Your site ranks #1 for every keyword you want to target. Thousands of users are clicking your links. You’re getting more traffic than you ever thought possible.
You didn’t put all that time and effort into luring users to your site just to have them look at your content and leave. You want them to do something. You want them to call you. You want them to send you an email. You want them to sign up for your newsletter. You want them to buy something.
So how do you get users to take your desired action? Simple: write a great call-to-action.
What is a call-to-action?
A call-to-action – or CTA – tells users exactly what you want them to do.
Call now. Buy now. Click here. Sign up. Get started. These are all simple calls-to-action.
But to write a great call-to-action, you can’t just tell the user what they should do. You have to tell the user why they should do it.
Netflix.com has a great call-to-action:
“Join Free for a Month.”
It tells the user what they should do: “Join.”
And it tells the user why they should do it: “…because you can watch all of these movies and TV shows for an entire month FOR FREE!”
So how can you write a great call-to-action for your business? Keep on reading!
Clearly state what the user will get when they take action
Again, Netflix does this perfectly.
“Join Free for a Month” = “You will get one free month of Netflix if you join now.”
It’s simple and effective. And you can do it for any business:
- Call now for a free quote on HVAC services
- Sign up for SEO and grow your business
- Fill out our form and get your windshield fixed FAST
Use as few words as possible to get your point across. If you make your point quickly, users will act quickly.
Use active verbs
Active verbs like “buy,” “subscribe,” “order,” and “download” tell users exactly what you want them to do.
“Our email list provides you with the latest news and updates. Subscribers get a 50% off coupon good for their next order.”
“Subscribe to our email newsletter and get 50% off your next order!”
Example 1 implies that the user should subscribe.
Example 2 tells them to subscribe. (It’s also much more concise.)
Be direct. It works!
Use positive emotional words
Words that evoke positive emotions – “love,” “dream,” “better,” “satisfy” – make users feel good about taking your desired action.
“Click here to buy a house.”
“Find your dream home today.”
The first example is flat. It sounds like a chore.
The second example is enticing. It sounds like an adventure!
People like adventures. They don’t like chores. Keep that in mind.
Use negative emotional words (with caution!)
Words that evoke negative emotions can also grab users’ attention.
Example: “Your email marketing stinks. We can make it better. Call now.”
Going negative is riskier than going positive, because, frankly, you’re being kind of a jerk. If you think a negative approach is the way to go, be sure to clear it with the owner of the business.
Make them an offer they can’t refuse
The Netflix example offers a great deal: “Join Free for a Month.”
A whole free month! Who can resist that? According to their subscription numbers, at least 86 million of us can’t.
People love a bargain. If you can offer one that your competition can’t, go for it.
Here are some examples for other businesses:
- Fill out our form for 25% off A/C repair!
- Free dinner for 2 with all windshield replacements. Call now!
- Buy 5 candles, get 1 FREE!
Create a sense of urgency
If a user feels like they can take a week or two to consider your offer, they may decide against it. They may even forget all about it!
But if the user feels like they’ll miss out if they don’t act now, they’re more likely to take your desired action right away.
An easy way to create a sense of urgency is with limited time offers or offers with limited supply:
- Call now for 25% off A/C repair. TODAY ONLY!
- Free dinner for 2 with all windshield replacements. Call now! OFFER GOOD UNTIL DECEMBER 31
- Sign up for our SEO conference. Only 1,000 spots available, and they go fast!
Focus on one action per page
If you want the user to contact you, focus on getting the user to contact you. If you want them to join your email list, focus on getting them to join your email list. Don’t muddy the waters by asking them to contact you, then asking them to join your email list, then asking them to download a brochure.
If the user has to think too much about which action to take, they may take no action at all.
Plus, it’s easier to convince someone to do one thing than it is to convince them to do five things.
Focus makes things easier on you and the user. It’s a win-win!
Put your call-to-action in the right place on the page
Proper placement of your call-to-action depends on how long it takes to convince a user that taking your desired action is a good idea. Sometimes it takes no time at all. Sometimes it can take a couple of paragraphs of persuasive copy, if not more.
Conventional wisdom says to put your call-to-action at or near the top of the page, so a user can see it without scrolling down. But this may not always be the best option.
If you place a CTA at the top of the page, the user may ignore it because they don’t have enough information to make their decision. If they decide to scroll down and read on, they may not scroll back up, so your CTA might as well not be there at all.
On longer pages, it’s a good idea to repeat your call-to-action throughout your content. This gives the user a convenient way to take action when they feel like they’ve been sufficiently informed.
There’s no hard and fast rule for exactly where to place a CTA, or for how many times you should repeat it on a longer page. The only way to find out the correct answer is to do it, see what happens, and make changes as necessary.
Know your audience and tailor your CTA to them
Different industries have different audiences. A great call-to-action for a dog groomer would have a different tone and style than a great call-to-action for a funeral home.
A great call-to-action for a dog groomer: “Call now to save 50% on your dog’s new ‘do!”
A not-so-great call-to-action for a funeral home: “Call now for killer caskets at prices that’ll knock you dead!”
We hope it’s obvious why the second example is inappropriate.
Tone and style could be the difference between gaining a new customer and turning them off forever. If you’re not sure what tone and style to use, or if you think the campaign might benefit from a change, discuss it with the owner of the business.
Test your CTA’s effectiveness
After you implement your snazzy new CTA, track its effectiveness.
Are you getting more calls, emails, subscriptions, purchases, etc. than you were before? Great! If not, tweak it until your results improve.
If you think you’ve got an even better CTA, try it out and see what happens. If it improves your conversion rate, awesome! If not, go back to the CTA that was more effective.
Optimizing a CTA is more art than science. Don’t be afraid to get creative, but don’t get so married to your work that you ignore hard data that shows you it isn’t working. Be flexible.
Don’t underestimate the power of an effective call-to-action. And don’t underdo the work it takes to write one of your own.
We’ve given you the tools you need. Now it’s time to act on this call-to-action:
Get more conversions. Make more money. Write a great call-to-action NOW!
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I started this article looking for 101 call to action examples.
My plan was to review the all-time great copywriting controls and find the calls to action that made them so effective.
After all, they were written by the historical greats.
But I hadn’t read more than a handful of mailings when I discovered something interesting. All the CTAs were essentially the same.
Well, that was a bust!
Or was it?
I found some interesting parallels between traditional direct mail calls to action and the digital calls to action being written today. And I found three criteria for effective CTAs that work no matter what format you’re using.
Let’s take a look…
First, some traditional calls to action
Reviewing traditional direct mail promotions, I found three things that nearly all calls to action accomplish. See if you can find them in this line-up of old CTAs. (I’ll tell you my findings below.)
Sales and Marketing Management Magazine
So if you were waiting for the perfect time to seize this opportunity, the time is now. Send for your free issue today.
Discover the exciting world of outside. Subscribe today.
Get a taste of SUCCESS! Send me the form at the top of this letter and I’ll send you the next issue of SUCCESS absolutely free.
May I send you a free copy?
There is no obligation attached to my offer…
Please let me know if you’ll accept my offer by January 31.
House & Garden
So indulge—in so much excitement, for so little! Please take advantage of our “Summer White Sale” and save on a subscription to HG today.
Those were the more creative ones. But the majority read like this:
Do mail your acceptance to me today.
So act right now. The postage is paid and you’ve got nothing to lose but a great garden to gain!
SEND NO MONEY NOW! But please mail your card today!
So if you’re looking for knowledge, a rewarding adventure, and the advantage a future perspective can offer, mail the enclosed card today!
See the pattern?
The CTA is your final instruction to your reader, so (duh!) there won’t be 101 variations.
In direct mail, you have to tell people to “mail the enclosed card.” In digital marketing, we ask for a click.
No matter how creative we get, it still boils down to this one request.
But if you look closely at the examples above, there are three things that nearly all the CTAs include:
- A no-obligation statement that removes or reduces risk. In many cases, they’re asking for a free trial rather than a purchase. In other words, try us, you’ll like us. This gives people the confidence to buy.
- All of them contain some version of “Mail your acceptance card.” This is simple usability. You have to tell people what to do next. Today it would read, “Click the button below.”
- Encouragement to respond right away. That’s standard direct response. Don’t give people an option to wait and think about it.
Let me show you a few more examples
Transferring traditional techniques to digital formats
Some digital CTAs perfectly mirror the old mailings. Take this one from Stansberry Research’s Retirement Millionaire promotion.
The pattern is there:
- Try it, you’ll like it: “Try” is in all caps.
- There’s no obligation, which is the modern version of “send no money now.”
- He wants a response “right away.”
- Click on the “subscribe now” link to fill out a form.
Now let’s look at some other formats for CTAs…
The “why not” argument
Sometimes there isn’t a strong reason to take action. But there’s no reason not to, either. Here’s how W Magazine used this logic in an old direct mail piece:
This offer may not last long. So order W now—and see what you think of your free issue. After all, with so much to gain—and with absolutely nothing to lose—shouldn’t you at least take a look?
And here it is in a recent 1-2-3 Shrink promotion:
Your CTA needs to make you want to click, and let’s face it, there isn’t always a compelling reason to try something. Price can get people’s attention, but it’s not good for business, so a common alternative is to ask, “why not?”
Making it all about the benefits
This old Audubon promotion didn’t just offer a subscription. It offered “all the benefits of membership.”
To begin receiving AUDUBON at once and to enjoy all the other benefits of membership in the National Audubon Society, simply return the enclosed form.
If you can offer membership in an exclusive group, this may be a useful approach. But what if you aren’t offering a club, per se?
Focus on the benefits of responding, like this “Off the Grid” promotion from Sovereign Investor:
Who doesn’t want to protect their wealth, build a fortress around themselves, and live a richer, more satisfying life?
Leading with a strong CTA
Here’s the headline in an old Earthwatch promotion:
Got some free time? A week? A month? A summer?
Come volunteer for a conservation project in the wilds, an environmental project in the tropics, an archeological dig abroad.
Or if you’re busy now, cheer us on from the sidelines.
Adventure? Save the world? Wow! It even has a built-in call to action, the “come volunteer” statement. Today, I’d recommend following this headline with an order button.
The call to action for this promotion is good, but not nearly as compelling.
Remember, the CTA must tell people what to do next. Which means it can’t always have the same excitement level as your headline or lead. Here’s how Earthwatch did it:
If our organization sounds like something that you too would take pleasure in being a part of—whether by participating actively, or cheering us on from the sidelines—I urge you to send in the order form at your earliest convenience…so your adventures can begin with the very next issue of EARTHWATCH.
Can the lead ever work as your CTA? In the Earthwatch promotion, it could have. But back then, you had to provide instructions for how to respond.
Today, people are comfortable with responding to digital offers, so you don’t need to provide the instructions that made their CTAs clunky. You can simply provide a link or button—and people know what to do.
Here’s a digital promotion that pulls off this technique quite well.
It was introduced in an Early to Rise email like this:
Click the link, and you land here. There’s nothing on the page but the CTA.
Selling the trial
Because people are so comfortable with digital formats, your CTA can almost be implied. (Implied, but not forgotten!)
Prevention promotions typically ask for a Try rather than a Buy. It sounds less obligatory, so buyers offer less resistance.
And Prevention is so sure you’ll like their products, they give generous trial periods. Here’s one from Prevention’s Dance It Off! promotion. Notice that the actual CTA is in a graphic:
Of course, software and similar products rely on the trial too. Here’s Crazy Egg’s call to action:
This approach emphasizes the no-obligation element of strong CTAs. And it works.
Two CTAs that don’t work
I mentioned above that you can leverage people’s comfort with digital marketing, which allows you to streamline your calls to action. But you still need to be clear.
Weak or no CTA
One of the most common (and worst) mistakes in direct response is to assume people know what to do, and forget the call to action.
From my perspective, that’s what this promotion does:
This is just a portion of the page—there are floating elements that didn’t allow me to grab it all—but this screenshot has the majority of the information.
Where’s the call to action?
“Pick your city” is all I can see. That’s not compelling, risk-reducing, or benefits-oriented. In fact, if you read the fine print, the author of the book won’t be at the event.
There’s little here to compel anyone to respond.
The other extreme: too strong of a CTA
I can’t tell you what’s on the page because the pop-up acts as a pay-wall, so to speak, blocking entrance until you share your email:
Here, I’m stuck if I don’t respond.
“Join Now” or don’t view the page.
This call to action is a little too high-pressure for my taste. What saves it is the “Why we ask for email” link at the bottom of the form, the promise of 70% off, and the no-hassles language below the button.
But I still don’t want to be forced into compliance, so no thanks.
You want a strong CTA, sure, but not too strong.
The winner: A benefits-oriented, personal CTA
TheStreet’s Quant Ratings promotion showed up in my inbox, and it’s the clear winner among the promotions I reviewed.
Look at the call to action:
This CTA does a lot of things right.
- It implies no work on your part. It’s completely benefits-oriented and personal, asking you to put TheStreet to work… for you.
- There isn’t a vague, uninspiring “click here” command. The link is embedded in the benefit statement. And that statement is phrased as a command, so I can’t miss it.
- There is also a button—in a bright, can’t-miss red—that offers an incentive for clicking: “Save $150.” (You’ll need to test the color that works for your promotion, but here, red does well.)
- Urgency is subtly included in the CTA with “don’t wait another minute.” So it urges you to respond now without resorting to hype.
Does it fulfill the three criteria for effective calls to action? You bet:
- It offers a trial membership.
- The link and button provide implicit instructions (without going so far as to omit the CTA). It’s clear that you’re supposed to click on the link or the button.
- You’re asked to respond now: “Don’t wait another minute.”
Not only does this call to action use the same techniques that worked in direct mail, it improves on them, because there’s no bulky paragraph telling you where to find the response device and how to submit it.
With digital, you can build the response into the promotion for a seamless user experience.
CTAs may have changed over the years, but the goal hasn’t changed: Put the right message in front of the right people at the right time. It’s critical that you learn to do this well. And, of course, there’s no better way to learn than to be testing your CTAs.
Have you got some favorite techniques for an effective call to action? Or do you struggle with telling people how to respond? Let us know in the comments below.