Editor’s Note: This piece was originally written in 2014 by Sean Bestor, but the best practices in the post remain as relevant as ever. Hungry for more? Click here to find 8 more updated call-to-action tips from marketers around the world.
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I’m excited. Extremely excited. And soon you will be, too.
Because I’ve got something game-changing.
You’ve heard that phrase before, sure. But this thing I’ve got, it’s what that phrase was born to describe.
It’s something that’ll increase leads by AT LEAST 100,000% and even rid your parents’ toolbars of the rows upon rows of unrelenting toolbar spam.
This thing is the sliced bread of the internet. I honestly can’t believe it hasn’t been created before, but now that it has you’ll never be able to live without it again.
Sounds cool, right? Great.
(Leaning back in my chair, confidently twiddling my thumbs.)
(Peers at computer screen, exactly 0 people have signed up. Spits out lukewarm $1.50 coffee in sheer disbelief.)
You guys. What’s going on? Don’t you want this thing? I told you how much it’ll help your business. I wrote pretty compelling copy. I even opened the cage and released it into the internet.
Isn’t that enough?
No. It’s not enough. Not even in the same ballpark as “enough.”
You’d be surprised to know that the above scenario, to a degree, is something I hear all the time. People with absolutely brilliant products and ideas end up getting frustrated beyond belief because their stuff just isn’t selling.
It’s not because the product is bad. By all means, many could completely change the way we live. We know that of the 30,000 or so consumer products launched each year, about 95% of them fail.
The reasons for failure are vast and varied, but there’s one that stands out time and time again — the lack of a call to action.
Why Is a Call to Action Important?
Check out this direct sales piece I got in the mail a few days ago:
A bedding blowout (poor phrasing, but that’s for another post). Excellent! I actually need a bed, so this was timely.
Looking at the piece, it seems like they’ve got some big brands on sale. And, if you look in the bottom right corner, you can infer that the clearance is at Slumberland — though if you didn’t know what that was, you’d assume it was another bed brand judging by the placement of the graphic.
But through all of this, I don’t see a big call to action. Not one thing telling me what to do or even where to go. Granted, there’s context for action (CFA), but there’s not that strong call to action that makes me go, “Well I need to stop what I’m doing and go to that place and buy a bed.”
A call to action (CTA) is vital to the success of your product. It is an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response.
A CTA inherently isn’t exclusive to sales, as you’ll find it in anything that aims to get you to do something. Speeches, commercials, or even your friend sighing and exclaiming, “Let’s just go to the taco truck we always go to.” As long as there’s a specific action you’re looking to invoke, a CTA should be there.
But in the digital world, CTAs are more tangible and extremely important. The odds of someone clicking on any one random thing (links, browser buttons, a cat video) are so high that there’s a special need for clear, concise CTAs that stand out amidst the clutter. We’ve seen our own customers even increase their opt-ins by 50% just by changing small elements in their call to action.
LOOK WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T INCLUDE A CALL TO ACTION.
I write that in all caps and big, bold letters to emphasize the doom that can be laid upon you if you don’t have a good call to action. I took some examples from pages, posts and emails and photoshopped the call to actions out to show you how truly ineffective they would be without their already-strong CTAs.
For example, take a look at this email from JustFab:
Nice, they’ve got shirts. So what do I do with that information? You COULD be interested enough to enter their URL in to the browser and visit, but you’ve likely got hundreds of emails to go through. You aren’t going to take the time to visit, which means this email was no better than a flyer on a telephone pole.
Let’s look at their real email without the calls to action photoshopped out:
Buy a shirt and get one free? I’m intrigued. That’s a pretty strong phrase, but it’s not their call to action. Look at the two “Shop Now” buttons. They’re pretty hard to miss, which is the point. They stand out from the rest of the email and give you a pretty clear indication of what happens if you click that button: you’ll be shopping. Now.
Let’s move out of the email sphere and look at the Long-Form “Free White Paper” landing page template we created here at LeadPages:
This is actually something that happens to websites more than you’d think. About 70% of small B2B business websites lack a CTA on their home pages. Even though there’s great information on this page (and the design is beautiful) it’s still missing that essential CTA to tell you what to do with that information. Right now, the only choice the visitor has is to scroll or leave.
Here’s the real Long Form “Free White Paper” template without the call to action photoshopped out:
There’s that CTA. At LeadPages, we always include clear CTAs that pop off the page. As you can see, our Long-Form “Free White Paper” template becomes much more effective when that big, beautiful CTA is added back in.
Ok. One more. Now we’re dealing with social media, something most businesses have. Here’s a Facebook page from Wishpond:
Just another page, right? Now let’s look at what it really looks like with their call to action put back in:
They’ve done a complete 180 in terms of actionable content. Their banner literally tells you what to do, then points down to the navigation bar that includes the CTA for the sweepstakes.
*NOTE: Enter To Win by itself wouldn’t be a great CTA, but the context for action (clear banner with arrow pointing to the button) is enough to make it successful.
We at LeadPages constantly strive to make the best landing pages available, so that means we research the heck out of great CTAs. Which is why we wanted to provide you with some…
Free Insight into CTAs from Our Team
“People on your website aren’t sitting there searching for an opportunity to opt-in, buy, or register for something. You have to clearly guide them to where you want them to go. Imagine your visitors as hungover college students at 6:30 AM after a long night of drinking. Give them clear instructions that are simple to follow.”
-Tim Paige, Conversion Educator
The Big Lesson: Make the call to action obvious. Being clever with placement may look avant-garde, but the obvious, tried-and-true CTA will usually win out.
“A call to action is important if there is a specific outcome you’d like to achieve every time a visitor lands on your website or page (Hint: there is). Not sure what that outcome is? Get clear on that first. Once you know your outcome — whether it’s getting visitors on your email list, getting project queries, etc. — make every element of your site or page in some way guide visitors to that outcome. Hold their hands. Be specific. Don’t be afraid to tell them what to do.”
-Will Hoekenga, Copywriter
The Big Lesson: Know what action YOU want. Your goal needs to be linear in intuitively and explicitly. Multiple goals will compete with each other, and in the end you lose.
“If a potential customer lands on your page, it’s your job to tell them exactly what to do. Do you want this person to show up at your next webinar? Download your resource list? Get on the notification list for your upcoming product? Share this page with their audience? If so, tell them. Use concrete, specific language that makes it impossible to misunderstand. Keep in mind: Your potential customers are just as busy as you are. At best, they will only give you a few seconds to tell them what they should be doing on your page. It’s up to you to make those few seconds count.”
-Kat Von Rohr, Copywriter
The Big Lesson: Make your call to action specific. You’ve got a limited window to make an impression, so make sure your CTA is crystal-clear.
Calls to action are important. Without them, conversions would be almost non-existent.
But you’ve got that picture by now. So, as a bonus, I’ve included our Top 10 Call to Action Tips to help you knock out your own killer CTA.
Top 10 Call to Action Tips
1. Have one.
A journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step, and the same can be said of a call to action.
Like I mentioned above, 70% of small business B2B websites don’t even have a true CTA. By realizing and acknowledging the fact you need one, you’ve already put yourself way ahead of the game.
2. Make it about them.
Which would you click on? A button that says “Start your free 30 day trial” or one that says “Start my free 30 day trial?”
90% of people clicked the second option. That’s a pretty significant split, right? It goes to show the power of making something relatable to the reader.
If you can put someone in the mindset that whatever you’re offering is already theirs, then you’ve just taken a big step from prospect to conversion.
3. Be specific.
Imagine you opened an email from Cool Company Inc. The copy is ok, but what really grabs your eye is an eBook they’re talking about. You get to the bottom of the email and you’re faced with this phrase:
Well, what’s that even mean? Am I going to get more content from the email? Because I don’t really want more of that. What if it said this, though:
That’s much more specific than “More.” When you click that link, you know exactly what you’re getting. Cut out the ambiguity and focus on specifics when you write your CTA.
4. Tailor to your medium.
On Facebook, the phrase “Share your thoughts” will get more traction than it would at the bottom of a landing page. Facebook is a simple click and type, while the landing page would include either a phone call or email.
That’s where tailoring to the medium comes in. Social media, emails and landing pages are all created to offer something different, so your CTA should cater to what the most common responses in each medium are.
You can certainly ask someone to download your eBook in a tweet. But it’ll get better results if it has the context of a landing page around it.
5. Know your audience.
Have you ever tried to convince people to watch a show you like?
“Watch it because this actress is amazing!”
“Watch it because the explosions are rampant!”
“Watch it because there’s a particularly good flatulence joke.”
Each person needs a different reason because everybody has different interests and viewpoints.
As such, your CTA should reflect that understanding. You’d be hard-pressed to find a CTA that works equally well for a 55-year-old married mother-of-three AND a 16-year-old high school boy. The more you’re familiar with your audience and their needs, the better your conversion will be.
6. Don’t be cute.
I fell victim to this when I first started writing pages. And I made a big mistake on an important site to me.
My own freelance site.
I used the CTA “Interested?” on my main resume button. Out of 105 visitors, exactly one person clicked on that button (thanks, mom?).
Meanwhile, further down the page, the CTA of “View Resume” hauled in 78 clicks.
I see this all the time on sites. Instead of saying “Claim eBook,” I’ll see someone put “Change Your Life.” Sure, your eBook may be the next Rosetta Stone of marketing, but a CTA like that will almost always be outperformed by clear copy.
Stay away from cute copy in your CTA.
Here’s where things get tricky.
The amount of variables for successful calls to action are staggering. Between audience, page design, surrounding copy, the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn in the night’s sky, message medium and everything in between, a killer CTA takes a while to perfect.
That’s why you need to test. Test and test and test some more. Run split tests like we do at LeadPages to find the absolute best CTA for your personal situation.
8. Make it obvious.
It’s like Tim said. People aren’t frothing at the mouth, clamoring over your site in a game of “Where’s Waldo” with your CTA.
Go to sites like Spotify, Dropbox, Firefox or even LeadPages and you’ll instantly see a noticeable call to action. You gain nothing from hiding your CTA, so make sure it’s easily identifiable when you use it.
9. Mesh it with context.
A call to action is only as good as the content around it.
I could have the most tantalizing CTA in the world, but if I put it on a completely blank page it wouldn’t convert worth a darn.
That’s why your context for action (CFA) goes hand-in-hand with your CTA. Make that CFA so good that visitors are ready and willing to click anything that remotely resembles a CTA.
10. Make it simple.
Above all, keep it simple. Most times the simple calls to action we’ve been conditioned to click are more effective than something crazy.
You could ask someone to, “Click Here To Read The Greatest Article In Your Entire Life.” However, besides that being the longest button ever possibly created, why not use “View Article”? If the reader has made it to the end of whatever you’ve written, they don’t need flowery language to convince them to act.
Your CFA should do all the work to convince someone to open the door. Your CTA is just the gentle push through it.
But What About You?
What are some of the tips you’d like to share with people who read this post? What are those evergreen call to action pieces of knowledge you’ve got? Comment below and let us hear them!