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Three "quick" fixes to boost your email clicks and conversions

Author's avatar By Mark Brownlow 26 Oct, 2010
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The overhaul required to add a few percent to your results can easily leave you wide-eyed and intimidated. And casting worried glances at your budget.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as a quick fix in email marketing. Sort of.

Quick in the sense that very simple changes to words or design elements can have a huge impact.

Not so quick in that you'll need to tweak, test, explore and experiment to find the right change that brings the dramatic improvement.

Here are three areas where minor modifications can bring a quick result boost, each backed with real world examples illustrating the potential.

1. Sign-up, subscribe or join?

There it sits on your sign-up form, waiting to accept the click after someone filled out their email address. But does the wording on the button affect whether people choose to press it?

Of course it does. The "wrong" wording drove down sign-up conversions by 22.9% for one newsletter publisher.

The way you describe the act of joining a list - on buttons, in forms and in sign-up copy - changes how many people do so.

So what words work best?

The answer depends on the audience and what kind of email programme you run. Three things to consider:

Implicit meaning

Do "Subscribe", "Sign-up", "Join", "Submit" etc. all carry the same implicit meaning? Doubtful: the act of subscribing or joining, for example, typically implies more commitment than simply submitting...even though the end result is the same.


Sign-up buttons and copy typically use IT-style default wording: submit, sign-up...what about adding the kind of trigger words we learn about for ads and promotions?

Would any of these work better?

  • Sign me up
  • Subscribe today
  • Subscribe now and start saving


Finally, can you match the sign-up wording to the nature of what you're offering? You might be leery of using the word "join", because of the commitment it implies. But what if it implies exclusive access to a privileged club? "Join" looks like a good choice in this eBags example:

Example sign-up form

And if you go the "join" route, does it help to point out how many people already did so? Can social proof boost conversions? One website added the total number of current subscribers to their subscription page...and saw sign-ups rise over 32%.

2. Calls to action

Sometimes email marketers can be a close-knit lot. Which may be why we pay plenty of attention to subject lines (very email specific) and less to the call to action in the emails themselves (CTAs are for website folk).

But small changes to your call to action can lift results spectacularly. Here are some aspects you might consider testing...


Campaign Monitor sent out an email customer survey: "Tell us what we can do better" got over 50% more clicks than "Give us your best Campaign Monitor ideas!"

As with sign-up forms, words matter in CTAs too. They should combine with the context they are set in to communicate what the subscriber should do, where they will go and why they should go there.

I analyzed my own newsletter and found that active verbs in CTAs - like "Find out more" - typically got over 50% more clicks than CTAs with less active verbs - like "Read on".


My newsletter features teaser summaries with links to the full article at a website. When I add additional links in the teaser copy itself, rather than just at the end, clickthroughs rise an average 25%.

The impact of a CTA is affected by:

  • its location relative to associated images and text (e.g. above/below, distance from relevant text/image)
  • distinguishability from other text and images (e.g. link color, use of white space)
  • location in the email itself (Preheader? Top? Bottom? Left? Right?)
  • repetition (put the CTA in more than one place)


A large technology vendor boosted email CTR by 67% by changing a text link to a button.

Switching the call to action from text to a button or vice versa can change responses. If you use buttons, don't forget that an image-only button (and the CTA) disappears when images are blocked. An alternative is the bullet-proof button approach that uses table cells and colours to give a button-like experience when an image is suppressed: see this link for details.

Shape, size, colors and highlighting

In an email test of purple, green, orange and blue buttons, the winner produced over a third more clicks than the loser.

Button size, button shape, colors, fonts, font size, icons and arrows all also impact responses.

For a fuller discussion of email CTAs, with numerous test examples, see this longer post.

3. Subject line branding and personalization

Subject line optimization is art, science, guesswork and praying to Ispiter (the Roman God of Inboxes). But what about simply adding a brand, business, newsletter or subscriber name to the subject line to boost results?

A key factor behind opens is whether the subscriber recognizes the email. Which is why the "from line" deserves your close attention.

So adding a clear reference to the sender in the subject line should boost recognition and thus opens. Here's the evidence:

  • Last year, Sign-up.to found that branding the subject line of emails sent to their trial account users doubled both opens and clicks.
  • As far back as 2006, Silverpop found branding subject lines lifted opens up to 60%.
  • In 2008, MailChimp evaluated hundreds of campaigns and found:

"Subject lines with company names in them did better, and they did better when the company name was near the beginning of the subject line"

So is it worth testing? Definitely, but with some provisos...

First, branding takes space you might otherwise use for communicating the content of the email and enticing interest and action.

If the recognition-driven boost more than compensates for that, great. However, if the rest of your email is already ensuring recognition, then this boost may not compensate for the lost space and subject line branding might actually drive down results.

Second, it's important to measure the success of different subject line approaches based on the end results, not just open rates. It's not uncommon to find that the "best" subject line (in terms of your actual goals, like sales) wasn't the one that produced the most opens.

What about personalization?

Adding the subscriber's name to the subject line doesn't get a good press in the email marketing world. The consensus is it doesn't work, and comes across as a touch spammy.

Yet Expedia CruiseShipCenters put first names in subject lines and lifted open rates 10%.

The lesson there is that sometimes it pays to experiment. People like to see their name "in print". Which should lift attention and results.

Two main factors work the other way, though. First, the association with some types of spam (we've all seen fake personalized spam).

Second, personalized subject lines can also fail because the use of personalization conflicts with the rest of the subject line. It implies that the email itself is very specific to the subscriber. So it can come across badly if the email is some generic promotion.

Perhaps it's worth testing this approach on emails that also contain offers or content clearly tailored to the individual recipient, such as post-purchase follow-ups.

If you've experimented with subject line personalization or any of the above, do let us know how it worked out!

Author's avatar

By Mark Brownlow

Mark Brownlow is a former email copywriter and publisher of the retired Email Marketing Reports site. He now works as a lecturer and writer. Connect with him via Lost Opinions.

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