Do Your Words Scare People Away?

“Words mean nothing. Action is the only thing. Doing. That’s the only thing.”
– Ernest Gaines

You write words in your marketing emails. Many or few, you use them to communicate your ideas.

But you don’t write words to communicate alone. You write them to request an action. Sometimes it’s subscribing, responding, purchasing – whatever you want readers to do.

The words that carry most of the weight of the request are the few at the end, where you normally provide a link to proceed: your call to action. This is the decision point. The words you use here could sway readers either way.

So how can you know which ones to use? You can guess, based on your own preferences. Or you can know for sure by running a split test.

A Case of Textual Turn-Off

The Cabot Heritage Corporation, a stock advisory, ran a split test on two opt-in buttons. The buttons were identical in design and location. The difference was in the wording: one read “Send My Free Report”; the other, “Start My Free Subscription.”

Split Testing CTA Opt-in Text

Just two words changed, but that change had a powerful effect. The “subscription” button decreased conversions by 22.9% in the span of just two days.

What Happened Here?

Different words trigger different associations, and those can make or break the response.

In the above case, it looks like readers associated “send my report” with a single contact and “subscription” with regular communication, requiring more commitment.

But your readers’ responses will partly depend on your subject and the relationship you already have. The phrase that crashed and burned for Cabot Heritage might take your opt-in rate soaring.

That’s why you need to test for yourself. But when you do, don’t forget to…

Think About the Long Run

In Cabot Heritage’s test, it looks like people preferred the idea of one mailing to regular updates. But whichever button they pushed, they were added to the same mailing list.

It would be interesting to see how people who didn’t expect regular mailings reacted when they started getting them. Did the unsubscribe and spam report rates go up with the opt-in rate?

When choosing the words you want to test, keep in mind that you need to set correct expectations. A well-informed subscriber is a happy subscriber.

How To Test Your Call to Action

Your first step is to write several options that set those expectations and fit the usual “voice” of your brand – how you usually represent your brand in writing.

There are several approaches you could take:

Subscribe Here
You could go with a simple directive.
Sign me up
You could put words in the subscriber’s mouth.
Sign up for a monthly newsletter and a free T-shirt
You could restate the benefits that the subscriber will get.

Once you’ve designed a few options, split test them against each other. (If you use AWeber, here’s how to test your web forms and your broadcasts.) Soon you’ll know just what phrase calls your audience to action best.

Who Answers When You Call?

Are you getting the response you want from your calls to action? Are the subscribers you collect interested and engaged? Do they click and purchase?

Have you split test your call to action in the past? How could you test it now for an even better response?

Share your thoughts below!


  1. PLM

    8/17/2010 10:07 am

    You’re 100% right – calls to action should always be tested in order to get maximum response.

    I just realized that I haven’t run such a test in a long time. Today seems like the perfect day to get a new test started !

    I think something is not stressed enough in the article though : even when the submit button has a call to action like "send me the report", it’s very important to set the expectation of follow-up.

    This can be included in the text surrounding the button, or on the thank you page and first email, and it will prevent any "bad karma" from subscribers.

  2. Ricardo

    8/17/2010 11:27 am

    i will try it 4 sure!


  3. Jack Liang

    8/18/2010 9:14 am

    Split testing among headlines for your web form is a great feature. I’m definitely going to take some notes from this post. Thank you. Do you have any words to avoid or recommend?

    great post

  4. Adrian Jock

    8/18/2010 10:32 am

    "Send my free report" or "Send my free ebook" followed by something else in addition to the the free report or the free ebook is SPAM unless the signup page shows very clear that the "freebie hunter" will be subscribed to a mailing list.

    Most of the internet marketers don’t mention anything about a mailing list and this is a CHEAP marketing trick. Unfortunately some of these marketers use AWEBER and AWEBER – you guys! – doesn’t block their dishonest marketing practices.

    Maybe some of them are morons or scammers, but maybe some of them are newbies that don’t know what to do. YOU should teach them. And you can do it by writing BETTER articles. For example, what if … in the article above "Send my free report" image contains also a short text under it talking about the mailing list? Isn’t it better? Of course it is! It improves also the emails deliverability because it decreases unpleasant actions like "This is SPAM" reporting.

  5. Amanda Gagnon

    8/18/2010 10:49 am

    Adrian ~ Yes, that is spam. We do our best to teach newbies where the lines fall and why – that’s what our blog is about. That’s why the "think about the long run" section is included here.

    Thanks for being on the lookout for that; it’s the most important issue email marketers face. And we have a zero-tolerance policy for customers who spam, so if you discover any, please let us know.

    Jack ~ That’s great! Come back and tell us about it when you get your results!

    We’ve mentioned before that “submit” might be of questionable merit – it’s a little demanding. I could also recommend being direct and sticking with your usual “voice”, but you never know what’s going to work until you test!

  6. Gab Goldenberg

    8/18/2010 10:13 pm

    @Adrian – I agree about submit. It’s a leftover of web 1.0 and programmer-driven marketing rather than customer-driven marketing.

    If I may suggest, perhaps AWeber should take the lead and make the default button text ‘Send’ rather than ‘Submit’. (Perhaps with the exception of dominatrix newsletters 😉 … though I’d still test that vs ‘Submit, baby!’ heehee)

    On a related note, you might suggest that as a best practice, the button text should echo the form headline. Message match reduces anxiety and boosts clarity, both of which lift conversion.

  7. Gregg Murray

    8/19/2010 10:27 am

    Depending on your audience and the tone of your blog, you can have fun with the text on your submit button. Such as…

    Oh Yeah! Sent it to Me
    Gimmie That!
    I Want Me Some of That

    You get the idea. Have fun when possible.

  8. Sandro Salsi

    8/19/2010 12:10 pm

    I agree on restating the benefits that the subscriber will get. Works very well for me.

  9. Brian T. Edmondson

    8/19/2010 3:41 pm

    This is a very interesting test, and the results are opposite of what I thought they’d be.

    I would have guessed that someone would prefer a more tangible "free report" over something vague like "start my subscription".

    That’s why it always comes down to testing everything!

  10. peter mcc

    8/19/2010 11:46 pm

    Congrats on these blog posts, Amanda.

    The educational support for Aweber really maximises the value from the service and I’m soon to "go live" after working through a number of the emails and blog postings. The webinars are excellent too though I have to crawl out of bed at 2 am to catch them live.

    Once I clear one more wrinkle I’m good to start a regular email campaign for my site, but even better, I can see value in managing lists for other companies advertising with us.

  11. Tess

    8/20/2010 7:29 am

    I agree with Gregg…make if fun if possible! May as well, right? If it’s not fun, why do it!!

  12. Eruwan Gerry

    8/20/2010 8:36 am

    Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for sharing this great article.

    Split testing is a must if you really want to have a title or sentence that will convert whenever someone sees it.

  13. Craig White

    8/20/2010 6:48 pm

    Great information!

    I have just began a new split test on my opt-in form for my blog based on color. I will let you know the results.

    One question.

    How long should I run a split test for good results?

  14. Dan Buckner

    8/21/2010 7:37 am

    Great information! Changing 1 or 2 words in your call to action can make a big difference. Thanks for sharing.

  15. T

    8/21/2010 6:13 pm

    You are right. but not all results are constant. for example, some words that may be successful in one are might not be in another.

    We can probably base our "words" depending on the location or use a word that can generally produce the best results.

  16. Amanda Gagnon

    8/23/2010 8:06 am

    Peter ~ I’m so glad to hear that, and congratulations!

    Craig ~ It depends on how often the form gets used, but I’d say a minimum of a few weeks.

  17. Craig

    8/24/2010 12:45 pm

    Brian T. – People did prefer the "free report."

    My first thoughts after reading this article were similar to others. Tricky marketing spam. However, if you have to "confirm" your subscription by clicking on a link in your email then I would say that solves that problem. Bottom line for me is that as a potential subscriber I wouldn’t opt in with this tactic.

    Say it out front to begin with. "Subscribe to our newsletter to get this great free report now." Obviously it won’t fit on a button but having this info upfront is much better than deceiving the user.

  18. Danielo

    9/10/2010 1:15 am

    Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for the informative post you provided here. It took me time to read your article and all the commenters as well. I find it very realistic since words is very powerful. It has the power to provoke.

    In online business word is very important. This is most effective and the best tool to communicate to people. Careless or tactlessness might cause us distrust and eventually loss.

  19. Why Do Most Writers Not Have Newsletters?

    11/29/2010 9:32 am

    […] Do Your Words Scare People Away? (from AWeber’s blog) […]

  20. Omar

    12/7/2010 7:15 pm

    Excelent way to get more suscribers, I’ll put in practice the test inmediatly, and I recommend to put a little sentence below the form saying they are been subscribed to a newsletter too, if you are giving a free report.

    Thank you.

  21. Aaron

    5/2/2011 5:10 am

    Your web form generator is unwieldy.

    Comeon. Even open sourced WordPress editors are less clunky.