5 Psychology Principles You Can Use to Improve Email Click-Through Rates

Email isn’t dead, but attention for online consumers is at a premium. During this time of the year when every major ecommerce and online retailer is sending email campaigns, it’s important that you do what you can to make your emails stand out from the crowd. Although we focus mostly on transactional emails here at Spently, we wanted to provide you with a handful of tips that can help you optimize every type of email marketing campaign you send out to prospects and customers.

After reading this post, you’ll have a secret weapon in your email marketing arsenal: you’ll know the psychological principles that can boost your click through rates. Curious? Keep reading:

1. Color

Color psychology has been used by businesses across industries for decades, and it can be used in email marketing, too. Using a cohesive color palette across your website and email experience makes you look more professional and put together, and gives readers/customers a uniform look that they can associate with you. GetResponse also found that popular emails tended to put a block of color at the top of the email, which catches the eye and draws the reader in.

Aside from that, here are some associations that generally hold true:

  • Warm colors, like red, orange, and yellow, are often read as bold, optimistic, and confident (often bordering on aggressive, depending on the rest of the colors used)
  • Blues and greens read as dependable, trustworthy, and calming (with green having added connotations of wealth and money)
  • Purple also indicates wealth, along with creativity and sometimes decadence
  • Subdued colors are read as more professional and serious, whereas bright, saturated colors are read as more fun and creative
  • Bright, saturated, or contrasting colors are also great for getting people to take action — so make call to action buttons in emails vibrant and easy to see (for example, in this case study, red buttons outperformed green buttons — but is that because red tends to contrast with a more neutral site design, or because red as a color motivates people to take action? It’s hard to say; the best answer is to always test your button colors!)

Example from Nike:


2. Personalization

The most basic level of personalization is just making sure that your content matches your audience. If what you’re sending out isn’t interesting and relevant to your audience, there’s no way you’ll be able to improve your click through rates.

Past that, there’s subject line and body text personalization, like having the recipient’s name in those areas. In one study, it was found that personalized emails improved CTRs by 14%, overall conversions by 10%, and had 6x higher transaction rates. And personalized subject lines had a 26% higher open rate. It’s simple: we want to feel important, and when something uses our name — even if we know intellectually that it’s automated — it catches our eye and makes us more likely to take action.

You can also add personalization into your welcome emails to make them even more effective, or personalize email campaigns based on the visitor’s behavior. One example of that would be automated abandoned cart emails, which typically see a very high ROI.

Personalization example shared in a blog post from Foundr Magazine:


3. Social proof

Humans are social animals, and if we know that other people have taken a certain action (whether buying something, clicking on a link, or sharing an article), we’re more likely to do so. This is part of the reasoning behind social share counters on blog posts — when you see that 263 other people shared the blog post, it makes you want to read and share it, too.

Social proof is the name of this psychological phenomenon, and it’s great for getting people to take action. Well-implemented social proof can boost conversion rates by 40–80%, so there’s no reason that it can’t help your click through rates, too. Here are a few ideas for incorporating it into your email:

  • Having a live ticker of how many people have bought a certain item
  • Having a live social share count for the post
  • Incorporating reviews and customer images into your email
  • Mentioning how many email subscribers or customers you have

Example of social proof attached to a product from the Sellbrite blog:

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4. Curiosity and novelty

When we notice a gap in our knowledge, we don’t like it — our brain prompts us to try and fill it in. Research even shows that when we know a little bit about something, we tend to want to know more. Using curiosity in your emails and marketing plays off of that phenomenon. One way to take advantage of this is to ask a question in your email that people have to click to get an answer to. As a related example, Lucky Jeans ran several sales last year for its email list, where recipients had to click to find out whether they would be getting 30%, 40%, or 50% off. It worked on me!

Novelty is related in that anything new catches our eyes and tends to pique our curiosity. It’s hard to rely on this as a core component of your marketing, simply because it’s difficult to always find something new and different (and if you’re always doing something new, is it even novel, if that’s what your customers expect of you?). But incorporating something unexpected every now and then can give a quick boost to your open and click through rates.

5. Consistency

You know how when you train a dog, consistency is of the utmost importance? It’s important in email marketing, too. If people don’t know when to expect emails from you, or if one week the email is great and another week the email is nothing but fluff, they’re less likely to open and read. By being consistent — with timing, with design, with content — you’re training people to open your emails at a certain time and day, read them, and take action on them.

This is especially important if you really need to gain your customer’s trust. Anthony Scaller, an art gallery founder, credits consistency as one of the key ingredients in building an engaged list that’s willing to purchase high-ticket items. If you don’t seem reliable — maybe because you’re sending two emails a week apart, then waiting a month and a half to send another email — customers will have a much harder time trusting you enough to put down thousands of dollars.

There you have it: color, personalization, social proof, curiosity, and consistency — the five principles you need to boost your CTRs. Pick one to focus on this week and create a plan to improve it, and see the results!

About the author:

William Harris is the growth expert behind several ecommerce and VC backed SaaS businesses, helping them scale through intelligent application of modern marketing tactics. He’s also the overworked founder of Elumynt, a growth marketing agency.

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