Creating a Successful Call to Action

“Never use red buttons because they make people stop”

“Always use green buttons”

“Buttons should be a certain size”

We won’t be talking about any of that stuff. Why? 2 reasons:

  • Because it rarely increases conversion, and if it does, it will probably not be significant
  • Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for things like this

Instead, we’ll cover practices that are proven to have a positive impact in how people take action.

Let’s go!

Competing CTAs

One of the worst things you can do for your CTA is giving people different options.

In this case, there are two things being offered, a product for sale and a free version of that same product.

The options, as a subscriber, are typically two:

  • Buy the product
  • Or you’re not interested

In this case, a third option has been added, and even one more possible outcome:

  • Get the freebie
  • Overwhelm your audience to the point they take no action, even if there was a little bit of interest

Competing CTAs

This is not to be confused with the opt-in/opt-out call to action, which prompts the user with a yes or no option.

This is like asking your spouse if he or she wants to go out to dinner, or not. 2 possible answers both attached to one decision.

This is typically seen in pop-ups.

Opt-in/Opt-out CTA

Buttons should be buttons

In one of the previous lessons, I said that links should look like links.

When it comes to buttons, this problem is even worse, because people want to get fancy.

Your buttons need to look like buttons.

This is a button:

This is a button

These are even better buttons:

better button

Even better button

Why are these better than the first one? Because they give the impression of something clickeable.

Make sure your buttons are obvious.

Buttons vs. Links

What should you use to get a better response, buttons or links?

The only study I’ve found on this topic is from Aweber, and it might be a little outdated. The split test between links and buttons was ran for months. Here are the findings:

  • For a while, buttons outperformed links by margins up to 33%
  • But over a few months, links eventually started working better and won the test by 35%

It makes sense, people become numb to things after repetition over time. A good example of this is advertising banners on websites, you don’t even see them anymore. Over time, they became invisible to the eye.

So, what to use?

I don’t need to tell you that this should be tested, right? What works for me might not work in your case.

That said, I’d still go with buttons, but making sure that I adjust its design a little bit every now and then.

I think buttons have a bigger impact. Look at this example and compare:

Link vs. button

HTML vs. Images

In the previous lesson, we talked about the importance of visuals, but we also pointed out the issues that come along with that. The main problem is that almost 50% of your subscribers have images turned off by default.

Now, if you think that an image not displaying in your campaign is a problem, imagine what happens when your call to action button is completely invisible to the reader.

That’s why you should never use an image as button.

There are 2 options to overcome this issue and still have a button:


A button should be created with code. This eliminates the problem, as long as your campaign is in HTML and not “plain text.”

2) Your ESP

But I understand that most of us can’t write that piece of code. The easiest way to include a button in your campaign is to use the buttons provided by your service.

Most providers offer, not only the option to include a button in their editors, but you also have the possibility to customize it.

Add a button

You can change colors, borders, text color, fonts, etc.

Customize your button

Contrasting color

I know I said at the beginning that we won’t go into things like what color to use, but no matter what color you end up using, you need to make sure it is contrasting with the rest of the colors of your design.

In fact, most people recommend sticking with white background, that will make your button stand out.

Contrasting color

Use action words

Let’s talk about the copy in your button, this is as important as any of the other points. Copy makes people move.

Always use words that suggest action.

But, be careful, not all words that suggest action perform the same. Words like “submit” or “register” can lower your CTR. Look at this study conducted by Hubspot:

Action words


Another element of copy that can dramatically increase your CTR is to create a sense of urgency or scarcity.

The good thing is that this can be easily combined with an action word, like this:

  • Get the free ebook now
  • Join the webinar now
  • Save 20% today!
  • Reserve one of the 20 spots

Does it stand out?

Your call to action must stand out from the rest of the design. In order to achieve this, you can perform 2 very easy tests. You can actually head over to your inbox right now and pick any email to see if they pass the tests.

The Squint Test

If you can stand in front of your campaign, squint, and still be able to point at your CTA, chances are your reader will not miss it.

But don’t stop there, ask people around you to do the test for you.

The squint test


The other one is to look at the entire screen to see if your CTA is still obvious. Remember that you’re not only competing with the elements inside your campaign, but with any other possible distractions around it.

This email gets an A+ on both tests…

Stand out in the entire screen

The Inverted Pyramid Method

I learned the “Inverted Pyramid” method from Vero.

It’s based on the fact that elements like copy and design can distract readers from the goal of the campaign. This method is a template designed to eliminate those distractions. The email is broken down in 3 parts:

  1. Grab attention
  2. Build anticipation
  3. Call to Action

Inverted pyramid

And here is an example stolen from the Vero site:

Inverted pyramid example


Start by adding a button in your next campaign, with the following characteristics:

  1. It should not compete with other CTAs
  2. It should look like a button
  3. It should not be an image (use the buttons from your ESP)
  4. Use contrasting colors
  5. Pay special attention to the copy
  6. Send yourself a test to perform the squint and the screen test

Now that you have a button… Split test it! Some of the things you should test:

  • Copy
  • Positioning
  • Link vs button
  • And then, colors, sizes, etc.