As a marketer, you know that email addresses are worth their weight in gold. Email offers the best ROI of any digital channel with a median ROI of 122%. Compared to social media ads, it’s 40x more likely to lead to the acquisition of a new customer.

The problem that too many of us struggle with is getting consumers to sign up for our email lists.

You can throw call to actions (CTAs) up all over your website, but that’s not enough to make people click and join.

Here are three ways your current CTAs are failing and how you can improve them to gain more email subscribers.

1. Your Buttons Aren’t Being Noticed

One of the biggest struggles marketers face today is getting consumers to even notice their web forms – especially amidst so much banner blindness and bad disruptive advertising. 86% of consumers today are banner blind. In other words, you could have a fancy banner on top of every single product page and blog post on your site and only 14% of your customers will even register that it’s there. So, you can imagine how low the conversion rate will be.

Some four million blog posts are published daily. Unless your content falls into the top 1% of the top 1%, a blog article or two isn’t going to draw enough traffic to drive many signups.

The bottom line is that the first and perhaps the biggest hurdle to boosting your sign-ups is getting web visitors to even notice that you’re asking them to sign up!

Here are three ways you can design your CTA buttons to draw the eye and grab attention.

Choose the right placement

People rarely read anymore. They scan. Which means they can easily miss things you want them to see. Using a popular website builder, you need to understand how people scan your site.

Eye-tracking research shows that people scan computer, tablet, and phone screens in predictable patterns, such as in the shape of the letter “F.” This means that you can predict which areas of your site people’s eyes will land on. And those areas are where you want your CTAs.


As a general rule, people read in a horizontal movement, above the fold, with more attention paid to the first few lines of text and the first few words on the left of each text line. All of this means that CTAs should have higher visibility when placed on the left, above the fold.

The catch is that generalities can’t apply to every page on every site, and this isn’t something you can afford to guess at. To understand exactly where your customers are gazing, I’d recommend looking at a heat map tool such as Crazy Egg.

heat map

One of the benefits of tools like this is that you can combine A/B testing with heat maps to see if more eyes are landing on your CTA in different positions.

Make it stand out

Have you ever realized you were staring at something for five minutes without actually seeing it? If your CTA doesn’t stand out, you could select the ideal placement for it, have customers’ eyes look right at it, and still not have people really see it.

A great call-to-action needs to stand out visually. It needs to practically scream “Click Me!”

Your button text and background need to stand out from each other as well as from the background of your web page. One way to nail this is to use contrasting colors for buttons and forms.

contrasting colors

Here are some more tips for amping up the visibility of your buttons:

  • Use a border to make the button stand out even more.
  • Make the button and text large enough to easily see on any screen size.
  • Select a rectangular shape
  • Leave plenty of whitespace around the button.

Remove all the choices

The more options you give a consumer, the faster you overwhelm them. If you’re selling products and trying to maximize revenue online, it makes sense to show a variety of options. But, when it comes it CTAs, the rule of thumb should be one-and-done.


This doesn’t mean you’re limited to one button per page. It simply means you should only be calling for one action, per frame or fold, and only using one magnet to do so. A landing page could have a CTA button above the fold as well as another at the bottom of the page, and potentially even some more scattered throughout, depending on-page length. The key is not to vary your calls-to-action too much. You don’t want to have a pop-up for a free eBook, a sidebar offering a 20% discount, and a banner promising a free gift all on one web page.

discount banner

The point of a CTA is to give consumers one single action to take. Companies that communicate too many messages end up steering potential customers in all directions, rather than helping them achieve a conversion or purchase.

2. You’re Missing the Value

Now that people are noticing your CTA buttons, the next hurdle is convincing them to click. To earn a click, you need two things:

  1. A clear offer of value.
  2. An element of persuasion.

Editor’s note: In this section, we’ll cover how to convey value, and then how to perfect your persuasion tactics in the final section.

According to Kath Pay, one of the Top 50 Email Marketing Influencers in the world, too often we get so tied up in the details of marketing that we lose sight of the bigger picture: the value that we’re offering our customers.

“What happens when we set out to “create” a landing page/email/campaign/program without focusing on the objective is that we get caught up in the detail and what we think looks good, sounds good, etc. We forget about our customers and our end objective. We deliver something that meets our needs — but not necessarily theirs…”

Whenever you create a CTA, or anything customer-oriented for that matter, you should always be focused on what’s in it for them. Because when your customers see a CTA, the first thing they’re going to want to know is why they should click.

What’s the incentive for them entrusting you with their email address (as they already deal with an abundance of spam mail)?

Consumers need to perceive some kind of value. If your CTA comes off as self-serving or doesn’t speak to what your customers care about, it won’t resonate with them, and they won’t click. You first need to provide value, as users opting in for marketing emails are more likely to work with you than those who get cold emails.

twitter “Consumers need to perceive value – if a #CTA seems self-serving, they won’t click” says @levi_olmstead CLICK TO TWEET

Here are two ways to offer value in exchange for email signups.

Use an attractive magnet

Lead magnets are popular — everyone seems to have at least one. And it’s because they work. A lead magnet provides up-front, instant value in exchange for a simple email address.

Add in the promise that they can cancel their subscription at any time and it takes on the feel of a free gift, with no strings attached.

The catch is that the magnet needs to be something your customers will value. Which of the following would be more attractive to your customer?

  1. 20% off your next purchase.”
  2. “Buy five and get one free.”
  3. Something else

attractive magnet

The answer, of course, depends on your customer and your product. If you happen to sell a lot of consumable, complementary products, with a lower price point, such as books, housewares, or the like, the second one may win.

But if you’re selling high-end products or experiences that are infrequent purchases, such as trips to Europe, the first one is going to attract more people.

Promise special email content

Another option is to communicate the value that comes directly from your emails. If you can nail this, not only are you convincing people to sign-up but you’ve already got them looking forward to opening and clicking on your emails.

No one is going to sign up for an email version of something they can already get off your website. Inboxes are full enough these days. Each day, more than 269 billion emails are sent — that means the 3.7 billion email users receive roughly 72 emails per day.

CTAs such as ‘weekly newsletters’ or ‘articles straight to your inbox’ may actually be counterproductive, depending on your goals. Exclusive offers, on the other hand, can be well-worth a signup. Priceline does this well. They offer exclusive coupons and discounts to people who join their email list.

newsletter sign up

The key is to offer something that your customers cannot get otherwise. Don’t offer a discount in exchange for an email address, and then offer that same discount on your site’s exit intent pop-up. It’s the exclusivity that will create demand.

3. Your CTA Phrase is Weak

Value is critical. No one is ever going to click if you don’t offer them something they want. But, value alone still isn’t enough. A large percentage of consumers say that trust is the biggest factor when it comes to branding. Consumers know they could probably find the same value somewhere else if they really wanted to – or at least take some time to shop around, sleep on it, and get distracted by the next shiny thing, forgetting they ever saw your offer in the first place.

Even when you’re providing value, you still need to focus on getting people to convert NOW. You need to spur the impulse to buy. “Impulse shopping” could mean mega bucks for retail brands, and it can provide the same massive benefits when used for email signups.

But to play on impulses, you need a strong trigger phrase that demands immediate action. Here are three ways to persuade your audience to act now.

Incorporate power words

Did you know that the two most persuasive words in the English language are “You,” and “Free”? These power words are persuasive because they speak to our basic instincts. They trigger the subconscious part of the brain that wants to act before it waits to think.

Power words trigger emotions, which can lead to impulses. For example, “sabotage” can trigger fear or anger. And our primal brains instantly want to take whatever action gets rid of those negative feelings. FOMO (fear of missing out) is another popular impulse trigger. Consumers respond to urgency and scarcity because they want to get in on the action and don’t want to miss out.

Here are nine different phrases you can build into your CTAs to trigger scarcity or FOMO:

  • “Limited offer”
  • “Supplies running out”
  • “Get it while it lasts”
  • “Sale ends soon”
  • “Today only”
  • “Only [X] more available”
  • “Only available here”
  • “Nearly sold out”
  • “[X] already sold”
twitter “Use power words, scarcity, urgency, & #FOMO in CTAs to trigger emotions & spur purchases” says @levi_olmstead CLICK TO TWEET

Emphasize zero risk

The less consumers stand to lose, the more comfortable they’ll be taking action. Take a look at this CTA example by Freshdesk:

zero risk

This CTA emphasizes that users can sign up risk-free with “no credit card required,” and “no strings attached.” Now that’s VALUE. Props, Freshdesk!

The same practice can work for your email campaigns. Because no one wants to discover they’ve been trapped in an overwhelming series of emails that they can’t seem to unsubscribe from.

BrandAlley boasts an extremely low opt-out rate, thanks to their transparency during the email signup process. The brand clearly communicates upfront that members will, by default, receive two emails per day, plus any abandon cart or triggered emails. This means there are no surprises about the number of emails that customers will get.

Avoid the average

How many times have you seen the phrase, “Sign up now” on a CTA? It’s so predictable and fails to trigger any emotion.

Any cliched words or phrases should be avoided like the plague. Remember, you need to stand out in a crowded market where everyone is getting smarter with content. Be different, be bold, be confrontational. But don’t be insulting or boring.

Tread carefully with those entry or exit overlays with two button options — one of which is a “positive” or affirmative statement (the “yes” conversion button) while the other is borderline demeaning (the “no, I want less customers” button). Stay sharp and cunning, but don’t make visitors feel as if they’re “less” with overly-witty CTA copy. I’d recommend testing the “dual option” button; but you can’t really go wrong with a single affirmative conversion button and some clever humor, like this before and after email sign-up CTA from Pizza Need:

Pizza Need

Of course, this won’t work for every business. You need to make sure your wording matches your audience.

Using tools to help

You can use a tool such as Grammarly Goals to ensure your language and wording will resonate with your target market.

If you need more insight into what speaks to your audience base, you can use SpyFu to conduct competitor research. Using tools like this will show you what CTAs and keywords are driving the most email signups and sales for businesses just like yours. In addition to competitor tools, you will want to make sure to schedule your social media posts and emails at the same time of day.

Bonus tip: Offer a text message sign-up option

Email is a powerful marketing tool, but conversational marketing is slowly changing the way people interact with businesses. So, while email is still the king, that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the up-and-comer: SMS.

After all, open rates for text messages sit around 98–99%! SMS offers 6-8x higher engagement rates than even email. People love texting, and they can’t seem to ignore that little icon letting them know they have a new message.

Air Tailor achieved 100% YoY growth thanks to incorporating text messaging into their marketing strategy.

To engage more customers and ultimately capture more sales, you can experiment with text messaging sign-ups and different chat providers to grow your email list.


Fixing your email CTAs ultimately boils down to just three things: make your buttons stand out, clearly communicate value, and use strong wording to trigger immediate action.

Once you’ve implemented the nine tips discussed above, your sign-ups will increase, and you can shift focus to crafting the perfect marketing emails.

Handpicked Related Resources: