Article first published September 2012, updated February 2019.
Since HTML’s humble beginnings, the “click here” call to action has been ubiquitous in both email and web copy. In fact, it’s so common that “click here” has lost its meaning in more ways than one.
And that’s exactly the problem with using it as a call to action in email campaigns.
What is a CTA in email?
For the most part, we can’t be blamed for using “click here” liberally. At first glance, it seems like an unambiguous call to action, a direct request for your subscriber to perform a specific action.
As marketers, we’re just asking our readers to do a good thing for our campaign’s goals.
However, if you’re conscientious about keeping your copy as short and punchy as possible, you’ve probably noticed that “click here” are two words you can almost always omit.
For example, compare the following links:
1. To find out more about ABC Widgets' range, click here. 2. Find out more about ABC Widgets' range.
Which sentence is shorter? Which is really the more instructive CTA to you?
Moving towards more accessible emails
The redundancy of “click here” is a side-issue for those using assistive technologies like screen readers. For the sight-impaired, having meaningful links is a priority.
I recently trialed reading my email using the iPhone’s ‘VoiceOver’ accessibility feature (Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver) and found that it read out link texts in isolation when a link is tapped.
I found that having “Find out more about ABC Widgets…” read out to you is definitely preferable to hearing “click here.” The copy in the first link is far more informational than hearing simply “click here.” Furthermore, the “click here” call to action in email is a dead giveaway that the company didn’t consider accessibility when they designed their campaign.
Designing accessible emails is more important than you may think: Blindness affects over 25.5 million people in the US alone.
Click, tap, swipe or speak here?
And a CTA is no longer just about clicking anyway. Earlier, you may have noticed that we referred to tapping on links in iPhone Mail instead of clicking. If you consider the variety of settings in which online content is consumed, the assumption that we should only be clicking is a silly one.
Tim Berners-Lee understood this all too well when he wrote the cornerstone document, “Style Guide for Online Hypertext,” where he recommended that we should:
Try to avoid references in the text to online aspects. ‘See the section on device independence‘ is better than ‘For more on device independence, click here.’ In fact, we are talking about a form of device independence.
Back in those days, “device independence” largely meant creating content that was just as relevant to the reader on paper as it is on screen. Now, when emails are routinely read on devices that are navigated using taps, voice commands, shakes, swipes, and styluses, “click here” seems increasingly outdated.
At the very least, it’s lazy and unoriginal.
How do you write a call to action? Write for the skimmers
Finally, if there’s one thing that affects nearly all of us, it’s a tendency to skim through email messages. Now, if you think of what’s likely to stand out in a hastily-read paragraph of text, it is—drum roll, please—you guessed it, the links.
When scanning for important tidbits, links like “View more cats!” are sure to have more appeal than “For more cats, click here” (regardless of your feelings about cats). Jakob Neilsen’s research has shown that eyes naturally fixate on links, so making them as meaningful as possible is sure to have a positive impact on campaign results.
Call to action email examples
Here are three examples of strong CTAs that get the job done:
1. The Bitter Southerner
The publication’s calls to action in their email campaigns always stand out. In this instance they used “Island life. No margaritas.” and “Shop BS: It’s good for the soul.” They could even use the quick preface to “Read on:” similar to the way they include “Shop BS:” in the second link to improve the clarity.
Even so, both of these CTAs are far more imaginative than a measly suggestion to “click here.”
2. Warby Parker
Warby Parker’s calls to action in their email are persuasive and informative. “Blog it up” reflects their casual and fun branding customers know and love, but the company doesn’t sacrifice clarity to do so.
Whether a customer is reading this email on their cell, desktop, or hearing it through an assistive device or virtual assistant like Siri, there’s no doubt what Warby Parker wants their subscribers to do.
3. Artifact Uprising
Artifact Uprising uses one strong call to action in this email to spur their readers to convert which, in this instance, means taking a survey. The CTA is short, sweet, and to the point.
Even though it’s not quite as imaginative as some, clarity is king when it comes to a call to action in your email. And this one leaves no ambiguity in their reader’s mind.
None of the above is “new” news: The call to cull “click here” links has been going strong for over a decade now. Some really great reasons for avoiding its usage were brought together in the 2002 post “Why ‘Click here’ is bad linking practice.”
That was written almost twenty years ago now, and 5 years before the iPhone changed how many of us navigate emails. And yet, nonetheless, “click here” remains a mainstay in email copy.
So, next time you see a client asking subscribers to click here or there, are you going to call them out for it?