Proven Strategies for Improving Your Email Click-Through Rate

Author's avatar Marketing Aug 6, 2018 13 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    While email marketers spend a lot of time optimizing delivery and open rates, they do so with the ultimate goal of getting clicks.

    But besides the clicks themselves, there are a number of factors that will determine your aggregate email click-through-rate.

    How engaged is your list?

    How frequently do you send email to this list?

    What time of day are you sending the email?

    While most teams would say they have a handle on these factors, it’s actually a bit tricky to understand things like engagement, send time, and frequency at the subscriber level.

    That’s why Databox teamed up with Seventh Sense, an automated send time and frequency optimization tool for email, in order to conduct some qualitative research.

    To level set, we polled dozens of marketers in order to identify any commonalities in email click-through rate. Turns out, there weren’t any.

    Most surprisingly, however, was that 22% of marketers reported email click-through-rates over 20%. You can track yours using these free email marketing dashboard examples.

    We went deeper to find out what’s working for this segment. Here’s what we found.

    *Editor’s note: To find your optimal time to send email that gets clicks, be sure to check out this free template from Seventh Sense that will provide an hour-by-hour breakdown of email engagement, the specific CTAs that are getting the most clicks, the number of reactivated contacts per campaign, and more.

    Nail Your CTA

    If you want people to click your emails, you need to give them a good reason to. Which is why so many of our respondents mentioned strategies for great calls to action (CTAs) in emails.

    More than anything else, marketers said to stay focused and only include one CTA.

    Thierry Augustin, founder of Stellar Emails, told us about one of his clients. “After breaking the million-emails-in-a-month mark with one of our Shopify Plus clients, we found that directing subscribers to a single destination yielded 3% more clicks when compared to emails with multiple options.”

    3% might not sound like much, but when you’re sending a million emails, it makes a big difference.

    GoodFirms‘ content consultant Kim Smith lays out her strategy:

    “[A] singular CTA button works the best,” said Smith. “It’s simple. Put a short, concise text in the email explaining what would a customer get by clicking that CTA and put a big, bold, and emotion-creating CTA button out there. And end it with an elegant thanks.”

    (If you need multiple CTAs, Smith says, make sure to distinguish each one so there’s no confusion.)

    Why is a single CTA so effective?

    It “forces all content to feed to this outcome,” said Eric Quanstrom, CMO of CIENCE. “Especially the rationale for why you are writing and the value proposition.” That idea of value proposition is a big one; we’ll talk about that more in a moment.

    Arielle Kimbarovsky, digital marketing intern at Codal, also pointed out that multiple CTAs are overwhelming to readers. “[W]hich usually just leads to them abandoning the email.”

    Put the CTA at the Top—Or Throughout

    When most people think of CTAs, they think of the standard link or image at the very end of the email.

    But plenty of marketers say that’s not the way to go.

    Jonathan Aufray, co-founder of Growth Hackers, muses that this is because of increased mobile use:

    “[I]f you put your CTA at the end of the email, the recipients will need to scroll down for quite some time before seeing your CTA,” said Aufray. “[P]utting the hyperlink around the top of the email increases the CTR.”

    Allen Press‘s digital marketing strategist Laci Wright suggests highlighting the CTA twice, once at the top of the email and once at the bottom.

    Not everyone recommended being quite so judicious with CTAs, though.

    Roy Harmon, owner of Advertoscope, recommends sprinkling different variations on the CTA throughout the email (including early on). “A good rule of thumb is to include a linked CTA every 150 words or so,” Harmon says.

    And he has results to back it up: using the CTA throughout has increased his email click-through rate by up to 12.5%.

    Separate the CTA

    BHW Group‘s digital marketing intern Eileen Bau shared an especially interesting way of highlighting email CTAS. Instead of placing them at the top or bottom, or even throughout the email, she completely separates content and action areas.

    “[L]inks can get lost in even a few sentences of copy,” Bau says. So she tried something different.

    “I saw our CTR increase after I simply added a small sidebar section in our email that consolidated all actionable links in a very clear, concise manner,” said Bau. “Each link would be preceded only by a short, less-than-five-word description. For example, ‘Sign up today for XYZ: [link]’ or ‘Discount Offer: [link]’.”

    “[I]t helps readers visually recognize that there is one place in every email they can go if they want to take action.”

    Subject Line

    No matter what we’re focused on in email marketing, we almost always come back to the subject line. And it makes sense; you can’t get a click-through if no one opens your email.

    JP Wallhorn, founder of Syntx, puts it plainly: “Defining a good subject line is the most important part because the email can be great but if nobody opens it, it doesn’t even matter.”

    That’s why our respondents placed a strong emphasis on driving opens with great subject lines. Fundera content marketing associate Nicolas Straut has seen results with emphasizing urgency and value.

    Ashleigh Peregoy, marketing manager at Box Marketing, echoed the thought: “Make the subject line too irresistible not to open.” How do you do that? Maristella Colombo and Home Air Quality Guides‘ Patrick Holmes both recommend asking questions.

    Deputy Rabbit co-founder Max Harris likes silly and intriguing subject lines, like “So, we’re just like your favorite ice cream shop?” Because Deputy Rabbit is a graphic design firm, this gets people’s attention.

    Laura Hall, marketing executive at Shiply, takes a similar tack. “Leave a little bit of mystery in the subject line, so readers want to read more,” she says.

    (Editor’s note: for more great ideas on email subject lines that get clicked, check out our roundup of the best subject line advice!)


    Once you’ve gotten your recipient to open your email, you need to give them a good reason to click. And beyond a great call to action, you need to provide value.

    That means something different to every company and every marketing campaign. But it’s something that came up a lot from our respondents. Of course, it’s easy to say “add value.” It’s a little more difficult to give specific examples.

    demandDrive‘s director of Marketing, AJ Alonzo, shared his agency’s strategy. Instead of sending out typical marketing emails, they share specific articles and blog posts. Here’s an example that Alonzo passed along:

    “Hey [PROSPECT],

    Whether you’re building a new SDR team or augmenting your existing one, here are some things our network has experienced:

    1. There’s a shortage of SDRs, and the quality reps are expensive
    2. You think you have a great team, but turnover is high – now you have to re-recruit, train, and hire
    3. To keep that team productive you need a dedicated manager

    This blog on the SDR shortage has been helpful to a lot of clients in your area: (Insert Relevant Blog Here)


    It seems simple, but emails like this have gotten in the neighborhood of 6.5% CTR, which is quite a bit higher than demandDrive’s average.

    Why does it work? “This way the prospect knows that we’ve done our research, we predict a common problem, and we give them a potential solution,” said Alonzo. “It’s compelling enough to get them to click on it, and we’re not pressuring them to do so.”

    Daniel Ndukwu, founder of KyLeads, gave the example of a fitness email.

    “I travel a lot so I like to do exercises that don’t require weights because finding a gym is a hassle. I’m also not interested in bulking up,” Ndukwu says.

    “If you send me an email about ‘ten gym exercises you must do’ I’ll ignore it. If you send me an email about 10 exercises you can do right now with no equipment I’m opening, clicking, and bookmarking that page.

    Ndukwu is getting into segmentation, which is a valuable tool we’ll talk about next.

    The 80/20 Rule

    Before we do, though, it’s important to mention Nedelina Payaneva’s insight. Asian Absolute‘s junior digital marketing specialist shared her thoughts on just how much value you should be providing.

    “[Y]ou want to dedicate about 80%, or 4 out of 5 messages, to be insightful and helpful to your customers, while only actually selling the other 20% of the time,” said Payaneva.”


    Not every customer is going to respond to the same type of value. Segmenting your email list into different groups can help you provide the right kind of value.

    “Let’s face it, every email that you send probably isn’t relevant for the entire list,” says Sean Nichols, marketing manager at SiteVisibility. “Rather than sending every offer or promotion or piece of content to everyone on your list, take time to think about who it is most relevant for and create groups and segments before sending.”

    There are many ways you might segment your list. Dalton Francis, director of email marketing at Giant Partners, recommends “catering to the specific wants, needs, demographic, and psychographic information of your audience.”

    That’s a lot of segmentation. And it’ll require more time and effort to craft emails for each of those groups,” said Francis. “But in the end, it’s worth it. Giant Partners has seen absolutely phenomenal increases in their CTR after abandoning “mass ‘shot in the dark’ promotional emails.”

    Even if you only use a small number of segments, you can create emails that are better suited for those groups. James Nuttall, content and outreach specialist at It Works, gives the example of a recruiting agency.

    “[Y]ou’re going to be sending out emails to people who are looking for jobs and people who are looking to fill positions within their company. Therefore, your messages are going to be completely different and your tone is going to be different.”


    Beyond segmenting your email list into groups lies the murky world of email marketing personalization. Figuring out how to appeal to individual customers is the holy grail of marketing, but it’s not easy.

    It takes time and effort. Says Liviu Tanase, founder of ZeroBounce, “This doesn’t only mean addressing subscribers by their first name but taking the time to study their behavior and discover what they like, need, and expect from you.”

    You can also personalize your emails with timing.

    “To subscribers who clicked on a certain link in the master-list-send that week, we scheduled a personalized follow-up email a couple days later,” says Meenal Upadhyay, SEO associate at Fit Small Business. “We have seen 60%+ open rates and 30%+ CTR on these highly segmented follow-ups.”


    Interestingly, a few marketers mentioned including videos in their emails to increase click-through rate. Including video in email is a bit of a challenge, but there are a few tactics that can work.

    And when they work, they can really give you a boost.

    iSwissWeb marketing and business development manager Loïc Barbaux says that CTR is improved by 200–300% with video.

    One interesting idea we heard was to get around the difficulty of including video in an email by using GIFs instead. Joy Gendusa, founder of PostcardMania, says that GIFs have doubled her click-through rates.

    That’s an easy tactic for a huge gain.

    And you can combine personalization and video for even more impact. Casey Hill, founder of the Hill Gaming Company, recommends the video messaging tool Bonjoro. It allows you to create short personalized videos that speak directly to your customer.

    Keep It Simple

    Email marketing—and marketing in general—has seen a shift away from ornate, complicated messages and media. If you haven’t followed that trend, you could be losing clicks.

    “It’s always tempting to provide more information, more bullet points, more validation, and even more offers in your emails, but, time after time, focus and simplicity has worked for our clients and ourselves,” says Olive & Company vice president Erik Norsted.

    And that goes beyond just using a single call to action.

    Josh Spilker, content manager at ClickUp, recommends plain-text emails to keep things simple. (Or HTML-formatted emails without images.) It adds a personal touch, he says, and makes people more likely to click.

    Rosie from Bulldog Marketing encourages marketers to “[p]ay close attention to how your email will appear on a mobile device.” That means making sure the subject line is short enough to appear on a mobile app, and that the email is designed for mobile use.


    Okay, so we’ve gone over a lot of potential things you can do to increase the click-through rate of your emails. But how do you know if they’re going to work?

    By testing them.

    301 Digital Media‘s manager of digital strategy and planning Lauren Petermeyer recommends A/B testing. “[T]esting more than one subject line and then looking at the amount of clicks from each can help you identify what kind of language is resonating with your readers. Do they like long or short subject lines? Questions? All caps?”

    Continual testing to see which of your emails perform the best ensures that you know what your readers are looking for.

    But that’s not the only testing you should do. “If people can’t view your emails, they aren’t going to click,” says HealthJoy CMO Rick Ramos. “This is basic, but bad-rendering emails are way too common.”

    No matter what stage of CTR optimization you’re in, you should be testing. and using a marketing dashboard software to measure their effectiveness. .

    Keep an Open Mind

    Like with many of our other roundups, we got a lot of unique advice. It reinforces the idea that we’ve come across countless times before: keep an open mind, experiment with lots of things, and find what works best for your company.

    For example, PhoenixNap president Ian McClarty told us that they’ve seen great success with sending emails that look like they’re from a person, instead of from the company. “An email that appears to be coming from an actual individual is more personal and much more likely to get opened,” McClarty says.

    John Lincoln, co-founder of Ignite Visibility, emphasized withholding just enough information to capture readers’ interest. Boxless Media president Jason Baumann extolled the value of running Facebook campaigns alongside email campaigns.

    And this story from VIP Spades‘ Deyan Drazov . . . well, it just speaks for itself:

    “While on the lookout for a creative content writer, I received the following email.

    ‘Have you seen my ferret?’

    Needless to say, I was baffled. Having my interest piqued, I quickly opened the email. It was the best all-around email experience of my career. It had everything–a great subject line, an interesting opening line, perfectly written body copy, sprinkled gracefully with charming humor.

    The most fascinating thing appeared right in front of my eyes at the end of the email. A picture of a ferret. Yes. The applicant showed me a picture of his alleged ferret. It was all a joke of course, but it was a well crafted one. His call to action quickly followed, linking to a place where his past work can be found. I didn’t hesitate for a second and opened it, finding remarkably well-written content.

    Needless to say, he got hired as quickly as I opened his email.”

    What strategies have you tried to improve your CTR? Did they work? What was most effective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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    Dann Albright

    Dann is a freelance writer who helps B2B companies reach their audiences more effectively. With an emphasis on organic traffic and conversion, he takes big ideas and turns them into highly practical content that keeps readers hooked.

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