How to Write an Effective Call-to-Action that Converts
As a marketer, it’s your job to provide a clear direction in your content so users have a smooth, easy experience and know exactly what actions to take. A call-to-action (CTA), assists with this process.
CTAs guide users to their desired destination, which most commonly includes the following actions:
- Downloading content
- Sharing content on social media
- Signing up for a blog subscription
- Registering for events
- Learning more about products and services
- Purchasing a product or service
A CTA can be displayed as a simple hypertext phrase, or as a more technical timed pop-up. Their most popular form is as a button to easily highlight and call out the most important actions.
The downside of CTAs is that it’s easy for them to read like spam (think of all the “You won a million dollars! Collect your prize now!” pop-up ads of the AOL days). And including too many CTAs on one page could be confusing and tacky, causing users to exit the page.
But when done well, effectively written, designed and placed CTAs can result in more conversions.
If you find that some pages aren’t converting as well as others, a quick fix is to analyze your CTAs. They may be too hard to find, unclear or too disruptive. Here are a few ways to improve your CTAs and see your conversion rates increase.
1. Use action-oriented words
The CTA button will always start with a verb. That way the user is prompted to take action.
“Click here,” “Subscribe” and “Download” are often used and can work if there is enough surrounding detail. However, these are lazy ways to label a CTA button.
Use your button copy to reiterate the value of your offer and make it creative. Instead of “Download Now,” ConversionXL’s CTA button for one of their gated pieces of content states:
“Become a Conversion Master”
That sounds like an even better deal than a plain ol’ download. It also proves the product’s value by suggesting a transformation will happen if you download it.
How much information should be included in a CTA?
For an offer that is easy to understand and has obvious value to a prospect, the CTA will only need to be a short, enticing statement to encourage users to click.
However, if the offer is complex and prospects need some convincing, it’s best to include more copy before presenting them with a CTA. Asking for a commitment before demonstrating the value and of your product or service can appear tacky and detract a prospect from clicking.
There’s no set number of words to include before a CTA to make it effective. Through testing your CTAs, you can learn what resonates best with your audience.
2. Make the action clear
Just like a GPS, your CTA should provide easy-to-follow directions.
The copy on the CTA button should be short and to the point — the HubSpot CTA user guide suggests using no more than five words. The direction should also be very specific. A phrase such as “Get Started” may be too vague if a user is not yet familiar with what the company offers.
The surrounding copy should provide enough detail so users quickly understand why they should click on that button and what will happen when they do (i.e., answer the prospect’s question, “What’s in it for me?”). Think of this copy as your company’s CTA elevator speech.
At the bottom of Medium’s “About” page, they display two short and sweet statements that give just enough detail so that you can answer these three questions:
What action are you directed to take? Start reading
Why should you take that action? I’ll get to read stories that matter
What will happen when you click the CTA button? I’ll sign up to read those stories
Use these questions when analyzing whether your CTA has enough detail. Users should be able to quickly answer all of the above questions to know exactly what action to take and how they’ll benefit.
It’s also possible to provide TOO much information, which could be overwhelming and cause readers (especially the ones scanning) to leave.
3. Appeal to emotion
When writing CTA copy, use these tried-and-true tactics long known to copywriters:
- Create a sense of urgency and give users a reason why it’s important to act now rather than later. Phrases such as “download now,” “limited time” or “don’t wait” denote there is a deadline. An easy way to display the urgency, especially for events, is to install a countdown timer on the landing page or form. Offer special discounts for a limited time to also create urgency.
- Guilt tactics are used in CTAs in terms of how choices are displayed. This pop-up from BookBub is a great example. If you’re an intense bookworm and take pride in your giant library, it may feel like you’re denouncing that hobby by clicking “I’m more of a movie person.” Nonprofits also commonly use guilt tactics for those who decide not to donate (“No, I don’t want to save lives”).
- The bandwagon approach establishes trust with users by showing how many other people have taken action; for example, “Join our network of 10,000+ members!” If that many people receive a newsletter, then users think it must be a trustworthy and valuable source.
- Make it personal by using the pronouns “I” and “me.” It conveys a more personal message and makes it easier for people to imagine themselves taking action. “Sign me up” and “I want to save money now” are phrases your users can really connect to.
- Create a feeling of belonging by using phrases like “join us” or “become part of the family.” This appeals to people’s desire to be part of a group and it helps form a stronger connection between brand and consumer.
- Build trust by incorporating phrases that show transparency such as “no hidden fees” or “no BS.” Offer a guarantee, include testimonials and data, or list awards or titles such as “best selling,” if applicable. Listing other experience your company has, like specific training or number of years in business, can also demonstrate trust.
- Provide value to show that what you have to offer is the best deal around. Outline the main benefits and include phrases such as “You’ll save XX dollars,” “The best deal in town,” etc. If you’ve got numbers to prove it, include how much customers save using your product or service.
4. Make the CTA stand out
CTAs come in several formats, including:
- Hyperlinked text
- Welcome Mat
And these CTAs can appear anywhere from your homepage to emails to social media posts. The most popular CTA format is the button, which is the simplest way to guide people from the homepage to a sign-up or download page.
Buttons are also versatile, so the size, color, shape and copy can all be changed. Buttons should be easily found so users don’t quickly venture off the site. When creating a button, think about these factors:
Use a contrasting color from the rest of the website. Red and orange are commonly used colors. Or choose a bright accent color that’s already on your website to use as the CTA button. This example from Spotify shows two CTA buttons, but the premium choice is highlighted green to stand out as the best choice.
The button should be big enough to be easily seen, but not so big that it is distracting and disrupts the user experience.
A button should be surrounded by an appropriate amount of white space, which helps users quickly spot the CTA and distinguish it from the rest of the page.
Overall page design
If your webpage is already covered in flashy colors and a large amount of copy, it may be more difficult to make a CTA stand out. Cut copy, especially around the CTA, to create more white space to better highlight the CTA button. Then, in your next website redesign, try for a simpler design to emphasize the CTAs.
Other formats of CTAs tend to be more disruptive, but a user cannot miss them. A welcome mat, for example, completely covers up the page and could disrupt a user’s experience.
In a blog post, a writer doesn’t need design skills to incorporate a CTA. Use bold formatting, brackets or some other text-based design element to make the copy stand out. This is good to use if you want to highlight other internal blogs or gated content to increase engagement.
5. Strategically place your CTA
CTAs should appear in different places on your website, depending on where a prospect is in the decision-making process.
For pages of your website where prospects are further down the funnel (like on a product or purchase page), present them with a very prominent CTA right away so they have no problem converting.
CTAs also commonly appear at the end of blog posts to create a more meaningful impact for users after they’ve digested all the content. A CTA in the middle of a post could also be distracting, and a user may forget to go back to it after finishing the post.
It would be appropriate to insert a CTA in the middle of a post if it relates to the content, such as including a link to another one of your blog posts. (This adds a little SEO value, too!)
One tactic that HubSpot uses is to place a short blog subscription form at the end of their articles. That way, a reader has already established trust and found value in the blog and will be more likely to sign up.
Timing of a CTA pop-up
HubSpot also implemented a timed pop-up with a CTA to subscribe to their blog. The pop-up appears after users have been viewing a blog post for a certain amount of time. This ensures that a user is already engaged.
If a pop-up or welcome mat appears immediately when a user enters a page, it might not give the user enough time to digest information and make a decision. In contrast, if it is displayed after a user has interacted with the page for a certain amount of time, a pop-up will be perceived as more of a helpful suggestion than an annoyance.
Some websites constantly display CTA buttons in the top navigation bar that are fixed on a page as users scroll.
If your website has a fixed navigation bar or CTA, take this into consideration when determining the number of CTAs on the pages of your website. An ever-present CTA along with a pop-up and a few text-based CTAs could be overkill.
6. Test your CTA
Take a look at the performance of each of your CTAs, including traffic and CTR. Track the performance of your CTAs in a spreadsheet and test only one factor at a time to discover what is and isn’t working.
DigitalMarketer lists the things you shouldn’t waste your time testing. Don’t focus on the color of buttons, but rather their copy. Don’t test the placement of a form, rather focus on the ease of using the form — the number of boxes a user has to fill out could affect the completion rate.
Keep in mind, testing your homepage might present web-tracking challenges. Test CTAs on pages further down the funnel, as those pages are closer to the kind of conversion you’re ultimately hoping for.
Improve your conversion rates with new CTAs
The process of incorporating CTAs is easily overlooked in a content marketing strategy. But creating CTAs — from the copy to the design to the placement — should rank with blog posts and e-books in importance.
If you’ve stuck with the same reliable CTA for more than a year, start tracking its performance. Then test other CTAs to find one that works even better.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.