It pains me. All too often I watch professional speakers give a stellar presentation and hope for some sign ups or sales, but nobody jumps. And the reason is, that the presenter did not make the ask.

You might think “that’s quite obvious” and that, as a professional “the speaker should know better.” But when I started out as an entrepreneur, all the advice I found talked about giving presentations to get clients. Nobody ever told me that I had to actually ask them to sign up.

Couple that with my bad feelings about asking for a sale in just about any situation, let alone on stage, and it never dawned on me that this was my problem. I bet you, many of the speakers I see skipping that important step are in the same place I was in at the beginning of my speaking career.

So, why I am telling you about this in an article about email marketing? Because the same rule applies here, too. You need to MAKE THE ASK. And you do that by including a strong Call To Action (CTA) in every email you send out.

Writing Effective Email CTAs

You need to directly ask your audience to take action and do it in a way that feels natural to them. But, you don’t want your email come across as a sales-fest either, as that may get your subscribers to unsubscribe and complain faster than you can read this sentence.

So, what do you have to do to get your subscribers to take the action you want, without it feeling pushy or even salesy? Follow these five best practices:

1) Provide Value First

As in so many areas of marketing (and sales) you need to provide value first. Yesterday we talked about how to get your subscribers to open and read your emails, the first step for getting them to take action. If you remember, you need to write about something that is currently a big problem for your ideal client. You need to hit on a topic that they are already thinking of and tell them about something, that they didn’t know or weren’t sure about.

That can be as little as confirming a suspicion that your ideal client has, give an example of what is possible, or show great tip that will move them forward. It not only makes it more likely for them to finish reading the current email but also more likely for them to open the next one.

But in addition to that, you need to do one thing that is even more important:

2) Show a Gap

What I mean with “gap” is that you need to show (or talk about) where your subscribers are currently at as well as where they could be if they’d click the link. So, to write an enticing CTA, you not only need to think about the words you use for the link itself (see next tip) but craft your entire email in a way that your ideal subscriber’s natural next step is to actually click that link. One easy way to achieve that is to give the answer for a small part of the problem and then discuss how much larger the problem actually is. Let me give you an example, the post scriptum of the email that might have gotten you here:

Engagement plays a key role in email deliverability. If your subscribers aren’t engaging with your emails… spam filters will start to label your emails as SPAM and your email deliverability will sink so your subscribers won’t get your emails.

That’s why it’s so essential to have a strong CTA to boost engagement with your emails. Click here to learn how.

This is a very simple example of the above concept. The first two sentences tell a fact about deliverability you might not have known yet: Subscriber engagement is essential for your deliverability. The third sentence provides a solution: Include a strong CTA. But that raises the question: How do I do that? And that is your gap.The fourth sentence now tells you how to overcome that gap: Click the link.

This principle is a very powerful way to get your audience to take action. Like in the example above, besides showing the gap, for this to work you need to include an actual prompt, a direct request for the click:

3) Ask for The Click

Just like making the ask from stage, you have to Ask for the Click in your emails as well. This is the point where many marketers fall short. People need to be told to do something. In fact, most people like to be told (as surprising as that sounds).

The power of the example above, the one about deliverability, hinges on the last sentence. If we take the last sentence out and instead turn the previous one (That’s why it’s so essential…) in a clickable link, your reaction would be entirely different:

Engagement plays a key role in email deliverability. If your subscribers aren’t engaging with your emails… spam filters will start to label your emails as SPAM and your email deliverability will sink so your subscribers won’t get your emails. That’s why it’s so essential to have a strong CTA to boost engagement with your emails.

You might think something like “That sounds like something I really should read. I’ll look at it later.” Or you might not even feel compelled to go there at all. And, the thing with later is, that it just doesn’t happen.

So if you want your subscribers to actually go and click, you need to tell them. A simple “Click the link to read the article now.” goes a long way in getting your audience to take the desired action.

4) One Purpose Only

Every email has to have a purpose. You need to be clear about what that purpose is before you start writing that email. Usually, that purpose is to get your subscriber to take a particular next step.

Once you have decided on the purpose of your email, make the entire email work to achieve that goal. That means you don’t want to put any elements in your emails that drive people to do other stuff.

Let’s say your goal is to get your subscribers to read a particular blog post. You don’t want to tell your readers about other posts in that same email. Because, once they click on another link, they probably won’t come back to click on your main one.

So, in general – in most cases – you want to include only one link in your emails.

However, and this is important, it often increases your success rate, if you include that same link more than once, using different copy in each one. But don’t go overboard with this either. If you include the same link more than two times in the body and maybe one more time in the post scriptum, you’ll run the risk of looking spammy.

So, for your emails to achieve the goal you have set for them, you need to include exactly on call to action in each of them, though you can repeat that CTA up to three times.

BTW, including a call to action is only one of 14 things you should do with every email. To keep track of all the things that need to happen every time, I’ve created a checklist for myself to refer to each time I am writing an email. I call it the Ultimate Email Marketing Checklist. You can get a copy for yourself by clicking on the link.

If you follow these 14 steps with every email you write, you will have an audience that can’t wait to get your emails, an audience that will eagerly open and read what you send them and click on your links.

Take a minute right now and download your copy of this essential checklist.

5) Make It Stand Out

The previous four tips highlight the most important steps in writing a compelling call to action. There are a few more things that you can do to improve it, but without the foundation laid by the previous four tips, you won’t get very far.

  • To improve the performance, the effectiveness, of your call to action even further, you need to make it optically stand out. That is of particular importance on landing pages, where you are trying to get the visitors to sign up for something. There, the call to action – usually a button – needs to really stand out to attract those clicks. It needs to be in a color that is in contrast to all the other colors on the page, and it needs to be large. In an email, you don’t need to go to that extreme (and in fact most of the time you shouldn’t). But optically separating your links from the rest of the content is still a best practice.
  • Make sure your links are on a separate line, or at least a large part of a short line.
  • Pay attention to your links being clearly marked as clickable (usually that is achieved by using a different color than the surrounding text).
  • Another great way to make your call to action stand out is to put it into the post scriptum of your email. People don’t take the time anymore to thoroughly read everything you send their way. Instead, they skim over it. That leads to the odd phenomenon that the P.S. is actually the most read section of any email. So, if you want your CTAs to be seen, put one of them in the P.S.

Break The Rules

Everything in marketing needs to be tested and confirmed for your specific audience. The above five tips are a generally accepted baseline that will get you results.

However, your audience – while unlikely – might be different. So, if you feel compelled to break one of the above “rules,” feel free to do so. But first, set up a split test that will show you if your alternative approach is actually improving your results.

And, even if you stick to the advice in this article, there are different ways to put this into action, different words you can use for your CTAs, and you need to test what works for your particular audience.

So, treat every email you send as a test, to see what is working for your audience and what isn’t.