversions work as well.


The CTA is the climactic point of the email. It’s where the story has reached an inflection point and the reader gets to decide how the rest of the story plays out. And like the climax of a story, the CTA doesn’t work unless the other parts of the story build up enough interest.

Rising action, climax and conversion for a CTA

You need to build the story with the subject line, content and design. By the time the reader gets to the CTA button, they are primed and ready to click.

Do your subject line, content and CTA work together to create a cohesive story that leads potential customers to take action?


It's important to note that there are lots of different types of email formats and layout options, which affect the placement of your CTA buttons.

If you have a newsletter with multiple topics leading to different pieces of content, the secondary CTA buttons should be clearly aligned with each section.

Here is an example from Handy. Their welcome email contains multiple calls-to-action that are organized really well. Your eyes start at the top and follow the flow of the CTA buttons down.

Welcome to Handy email

For email campaigns that have a singular focus with one CTA, the placement should follow the logical progression of the story. People typically read from the top left to right of an email, so it makes sense to place your CTA buttons towards the bottom or to the right of the content.

See what edX did with their promotional email. They neatly aligned all their content to the left, just like you would at school!

edX mailer

If the content builds enough interest, the call-to-action button will be waiting at the right place to encourage more click-through rates (CTRs).

Make sure the CTA newsletter links to a landing page that complements the email content and continues the story to ensure a cohesive experience.

Lastly, don’t assume the reader only clicks on the CTA button. Curious people often try to click different elements in the email like the logo, headlines, and images. Consider adding the same link to those elements if you think it will help the reader.


Read more.

Learn more.

Click here. 

Submit. 

Download. 

Sign up. 

Buy now.

Shop now.

Everyone has seen these CTA words a million times. These words are not only overused by email marketers, but they sometimes cause friction with the reader because you are asking them to do work!

When you use generic text, you are missing an opportunity to get more clicks.

Backcountry, an e-commerce outdoor gear and clothing store, starts well asking if you’re ready to “find your backcountry” and builds upon the story throughout the email.

But, just at the precipice, it ends with a “Shop now” button that links to the homepage. Don’t you think you’d be more motivated to click ahead with a “Find my gear” CTA?

Welcome to Backcountry

People already know that you want them to click something. The trick is to let them know what is in it for them by highlighting benefits, setting expectations and making it personal. End the story with a satisfying finish!

So, what CTA words should you use? Here are three ways to write the text in your CTA buttons with smart copywriting:

1. Speak directly to your subscriber

Email is personal. Try speaking directly to your subscriber like you would a friend or colleague. A recent study by Unbounce showed that using the first-person pronoun in your button text resulted in a 90% increase in clicks.

For example, MyGiftCardSupply uses a second-person pronoun to “Snag Your 10% Off”. What if they had simply used “Get 10% Off” instead?

This small change in words can make a huge difference. As a subscriber, you feel that this discount is just for you.

MyGiftCardSupply offer

Also, their email’s value proposition is stated clearly in the button text, a 10% discount. Not just any discount but a sizable one. So you’re tempted to click and enjoy that benefit. Would you have acted if it simply said, “Get your discount”?

2. Use approachable action verbs 

Not all action words work. Some verbs make the reader uncomfortable or even stressed. These words include verbs like submit, enter and download. Is this how you talk to people in person?

Instead, try words that let the reader know they are getting something in return. Approachable action verbs like get, find and try tell the reader there is a benefit waiting for them. For best results, combine these action words with an actual benefit to seal the deal.

Twitter needs no introduction. Their welcome email shows a fluid environment of breaking news and tweets. Their “Get started” CTA works well here because they use an inviting action verb along with something tangible for the reader: staying informed with what’s happening now.

Twitter welcome email

3. Create urgency

If you have a limited offer or your email is time-sensitive, use it to your advantage with an effective CTA that raises the sense of urgency. People hate to miss out, especially with limited e-commerce deals! Use button text that lets your reader know that they must act now to enjoy the benefits.

While it's easy to add the word "now" at the end of your button text, try experimenting with phrases that raise the stakes. For example, "Experience it before your friends" or “Offer ends 6:00 PM”.

CamelCamelCamel, an Amazon price tracker, uses an especially large CTA button to urge you to “buy now and save” before the price rebounds. The button is designed in a familiar style that encourages high CTRs to the product page on Amazon.

CamelCamelCamel price alert

For something a little different, MailerLite has a countdown timer that you can insert into your email to heighten the urgency. Simply drag the countdown block into your newsletter and set the date and time. The countdown time is then automatically set based on the timezone of the sender.


The best way to get more clicks is to include a call-to-action button. Sounds obvious, but some people prefer to use links or images as their email CTA.

Buttons make it 100% clear that you want the reader to click.

You also must consider mobile devices that rely on touchscreens. Buttons are much easier to find and click on when you are using a smaller device.

MailerLite offers a library of button options. All you have to do is customize them to fit your email. Here’s how to make your CTA button stand out:

1. Use contrasting colors for the CTA button

Take a look at your email design and choose a button color that will stand out. Make sure the button color pops without clashing with the background and text colors. The goal is to make it cohesive while still ensuring the CTA button is the loudest color on the screen.

The North Face uses a contrasting color to good effect with their welcome email. Notice how the orange CTA button pops out from the email together with the backpack as well? Plus, their button text rocks!

Welcome to the North Face

Also, while this mailer is for their e-commerce homepage, it’s not just about discount coupons and specials—their email speaks to you about outfitting yourself for your next outdoor adventure.

2. Make your CTA button interactive

You can use shading to create an illusion that the button lives on a different plane. Or, you can make the button change colors and depth when the mouse hovers over it.

King Arthur Baking Company’s CTA button changes to an outline as you click it. These little tricks enhance interactivity.

King Arthur Baking Company

3. Less is more for your email CTA

If you have too much clutter in your email, the CTA will be hard to find no matter how bright or big. Think about the negative space in the email. Make sure there is enough white space around your button to avoid any visual noise.

Google’s minimalist design is put to good use in their regular email newsletters. In their signature material design style, the monotone graphic and white space don’t fight for attention with the sole CTA button. It may be plain for some but it works here.

Google newsletter

4. Try adding directional cues to the CTA button

Many people have found success by adding arrows that point to their buttons. While this is a good way to draw your readers to the button, it might also be distracting to the content. Another more subtle technique is to use imagery that points to the CTA. 

For example, instead of a person looking directly at the camera, they can be looking in the direction of the button. Coursera nails this in their welcome email—just look at the gaze of the smiling student!

Coursera welcome email

And they pair it nicely with their CTA button text. Which would you rather be told to do: “Let’s Go”, “Study now” or "Learn more"?

5. Make the CTA button big enough

OK, this is not permission to make your CTA button humongous. You don’t want it to be obnoxious, but at the same time, it must be large enough to be found quickly.

Use your judgment and do an eye test. Can you find the button?

Airtable uses a subtle way to lead your eyes to their call-to-action button. The hourglass layout draws your eyes to the sole CTA button. Thankfully, both the graphic and the CTA button jump to the same video link.

Airtable welcome email

These five tips are meant to guide you in your design. At the end of the day, you need to look at your overall layout and do what works. As long as your CTA is easy to find and easy to read, people will have the opportunity to click.


So far we’ve demonstrated every CTA tip using a real-life email newsletter. We’ll finish with a few more call-to-action examples that showcase different CTAs.

Remember, one approach doesn’t fit all—use the right CTA to provide a conclusive and ultimately satisfying finish to your compelling story.

Columbia, an outdoor sports brand, sprinkles the usual e-commerce CTA buttons in their newsletter. However, nestled inside is a social media CTA. Some customers aren’t looking to buy anything at the moment. So allowing them to follow your brand is a great way to keep and nurture them.

Columbia email newsletter

Land’s End is a classic lifestyle brand that transitioned from catalogues to e-commerce. In their welcome email, they don’t waste time with generic buttons asking you to “Shop now” or “Buy now”.

Instead, they cut to the chase using different product web pages as their CTA buttons. They are boosting their potential conversion rates by putting their landing pages right before you!

Lands' End email newsletter

For Another Escape, a printed journal for outdoor lovers, it’s not immediately apparent where their email CTAs are. In keeping with their exploration theme, their email encourages you to search, click and read on at your own pace.

Another Escape newsletter

They thoughtfully refrained from plastering their newsletter with distracting “Read more” links or buttons. Instead, their photos serve as CTA buttons to jump to an article that interests you. It is tastefully done and complements their overall story.

If you like visual CTAs, MailerLite's drag & drop editor helps you arrange, visualize and preview your email newsletter before you send it out. Simply drag blocks around your newsletter design and drop them to experiment with different layouts and CTAs.


The advantage of email marketing campaigns is that you can always test. Testing different buttons and text options will give you the freedom to experiment and be creative.

And remember, your CTA is only part of the story. Try testing other elements of the email like imagery or headlines to see if it affects clicks. We will cover the ins and outs of A/B testing in another guide.

Jump to another Ultimate Guide

Email marketing A/B testing made simple


As you have seen, how you place, write and design your CTA button decides whether your subscribers will click ahead to your landing page or be indifferent to it.

The CTA buttons in these newsletter examples work because every element of the email guides the subscriber to take a course of action.

Here's checklist to help remind you how to create a CTA that converts.

6-step CTA checklist
  1. Compose your email like a story that brings the reader to a climactic point and a CTA
  2. Build the story by using your subject line, content and design
  3. Put CTA buttons throughout your content or at the end of your email
  4. Write CTA button text that speaks to the subscriber, uses approachable action words or creates urgency
  5. Highlight your CTA button by using contrasting colors, interactivity, white space, directional cues or size
  6. Split test your emails and CTA buttons to find the best performing combination