Resources Hub » Blog » 5 Psychology-Backed Ways to Improve Your Email Click-Through Rate

Article first published July 2014, updated June 2019.

Does it ever feel like no matter what you try you just can’t seem to improve your email click-through rate? You write great subject lines, the design is eye-catching, and the copy is well written. Yet for some reason, your click-through rate is still lower than you’d like it to be.

The answer to your worries could lie in psychology.

Psychology and marketing strategy have gone hand in hand for years. Think about it: the better you understand how your audience thinks, the more effective your campaigns will be. It just makes sense.

We’ve gathered three ways to improve your email click-through rate that are backed in psychological theory and studies.

1. Invoke curiosity

When you use an information gap to invoke the reader’s sense of curiosity, you’re more likely to increase your click through rate – simply because the reader wants that missing piece of information. The curiosity needs to be satisfied.

Buzzfeed’s article is a good example of creating an information gap:

The idea of a hair clip saving someone’s life in an emergency isn’t something most people have heard before, so their curiosity as to how it works is invoked.

Backed in theory

A study by Psychologist George Lowenstein looked into the human tendency to be curious and found a strong, innate need to close an information gap.

In the same vein, the Zeigarnik Effect shows that when information gaps exist without closure, it causes a sense of distress and suspense—and people will pursue information as a way to eliminate those feelings of unrest. Ever not being able to remember a trivial fact and just had to look it up on the web to find out the answer? That’s the Zeigarnik Effect in action.

If you want to improve your email click-through rate, structure the subject line and body copy to invoke the reader’s curiosity and make them feel like they’re missing out on something valuable or interesting if they don’t click through.

2. Use social proof

It’s a simple truth that people are prone to accept recommendations from trusted resources (friends, family, peers, experts) as a stamp of approval. If we are referred to a certain business by a trusted source, it takes the legwork out of vetting a product or professional.

So, calling on the psychology of social proof (i.e. testimonials) in your email marketing campaigns is a great way to eliminate uncertainty and add ethos to your call to action.

Take this example from Franklin Rd, which features customer reviews of different music tracks to encourage readers to click-through and listen.

improve your click through rate by using these psychology-backed methods

Backed in theory

Dr. Robert Cialdini’s teachings demonstrate that social proof is a powerful tool when it comes to persuasion. When soliciting charitable donations door-to-door, researchers found that people were much more likely to make a donation when shown a list of neighbors who had already contributed.

Similarly, in a study published in the Wall Street Journal, researchers tested how powerful social proof was as a powerful driver of human behaviour. They used 4 different messages to try and convince people to use fans instead of air conditioning:

  • Message 1: Informed the customer that they could be saving $54/month on their utility bill.
  • Message 2:  Told customers that they could prevent the release of 262 pounds of greenhouse gasses every month.
  • Message 3: Encouraged customers that saving energy was a socially responsible thing to do.
  • Message 4: Let customers know that 77 percent of their neighbors were already actively using fans to save energy.

The study found that Message 4, the one that invoked the positive social proof, was the most effective. It was even more effective in getting people to take action than the messages about saving money or protecting the environment.

If you want to increase email click-throughs in your email marketing campaigns, include forms of social proof such as customer testimonials to show that other people have taken similar actions and reassure readers the offer you are making is worthy of their time.

3. Cater to the ego

Even if we don’t always want to admit it, the truth is: we’re all a little self-centered. We like things that have a direct benefit to us.

How can you apply that fact to increase your email click-through rate? Try changing a word or two so that your message speaks to the ego; more clicks and conversions should follow.

Backed in theory

Sigmund Freud would tell you that the Id, Ego, and Superego all cater to self-centered desires. Therefore, people are more likely to act (and in this case, click) on something that invokes a self-centered benefit.

For example, ContentVerve conducted a study in which they changed ‘your’ to ‘my’ on a CTA button—catering to the concept that humans are more apt to act when they are called to act on something that is already theirs:

This quick little change increased their click-through rate by 90%

If you want to increase your email click-through rate, try A/B testing your button and link copy. A simple change from something like ‘Create a free account’ to ‘Create my free account’ could make a big difference.

4. Create a sense of urgency

When trying to improve the click-through rate in email marketing, one of the most important things you can do is create a sense of urgency.

Urgency is a great motivator. It’s a catalyst that moves people to take action—like investing in your product or service.

This is an especially useful tactic to use when you have an upcoming sale or promotion. Letting your subscribers know that there’s only a limited time to take advantage of the offer will increase the likelihood that they’ll take action, thereby increasing your click-through rate.

Ways you can do this:

  • Add a countdown timer to your next email campaign
  • Add action-invoking words and phrases like: “act now,” “don’t wait,” “hurry!”

Psychology-based ways to improve your click-through rate

Source: Milled

Backed in theory

According to the Harvard Business Review, a sense of urgency is a combination of thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

By appealing to a person’s innate sense of urgency, you affect them emotionally. And, if you want to move a person to action, you need to touch their emotions. Appealing to reason and intellect will give a person a logical reason to invest in your product. Appealing to their emotions, on the other hand, will increase the likelihood that they’ll invest and that they’ll do so promptly.

5. Invoke FOMO

Another great motivator is the fear of missing out, or FOMO. Marketers can use FOMO to improve email click-through rates.

Whenever you have a special offer or promotion coming up, you have two options: You can simply announce that you have a sale, or you can appeal to your subscribers’ FOMO.

Fiji Airways does a great job of this. Not only do they invoke a sense of urgency (“Hurry, sale ends soon!”), but their email copy also includes a FOMO trigger (“Seats are limited”). Even if they didn’t add a sense of urgency, some of their subscribers would be motivated by the fact that there are a limited number of seats.

improve your click-through rate using psychology-backed theories

Source: Campaign Monitor

Backed in theory

The FOMO on what’s going on around us is an innate part of the human personality. Just look at small children. They can be dead-tired, but they’ll resist going to sleep, much to the chagrin of their parents. Why? It’s because they don’t want to miss out on what’s going on around them.

Multiple studies have been performed to prove that FOMO exists, even in adults. You might think that the desire fades as we get older, but it really doesn’t. It just changes based on our priorities. This fear can manifest itself in new ways as adults, particularly when it comes to making purchases or investing in experiences.

The good news? Marketers can increase email click-through rates by taking advantage of this.

Wrap up

At the end of the day, there’s one fact is the same for every audience—we’re all human. And as the field of psychology continues to grapple with understanding our complex minds, they are generating useful information that can help you better understand what motivates your email subscribers.

So invoke curiosity, use social proof & cater to selfish desires in your next email campaign, and you just might find you get that boost in your email click-through rate you’ve been striving for.

Want to improve your email marketing?

Join over 20,000 other marketers & designers who get tips on improving their email marketing delivered directly to their inbox.

Better insights to build winning campaigns

Our analytics suite gives you smart, actionable insights to improve your campaigns.

Learn more

Case Study

This nonprofit uses advanced tools and automation to create more emails—and more time.
Learn how
The email platform for agencies

The email platform for agencies

We started out helping agencies with email, so let us help you.

Learn more
This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
Press CMD+D to Bookmark this page

Get started with Campaign Monitor by Marigold today.

With our powerful yet easy-to-use tools, it's never been easier to make an impact with email marketing.

Try it for free