What Are Email CTAs?

Melanie Balke
January 17, 2023

Marketing is all about influencing lead generation to drive sales. It’s about reaching customers with the right message, at the right time, through the right channel.

There are a lot of abbreviations in email marketing. But it can be tough to keep up with it all. ROI, CTR, CAC, and CLV are just some examples of the industry's shorthand.

Most small business owners don’t have the time to learn all of the arcane information in email marketing. In fact, as a business owner, you have more important things to do.

In that sense, you always look for ways to improve your business. You might have a great product, but if your target market doesn't know about it, you won’t make any sales.

Email marketing is a great way to reach a larger audience but it can be daunting if you’re unfamiliar with the industry jargon.

To assist you in demystifying and comprehending this terminology, today’s post is dedicated to one of the most important abbreviations: the CTA.

You’ll usually hear this shorthand paired with modifying words, like “CTA button” or “CTA copy.” However, it all means the same thing: call-to-action.

The Basics of Email CTAs

Overlapping highway iinterchanges. “The Basics: What Is a Call-to-Action?”

You’ve probably heard it time and time again: The success of your email marketing campaigns hinges on your CTA. But what, exactly, is a CTA? And how can you make sure yours is as effective as possible?

CTAs are essential for driving conversions. They’re the buttons or links you include in your email that urge your subscribers to take a specific action, such as signing up for a webinar or buying a product.

In its simplest form, a call-to-action is prompt, and its existence predates the internet. In fact, you've probably heard plenty of pre-digital call-to-action examples (e.g., “call now,” “drop by our store,” or “visit us”).

However, as head of The Email Marketers, my biggest focus is the digital sphere, and — in that context — a call-to-action is a link to a landing page.

Basics Types of Call-to-Action Prompts

A monitor displaying a webpage. “Anatomy: Different Types of CTAs.”

When drafting an email, one of the most important elements to consider is how to create a good CTA. CTAs are part of your email that will encourage your subscriber to take a specific action, whether clicking through to a landing page, downloading a white paper, or making a purchase.

Of course, we've advanced far beyond the days of plain-text websites. Today, marketing automation allows brands to email thousands of customers at once. Moreover, email marketing can now include links as images, buttons, and visually stunning assets.

Even the traditional landing page has seen some neglect, as AMP technology allows users to browse and shop without leaving their inboxes.


A person using an Apple computer. “Buttons: A Mix of Visual Appeal and Widespread Compatibility.”

A bright CTA button will often do the job when you need to attract attention.

This ubiquitous option is a blend of plain text links and a bit of visual wizardry and involves a bit of behind-the-scenes wizardry. To create a call-to-action button, email marketers utilize internal HTML code, which tells different devices to display the same type of interface.

Thanks to this, call-to-action buttons come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Email campaigns can utilize whatever color they desire for both the text and the surrounding button, and additional code gives designers the power to change the button’s shape.

After digging through some of The Email Marketers’ campaigns, I found this great example of a call-to-action button:

“Experience the hand-crafted quality of these legendary Egyptian hookahs.” The oblong button is below the text and reads, “Get 50% Off Now.”

This is a fairly modern example, but it perfectly illustrates the adaptability of the humble button. If a company so desired, the same button could display different fonts, colors, and styles.

Depending on whether or not the campaign was aimed at mobile devices, designers may also opt to include mouse-over effects for desktop users.


Multiple lines of website code. “Images: An Elegant Solution & The Caveats You Must Know.”

CTAs come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing is always true: they need to be attention-grabbing. This button prompts readers to take action, whether clicking through to read more about a product or subscribing to an email list.

So what makes the right CTA? In many cases, an image-based CTA can be more effective than a text-based one. Images can help to capture the reader’s attention and provide a more visual representation of what the email CTA should offer. Some of these image-only email CTA examples include:

  • JPEG (And JPG) — Joint Photographic Experts Group
  • PNG — Portable Network Graphics
  • GIF — Graphics Interchange Format
  • HEIF — High-Efficiency Image File Format
  • PDF — Portable Document Format
  • PSD — Photoshop Document
  • AI — Adobe Illustrator Artworks
A Funko POP! Figurine and a lapel pin. Header text reads, “Funko POPs? or Lapel pins?”

Pros of image ctas

When designing your email, you want to ensure that your CTA stands out. And one of the best ways to do that is by using an image CTA. Here are a few reasons why image CTAs are so successful:

1. Beautiful Design

It's no secret that designing CTAs catches people's attention. Many email marketers have begun experimenting with image-only emails to increase engagement.

Images can help to break up the text and make your email more visually appealing. They can also help you to stand out in a crowded inbox and provide a higher level of engagement than plain-text emails.

2. Consistent Branding

No matter what industry you’re in, good branding is key. That goes for your CTA, too — you want to ensure that it’s consistent with your brand identity.

Unlike text-based emails, where your messaging and brand are clear and visible, image-only emails rely on visuals to convey those same messages. Your CTA should ideally match the look and feel of your emails, website, and other marketing materials.

Consistency in language, imagery, graphics, fonts, and colors gives your audience a sense of trust.

3. More CTA (Call-to-Action) Space

Including white space around CTAs will make it easier for readers to spot them.

So how much space should you leave?

A good rule of thumb is to give the CTA its space; don’t cram it in with text or other elements.

You may be tempted to use the extra space to add more copy or images, but this can detract from the overall message and lessen its impact.

To create a strong CTA, use the empty whitespace around it to draw attention without overwhelming it. This can be achieved with single line breaks or strategically placed elements like icons or images.

Doing this will help ensure that your CTA stands out without competing for attention with other elements in the email.

The cons of image ctas

Though images can be a great way to convey a message, they have some downsides. Image emails are not very responsive, so they might not look right on mobile devices.

Some caveats to keep in mind when using images for your CTAs include:

1. Poor Responsiveness

With modern email clients automatically adjusting to the device’s size, non-responsive emails can look distorted and unappealing. If a customer uses a mobile device like a phone or tablet, they won’t get the full experience they want.

Ensure your email looks as good on phones as on desktop computers. Use responsive design techniques. Try developing an HTML version of your campaign instead of relying solely on images.

Responsive design could result in optimal viewing for all users if all the elements of an email are adjusted depending on the device’s size.

2. Poor Accessibility

Image-only emails are inaccessible on a few levels. Aside from the obvious barrier for visually impaired users, some recipients may also have problems loading the email. This is because images can take longer to load, and there’s no guarantee that the recipient will be able to view them correctly.

This deficit can be remedied, though! Including an HTML backup of the email will improve its accessibility and indexing. Businesses should also add appropriate image alt-tags to ensure everyone has full access to the content.

3. May Be Flagged as Spam

Since image-only emails don’t include any text, it can be difficult for email filters to decipher whether the content is legitimate. When using an all-image-based email, ensure it contains high-quality images, good image alt tags, and accurate descriptions.

Additionally, have adequate permission from recipients before sending these emails — many spam filters are designed to detect emails sent without permission and mark them as spam automatically.

4. They May Be Slow to Load

Unoptimized images can be up to five times bigger in file size than optimized versions, which will make them much slower to load, especially on phones. Ensure any images used in your email marketing campaigns are properly compressed and optimized for email.

5. They Aren’t as Searchable as HTML Emails

When crafting an email campaign, always consider the medium being used. Traditional plain-text emails are simple, but they aren’t fully searchable. That means Google won't be able to index them, so their reach is limited.

Plain Text Links

Old typewriter keys. “Plain Text Links: A Simple All-Around Solution for Basic Call-to-Actions.”

Plain text CTAs are link words and phrases that, when clicked, take you to another web page. "Hyperlinks" is another term for these connections. Also, these links between websites and between pages within the same website typically take the form of text links.

These CTAs are incredibly simple, and plenty of brands use them to add context to different elements.

Here’s a great example from The Email Marketers’ portfolio:

A text link paired with a button, which reads, “Buy Now.”

In this email, our designers paired a plain-text button with a link. The blue highlight indicates that buyers will be taken to a new page upon clicking, and the text tells readers exactly where they’re going.

How to Write Amazing CTAs

Overlapping leaves. “Tips & Tricks: Amazing Call-to-Action Examples.”

Now that we know the basics of the email CTA, it's time to dig into the technicalities.

How do you write an email call-to-action?

First of all, you should start by ignoring the fancy visuals. When you're writing CTA copy, look at it as plain text. Then, it's time to get working!

Here are tips and tricks that will make your CTA work:

1. Make them Visible

Some may try to make them more noticeable by placing them higher on the page, but this is not the case. To put it plainly, if your existing customers have to work too hard to take the next set, they likely won’t, and you won’t get high conversion rates.

Create a call to action that makes sense, and place attention-grabbing CTA buttons where they will draw the eye of your site’s visitors.

2. Be Clear

The success of a call-to-action hinges on the audience’s awareness of the issue or requirement being addressed. In other words: Plainly state exactly what you want them to do.

Create a comfortable atmosphere by being open and honest, and make everything as simple as possible.

3. Use Practical Language

It’s important to communicate with your target audience in their native tongue if you want them to respond to your calls to action inducing words. To make your calls to action more effective, you should give some thought to the issue you’re trying to address for your target audience.

4. Use Action-Oriented Words

Using active words increases engagement.

This necessitates the inclusion of a command verb instructing the subscriber. The most effective calls-to-action (CTAs) include action words like “purchase,” “discover,” “learn,” “explore,“ “browse,” and more.

5. Make It Concise

Ideally, a call-to-action (CTA) should be direct and to the point. A clear CTA could state something like, “See the latest collection and get 10% off,“ rather than a vague, “check the site.”

However, more general actions are acceptable places to pare down your copy. A home page link can easily be given as something like “Browse the Store.”

6. Make It Compelling

Good CTAs should be compelling. They make viewers want more — for one reason or another.

The call-to-action examples listed below are great examples:

  • Everyone’s talking about it
  • Urgent news
  • Doorbuster sales end NOW

Pretend that you’re promoting a freebie via an email campaign. Which of these two call-to-action examples is better? “Grab a Reward” or “Take Part in a Giveaway?”

The first subject line is concise yet compelling, demonstrating the utility of a suggested action to the user. The second one is grander and more active, yet it lacks a compelling reason for a reader to click.

8. Make It Obvious

Put your call-to-action in a button, if possible. A button with bold, eye-catching colors is much less likely to be overlooked than plain text or a broken image.

Where Should You Put Your Call-To-Action?

Keep in mind that the placement of your calls to action (CTAs) or CTA buttons may vary depending on the email client and layout settings.

If there is only one CTA in your email campaign, it needs to make sense in context. Emails are typically read from left to right, so placing calls to action at the top, bottom, or right of the primary message makes the most sense.

However, sensible doesn’t always translate to profitable! For the biggest impact, consider placing the main CTA “above the fold,” or where users will see it before scrolling further down the email.

While you may see articles saying otherwise, it’s also fine to include multiple CTAs. These give clients what they want at every point of the buying process. In other words, buyers have multiple ways to go to the right place.

Consult With the Pros

Regardless of your target audience, the real takeaway of today’s post is that CTAs are as important as they are confusing.

A good call-to-action will create urgency without prompting panic, and a creative CTA button can be the difference between a decent email campaign and a massive sales boost.

So many people say different things.

You should include only one CTA. You should have multiple CTAs.

You can’t use images in your links. No! Wait! You can use images in your links.

Technology is constantly changing, and business owners don't have time to track every little detail. That's why I founded The Email Marketers. My team of experts understands the ever-changing nature of digital marketing, and we know how to appeal to your customers.

If you're tired of scrambling to stay on top of modern marketing trends, now is the perfect time to discuss your option. Get in touch with me, and we'll discuss your current needs and dreams as a brand. Together, we can create one effective CTA after another, and your brand will thrive!

You can also see plenty more tips, tricks, and explanations by browsing the rest of my blog.