Email Engagement

Boost Engagement with Buttons in Email Marketing

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As an email marketer, you might hear ‘engagement’ and think of the following things…

  • Captivating copy
  • Stunning visuals
  • Personalized content

…and you wouldn’t be wrong! However, part of what makes an engaging email is the overall experience for the subscriber who is receiving, reading, and interacting with it. That means going beyond email design basics and looking at things like accessibility, email optimization, and, of course, the bread and butter of marketers everywhere: calls to action.

While there are many different ways to approach and structure a call-to-action (CTA) in an email, we’re going to focus specifically on buttons––why they work, how to design them, and how to use them to boost overall engagement and read rates.

But first, a quick lesson in psychology!

The psychology behind buttons

The psychology behind clicking buttons is rooted in several cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors that influence a human’s decision-making as well as how they interact with technology. Below are some key psychological principles that contribute to the phenomenon:

  1. Visual and tactile feedback: Buttons are designed to be visually distinct and often even have tactile feedback when pressed. This provides a sense of interaction and control, making users feel like they are taking action and getting a response. The tactile sensation adds to the engagement and reinforces the feeling of accomplishment.
  2. Perceived interactivity: Buttons create a perception of interactivity and responsiveness. When users click a button and see an immediate response, it reinforces the idea that they have a direct impact on their digital environment leading to a sense of empowerment.
  3. Operant conditioning: Clicking buttons can be associated with the principles of operant conditioning, where a behavior (clicking) is reinforced by a reward (a desired outcome or action). Users learn that, by clicking certain buttons, they can achieve specific outcomes (which encourages them to continue clicking).
  4. Gamification: Buttons can be gamified by incorporating elements like sound effects, animations, or progress indicators. This taps into the human tendency to enjoy challenges, earn rewards, and experience a sense of achievement, similar to the mechanics found in games.
  5. Decision-making: Clicking a button can trigger a simplified decision-making process. When users are presented with a clear choice (to click or not to click) where an immediate outcome follows, the cognitive load is reduced, making the interaction more effortless.
  6. Habit formation: Consistently clicking buttons, especially in the context of apps or platforms that are frequently used, can lead to the formation of habits. Habitual clicking becomes automatic and requires less conscious effort, contributing to user retention.
  7. Psychological closure: Clicking a button can provide a sense of closure or completion to a task. When users complete an action by clicking a button (e.g., submitting a form or confirming a purchase), they experience closure, reducing any lingering feelings of uncertainty or incompleteness.
  8. Social validation: Buttons like ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ on social media platforms tap into the human desire for social validation and connection. Clicking these buttons can provide a sense of belonging and recognition, as well as trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure.

In short, clicking buttons involves a complex interplay of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors that exploit fundamental psychological principles. Designers and developers leverage these principles to create intuitive, engaging, and user-friendly interfaces that encourage interaction, foster positive emotions, and facilitate desired user behaviors.

By understanding these principles, marketers of all types can, too!

Designing effective buttons in emails

Now that you understand the psychology behind buttons, let’s get into button design.

Button shape

While nothing is stopping you from getting creative, best practice dictates that the most practical shape for your email buttons is that of a––you guessed it––button. That’s because standard button shapes like round(ed), square, pill-shaped, ghost, and shadowed are easily recognizable to even the fastest of skimmers.

Button size and spacing

Research shows that buttons between 42-72 pixels have the highest accuracy rate, with 60 pixels being the most optimal for users across all spectrums. That said, if you plan to use more than one button CTA, it’s important to convey priority so keep the most important buttons (with the most desired outcomes for your readers) at the higher end of the size scale.

According to the same study, the optimal amount of space between buttons is between 12 to 48 pixels. 

Button color

While there are several approaches to take, from color theory to psychology. Ultimately, CXL said it best: no single color is better than the next. What matters most is how much an email button contrasts with its surrounding area.”

Button copy

Marketers are already painfully aware of how increasingly common it is for their audience to scan rather than read content. So much so that a study by the NN Group found that “concise and objective copy can lead to improved usability (between 124 percent and 159 percent), increasing user performance and satisfaction.”

Our advice? Keep your button copy short, sweet, and to the point. It should guide the reader and motivate them to take action. That looks like: 

  • Using action verbs that match the context of the CTA (e.g. “save” as opposed to yes or no in answer to a question);
  • Avoiding confusing buzzwords, and;
  • Remaining consistent with your choices around capitalization, copy length, etc.

Button accessibility

Being considerate about accessibility isn’t just good practice––it’s the right thing to do. After all, the whole point of email communication is to reach as many of your subscribers as possible and that includes those with impairments or disabilities.

To ensure buttons in emails are accessible, follow these steps: 

  • Use clear and descriptive text within the button, conveying its purpose and action. Avoid vague labels like “Click Here” and instead use specific text like “Read the Full Article.”
  • Ensure a strong contrast between the button color and background to make it visible to users with low vision or color blindness.
  • Opt for a button size that’s easy to tap on mobile devices, but not too large to overwhelm the layout.
  • Use HTML email buttons and avoid using images for buttons. This enables screen readers to convey information.
  • Ensure the button has a clear focus indicator so users navigating with keyboards can easily identify it.
  • Include alt text that explains the button’s purpose.
  • Regularly test your emails with screen readers to identify any accessibility issues and make necessary improvements.

Email button placement strategies 

Effective button placement within emails is crucial for guiding recipients toward desired actions. By considering the following strategies, marketers can maximize user engagement and conversions.

Above-the-fold placement

According to one study, “38 percent of all emails had their first CTA somewhere near the top, usually within an image or right below a header image.” That’s because placing buttons above the fold—the visible area of an email without scrolling—increases the likelihood of immediate interaction.

This prime real estate is the first thing recipients see, making it ideal for featuring high-priority CTAs. Whether it’s prompting users to “Grab Your Discount” or “Start Exploring,” buttons placed here capitalize on initial curiosity and reduce the friction of scrolling to take action.

Scannable content and buttons

As we mentioned before, users often scan emails rather than read them thoroughly. This is where scannable content shines. Breaking down information into bite-sized sections with concise headings and pairing them with relevant buttons makes it easier for recipients to grasp the message quickly.

Each section can culminate in a button that aligns with the content’s intent, such as “Learn More” after a brief product description or “Register Now” following event details.

The power of the bottom button

According to the same study, the bottom of an email is another prime location for a button with, “35 percent of all emails put their first (and usually only) CTA at the bottom third of the email.” As users scroll through the email, they naturally gravitate toward this area.

Using a compelling CTA here can serve as the grand finale, summarizing the email’s key message and encouraging recipients to take action. This approach works exceptionally well for buttons like “Get Started” after outlining product benefits or “Book Now” following an enticing offer. The bottom button serves as the ultimate invitation for users to commit.

By implementing these placement strategies, marketers can guide recipients through a seamless and compelling journey, driving higher click-through rates and conversions.

Boosting click-through rates with buttons…

In the digital landscape, where user attention spans are limited and competition for engagement is fierce, optimizing click-through rates (CTR) is a paramount goal for businesses and content creators. Buttons, as essential elements of user interfaces, play a pivotal role in driving CTR.

By harnessing the power of personalization, dynamic content, and interactive features, organizations can elevate their CTR game and create more compelling user experiences.

…Through personalization

Personalization is a cornerstone of modern digital strategies, allowing businesses to connect with users on a more individualized level. Incorporating personalized elements into buttons can significantly impact CTR. By adapting buttons to reflect user preferences, behaviors, or demographics, businesses can create a sense of relevance that resonates with their audience.

Consider an e-commerce platform that utilizes personalized buttons to display product recommendations based on a user’s browsing history. Instead of generic “Buy Now” buttons, the platform could dynamically generate buttons like “Recommended for You” or “Your Style.” This personal touch speaks directly to the user’s interests, prompting a higher likelihood of engagement and conversion.

…Through dynamic content

Dynamic content changes based on context, behavior, or time. Integrating dynamic content within buttons can inject an element of excitement and urgency, enticing users to click through. For instance, a travel website might incorporate buttons with real-time countdowns for flash sales on vacation packages. The ticking clock creates a sense of urgency, encouraging users to take immediate action to avoid missing out.

Dynamic content can also adapt to a user’s journey. A subscription-based service might present buttons that say “Upgrade to Premium” after the user has engaged with the platform for a certain period. This approach not only promotes upselling but also demonstrates that the service is responsive to the user’s commitment.

…Through interactive content

Interactive content has a magnetic effect on users. Buttons that encourage interaction beyond a simple click can substantially elevate CTR. Gamification principles come into play here, as interactive buttons tap into the human desire for challenge and reward. Imagine a fitness app that features a “Spin to Win” button after a workout. Users can give the button a spin for a chance to unlock rewards such as discounts, virtual badges, or exclusive content.

Additionally, interactive buttons can be used to gather valuable insights. A survey platform could employ buttons with emoticons to gauge user sentiment after a webinar. This not only engages users but also provides the organization with immediate feedback, enabling them to fine-tune their offerings.

BONUS: 6 email button CTAs you’ll want to steal 

MailCharts makes CTA research faster and easier by curating dozens of special-interest email lists, each with dozens to hundreds of best-practice emails, collections of email journeys for triggered and transactional emails, and thousands of brands. 

If you’re ready to get started but looking for some inspiration, check out these examples of CTAs you’ll want to steal for your next email campaign.

Email clients and button compatibility

Email clients are diverse platforms used by recipients to access their emails. Ensuring button compatibility across various email clients is a critical aspect of effective email marketing. Different clients, such as Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail, and more, have unique rendering capabilities that can impact how buttons are displayed and function.

1. Visual consistency

Buttons should be designed using HTML and CSS. Also known as “bulletproof”, designing buttons in this way helps to maintain visual consistency across email clients, even those that turn images off. While some clients support advanced design elements, others may not, leading to varied appearances. 

2. Responsive design

As emails are accessed on a range of devices, responsive design is crucial. Buttons should be appropriately sized for mobile screens and large enough for easy tapping. Responsive design techniques, such as media queries, can adjust button sizes based on the viewing device, enhancing user experience.

3. Testing and previews

Regularly testing emails across multiple email clients is essential. Preview tools or testing services can provide insights into how buttons render across different platforms. Pay attention to button alignment, spacing, and overall visual appeal.

4. Fallback links

For email clients that might not support CSS-based buttons, provide a text-based fallback link that serves the same purpose. This guarantees that users can still access the desired content or action.

Pro tip: Some email clients disable images by default. Including descriptive alt text for buttons ensures that recipients understand their purpose even if images are blocked.

Boost engagement with captivating CTA buttons 

Crafting an effective call to action demands creativity and an understanding of user psychology. As email marketing evolves, so too must our approaches to engaging users. The humble button, once a static element, has transformed into a dynamic tool that can drive CTR, encourage exploration, and cultivate a sense of involvement. 

By leveraging the best practices above, organizations can harness the full potential of buttons and propel their click-through rates to new heights.

That said, you can’t communicate with your subscribers if they aren’t getting your emails in the first place. When emails bounce, any engagement they might have garnered slips right out of your hands—and revenue losses can add up quickly.

To get your bounce rate back into a healthy range (and keep it that way!) check out our cheat sheet, “15 Ways to Lower Your Email Bounce Rates.”