Think of the elusive call to action as a lead-generation gateway. Creating a great call to action can be tricky, however. Clearly identifying what you offer and how you want to convey that offer requires thoughtful consideration and good timing.

Here are 12 tips for optimizing your calls to action to ensure they compel potential customers to act.

1. Create concise subject lines

Online readers are expert skimmers, so create short, effective email subject lines that contain clear benefit, and be sure to instantly answer the question, "What's in it for me?" Make the message personal, and speak in "human," not jargon.

The three most popular types of subject lines that get subscribers reading emails are those featuring discount offers, free product offers, and familiar brand names.

According to a study by Experian Marketing Services (PDF), the use of the words "you" and "your" in subject lines has increased 3.7% since 2008, appearing in 20.9% of email subject lines. The use of the word "free" has decreased, showing up in only 12.4% of email subject lines, compared with 16.9% in 2008.

2. Test the subject line

Experiment. Test which subject lines get click-throughs. Try new things. Are you subscribed to a company email list? What gets you clicking? Again, refer to your analytics to see what content is inspiring your subscribers.

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Leigh Dow draws on her 15 years of Fortune 100 experience in e-commerce, CRM, and digital marketing to craft digital strategies for international company Mailigen, a leading Web-based email marketing platform for businesses and organizations of any size in the US, Asian markets, and now the CIS and European markets.