Unlike traditional media like television and print, the internet is interactive, and the relationship between a brand and its customers online is a two-way street. Brands rely on customers to participate in that relationship — by engaging with the brand and eventually purchasing the product or service. In this environment, brands need a compelling call to action (CTA) to motivate a customer to participate.
A CTA is a link or button on a webpage — usually a landing page — designed to trigger customers to take a specific action, like downloading a resource or buying a product. This can be helpful to brands, and not just in terms of sales and revenue.
Marketers can learn a lot from the use of a CTA, such as how many people clicked on it, when they clicked, and what they did before and after they clicked. With this information, creating a call to action that is effective and powerful is simple. It involves designing and developing the CTA — visually, textually, and in terms of UX — then testing it and optimising it to maximise performance.
There are some standard guidelines every marketer should follow to create high-performing CTAs.
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Use Active Words
A call to action is designed to get customers to act, whether they’re signing up for a demo, buying a product, booking a meeting, or subscribing to a newsletter. Using strong, active verbs in a CTA is the best and easiest way to spur a user into action. High-performing calls to action are usually in the form of commands and should never be wishy-washy or unconfident. For example, the University of Oxford landing page shown below has a clear, forthright CTA: “Get Prospectus.” Beyond that, CTAs should demonstrate to customers what they will receive and how they’ll benefit — in one study, nearly 94% of CTAs used by SaaS companies used verbs such as “read," “learn,” “start,” and “request."
Create Urgency; Deliver Immediacy
A popular marketing tactic to boost clickthrough rate is to create a sense of urgency and scarcity. “Last tickets,” “Only 3 left,” or “Sale ends tomorrow” are all examples of ways marketers can introduce urgency. This sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) is a strong action trigger, and it’s one of the best ways to get better performance from CTAs.
Best-selling author and performance coach Brendan Burchard demonstrates a simple yet effective use of this tactic in one of his landing pages. The CTA text is written in the first person from the customer’s point of view: “Yes, I want my free eBook!” Combined with quotation marks and an exclamation point, the CTA compels readers to click by invoking a sense of rush and excitement.
After creating a sense of urgency, the positive emotional flow of a call to action is strengthened further by delivering on the promise as soon as possible. This is easy when the promise is downloading a digital asset, like an eBook. But even when immediate gratification is not possible (i.e. if a physical product is being shipped to the buyer), there are ways to create a similar sense of closure and satisfaction; for example, immediately sending an email with confirmation details or a tracking number.
Make It Stand Out
Getting customers to complete a call to action is the ultimate goal of a landing page or sales page. People don’t spend long on webpages — less than 15 seconds on average — so the CTA must feature prominently to grab the potential customer’s attention. There are a number of ways to do this.
Colour is a useful tool. In the example below from the team management software company Monday.com, the CTA is a bold pink colour against a white background, so it’s the first thing that catches the eye. However, notice the word “free” in a contrasting green. This is the second element to draw the eye after the CTA and it provides a powerful and attractive supporting message. There are no other visually exciting aspects to the page — it’s the clever play of colours that makes the CTA unmissable.
Placement and positioning are other tactics to help a CTA stand out. There’s a lively ongoing debate as to how many CTAs should appear on a landing page. Some marketers prefer just one to keep the customer hyper-focused; others prefer to sprinkle the page with a few options, so if the user doesn’t click at first, they may be tempted to as they move down the page.
According to the same SaaS study cited above, the companies surveyed used an average of 2.68 CTAs per page. There’s no right or wrong way; it depends on the brand character, product offering, and target audience. For example, in contrast to the clear, whimsical feel of the Wix landing page above (with one CTA), the learning platform Udemy has a busier and more business-like landing page — with no fewer than five CTAs, including options to "Log in," "Sign up," "Add to cart," "Buy now," or "Get started" (via an overlay popup).
Although the jury is out regarding how many CTAs are best, there’s one golden rule when it comes to positioning: Always make sure to place at least one CTA above the fold. Don’t make the user work too hard — if they have to scroll to find it, they’re far less likely to convert.
Make It Easy on All Devices
About half of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices. Studies have shown that conversions on mobile can be a quarter to a half of those on desktop, so it’s not just about being mobile responsive. For brands with high mobile traffic, it’s worth it to build their website for mobile from the ground up. But what does this mean for CTAs?
The smaller screen size of mobile devices can make it physically harder to click on CTAs. Make sure the CTA button is a suitable size for a finger touch. Also, like desktop landing pages, what appears above the fold on mobile gets the most attention. For mobile sites, it’s important to make sure the CTA is above the fold while leaving enough space to include the other necessary information. This can be a challenge on the small screen.
Another thing to remember for mobile CTAs is to keep them as short and simple as possible. While a four-step registration process on desktop might work, not many customers will have the patience to complete a multi-stage CTA on mobile. So it pays to create mobile CTAs with just one to two words of text, and no more than one step.
Test and Refine It
Once the CTA is written and designed, it’s time to enter the testing and refining stage. Here are three steps to testing and optimising for a high performing call to action:
Choose a parameter to test
The first stage of testing CTAs is choosing which element to test. For a CTA, there’s a wide range of elements that can be tested, including the text, colour (of the text or the button), size of the CTA, its position on the page, and other effects, including imagery, border shape and colour, icons, punctuation, and more. A/B testing, or split testing, involves testing two variations of one element at a time. This enables a pure testing ground, where everything on the page remains the same, except for the specific element.
Run the test
Once the test parameter is set, it’s time to create the two versions and run the test. The test should run as long as it takes to get meaningful and accurate results. According to marketing expert Neil Patel, a minimum of seven days and 1000 conversions is the suggested time frame for an A/B test. This will allow for enough volume to create a statistically significant result.
Analyse the results and test again
Once the test results are in, it’s time to assess the performance of both variations of the CTA. In cases where there is a clear result, the CTA can be optimised for that result and tested again for another element to see if its performance can be improved further. For example, if a red CTA button performed 30% better than green, then the red button can be tested again against another colour. Or the test could take on another element altogether, such as the position on page or button text.
With CTAs, even very small differences can have a huge effect on conversion rates. Changing a button size, rewriting CTA text or adjusting the colour costs very little in terms of time or resources. So it’s really worthwhile to keep testing the different ways to boost CTA performance.
Remember, the call to action is often the biggest difference between a visitor converting or not. It’s the helpful, immaculately dressed, friendly salesperson that gets people to say yes to your product. Just like you wouldn’t send your sales team into the field in torn jeans and old t-shirts (unless, of course, you’re Supreme), you don’t want to send poorly written, designed, or functioning CTAs on to the web. Getting it right takes time and patience and testing and tweaking, but the effort is always worth it.