Right. On with the show.

This is the fourth in our four part series on writing decent sales emails.

In this piece, you will learn:

  • the 6 things you MUST know about creating calls to action (and the 1 thing that might be handy)
  • what happened when I put two calls to action in the same email once
  • how to sell hot dog stuffed crust pizzas to Snuggie buyers

We've talked about getting their attention, we've talked about piquing their interest, we've talked about nurturing desire and today, the grand finale, we're talking about getting them to take action.

A little less conversation, a little more action please?

Why, of course!

There are three big mistakes we see in calls to action.

a.) There isn't one.

The writer gets nervous about making “the ask” and doesn't know how to word it properly and decides to avoid the whole unpleasantness altogether.

They just make an announcement and never actually ask anyone to do anything.

b.) The writer pushes so hard that the reader runs away.

This is the Beg, Bully and Cajole strategy. Sometimes the writer is scared that nobody will buy anything so they pull out every scare and hype tactic they can. Sometimes the writer doesn't have much loyalty from their list so they have to play up the scarcity so much that they're not speaking to the reader, but the lizard inside the reader's head.

Either way, their entire angle is based on either overwhelming or scaring the reader into action.

c.) The writer doesn't know what action they're trying to elicit.

The writer doesn't know if they're trying to get the reader to click something, or to buy something, or feel something, or want something, so they push for all and none at the same time.

This results in a mess and very low sales.

So what should you do?

Let's discuss.

1. Decide which action you want them to take.

Usually this is “click” or “buy”, or their variants, but sometimes there are other options.

Reply. Call. Stop in. Ask for a quote. Stuff like that.

The action portion of the email should be very, very simple.

Basically you're saying, “If you do X, something cool will happen.”

If you click this link, if you Like us on Facebook, if you request a quote, something you will enjoy will happen shortly thereafter.


It is very difficult to convince someone to do something when you haven't decided what you want them to do.

In 99% of cases you're asking them to click something or buy something.

Everything stems from that.

So when you're writing your sales email, you may want to make a little note to yourself that says, “I am trying to get them to buy my widget” or “I am trying to get them to click through to the sales page.”

Management by objectives works better when you know your objectives.

2. Now ask them to take the action.

You don't have to use “click” or “buy” verbatim, but you need an action verb that has as few possible interpretations as you can get away with.

The Good:

“We're having a teleseminar. Register now.” Fine.

“We're having a teleseminar. Join us?” Sure.

“We're having a teleseminar. Click here for more details.” Perfectly adequate.

These are not great calls to action, but they call you to action at least.

The Bad:

“We're having a teleseminar. It's going to be a blast.” No call to action.

“We're having a teleseminar and spots are filling up fast. We hope you'll love it.” No call to action.

“We're having a teleseminar and it's going to sell out really quickly and past participants have really enjoyed it and if you come you'll learn lots of awesome stuff.” See what I mean?

This matters more than you'd think. You have to actually ask them to do something.

3. Make acting easy and simple.

You have about two words after the verb before people start thinking this is complicated. (That's why “click here” and “buy now” are so effective.)

Keep in mind, some of your customers are recently unemployed, about to become a grandmother at 35, and going through a divorce, all at the same time. They've got a lot on their minds and they're easily overwhelmed.

If there's a remote chance at all that they might be even KIND OF confused or daunted or overwhelmed by what you're asking them to do, you must paint a vivid, stunning, beautiful picture of how easy it is.

Simplify your words.

Shorten your sentences.

Increase your use of white space.

Use numbered lists.

Break things up with bullet points.

Do anything and everything you can to keep things looking simple.

(I have gone so far as to actually list the steps. “When you click reply, your ninja – her name is Natasha – will receive your email within 12 hours. She is going to send you an email back with the subject line [blah blah blah].” Not appropriate in every case, but it's not a bad way to paint a picture of how easy it's all going to be.)

Obviously if the action you're going for is “click here” then you don't need to worry about all of this. But if you have something with a little more going on than that, it's time to start painting the picture.

4. Make the call more than once.

Once is not enough.

Three times is usually too many.

Aim for two.

There are exceptions.

Not many.

This email has a link at the top and a link at the bottom. That's not a bad way to go.

It's not rocket science, you just want to have an extra opportunity to say, “No, seriously. Click this. Awesome stuff will happen when you do.”

5. Add some scarcity.

Scarcity comes in one of two camps – limited time, or limited supply.

The scarcity element can also be natural or manufactured.

In the natural category is something like consulting. I can only consult so many hours in a day. Consulting is a naturally limited resource.

In the manufactured category is something like a sale, that ends on a certain day. There's no reason it ends on that day. Somebody just decided it was going to.

Neither is better. It just depends on the circumstances.

If you have something that is naturally scarce, it's usually easier to write copy for that because you don't have to make any decisions about what to say or how to say it. While supplies last is while supplies last. It doesn't really take a lot more nuance than that.

Manufactured scarcity tends to turn into a spectacle because it takes a spectacle to draw attention away from the fact that the scarcity has no foundation.

Basically, “Maybe if we have enough balloons, they won't notice that these are digital products and as such, we cannot possibly run out.”

If you are inexperienced at copywriting, the best way to communicate scarcity – natural or manufactured, limited time or limited supply – is clearly, calmly, and with as few words as possible.

Order by Friday and get a free Snuggie.

The first ten people to try the new hot dog stuffed crust pizza get a free Snuggie.

Send us a photo of you eating a hot dog stuffed crust pizza and wearing a Snuggie and get a second Snuggie for a friend. (Offer ends at midnight.)

Resist the urge to explain why the offer is limited. It starts to sound like cajoling. If you can be playful about it, fine, but it's really unnecessary and can do a lot more harm than good.

The marketplace is conditioned to arbitrary scarcity and nobody really yells at you about it unless you run a marketing blog.

People don't expect there to be a reasonable explanation for WHY an offer ends at midnight. It just does. It's fine.

One limit, though?

You can mention the scarcity up to three times per communication.

A good rule of thumb is once in the subject line, once in the body copy, and once in the PS – or at the very end, if you don't have a PS.

(If your communication is very short, take it out of the body copy and leave it in the subject line and the PS.)

Beyond three and you're veering dangerously close to balloon territory.

6. Consider putting your call to action above the fold.

The “fold” is the bottom of the screen, below which a reader would have to start scrolling to see the rest of your email. Since everyone's screen is different, you can't expect to get it right for everyone. But a lot of people like to put their first call to action in the very beginning of their email because it gets the Ask in front of the reader before they can find a wandering butterfly to stare at.

Some exceptions –

If your audience is very loyal and can reasonably be expected to read instead of scan, you can afford to leave the call to action until later.

If you're going for mystique, you almost have to leave the call to action until later.

If it looks stupid at the top, leave the call to action until later.

And if you DON'T want them to click, leave it till about 40% – 60% of the way through, ideally sandwiched between two really interesting sections with a cliffhanger at the end of the first.

(Example situation in which you might not want someone to click – if you're doing an affiliate promotion for political or contractual reasons, but you don't actually want anybody buying the thing because you've got your own product coming out next week. Sneaky.)

7. Last, if you care about the outcome, do not have more than one action that your reader could take.


Do not have two products you're introducing at once.

Do not have one product for sale and a blog post you're linking to. (Unless neither are particularly important, in which case you're trying to build exposure instead of sales.)

Every decision your reader has to make decreases your chance of conversion by 49,312%. This is a fact.

They have already DECIDED to open your email and DECIDED to read this far and now they're about to DECIDE whether they're going to click.

Do you want to take your chances on one more decision?

No, you do not.

I did this once and it was such a catastrophic failure that I needed Freudian analysis afterwards.

Just assume there are no exceptions to this rule. It's safer that way.

And… you're done!

At this point, you've got their attention, you've got their interest, you've got their desire, and you've gotten them to take action.

The job of your emails is officially finished.

Now it's your sales page's job to do the rest. :)

Speaking of calls to action, you should check out our copywriting course.

See what I did there?