A call-to-action—or CTA, as it’s often known—is deceptively simple. Typically, it’s just a few words aimed at pushing a prospect towards a goal: “Learn More,” “Watch Now,” “Get Your E-book.”
But an effective CTA can mean the difference between a new lead or sale and a lost opportunity: Michael Agaard of Unbounce called it the “tipping point between bounce and conversion.” Get it wrong, and your visitor may be gone for good. Build a smart, sleek CTA and you’ve got an incredible opportunity to create brand ambassadors and convert sales.
But just how do you craft killer CTAs? Details matter when it comes to facilitating an interaction that converts.
To learn how to master the art of the CTA, check out the tips we’ve gathered, incorporating expert research and entrepreneurs’ own personal experiences:
A/B test your CTAs
When it comes to CTAs, don't call it one and done: Take the time to test and optimize your CTAs to see what performs best. Show a segment of your subscribers a specific CTA, and others a different one—adding variations relating to copy and design. It can take some time to draw statistically significant results—Optimizely has found that you may need as many as 12,000 users involved in a test to generate relevant data. If your audience isn’t quite so large, you can still run similar tests, but take your results with a grain of salt. If you notice that one CTA is performing at a far higher rate than the other, you’ll be able to swap out the poor-performing one with your winning CTA—or challenge your winning CTA again with a promising new variant. Repeat the test ad nauseam, until you've found a winning combination of words and design that hooks your reader and compels them to click.
Give actionable commands
Gene Caballero, co-founder of YourGreenPal.com, which has been described as Uber for lawn care, says readers are much more likely to click on a CTA that makes clear what will happen next. “The words ‘Next, Sign Up, Complete, Submit’ that have been used for years as CTA copy are all ubiquitous words that do not indicate what will happen next,” he says.
Instead, Caballero uses more direct CTAs, such as “Get My Quotes,” “Send My Order,” and even “Mow My Grass.” This clarity, Caballero believes, reduces the anxiety and mental friction the reader might feel with a CTA that’s vague about what will happen when you click on it.
Contrary view: Keep things broad
Conversely, Max Robinson of the online nursery retailer PreciousLittleOne.com says that the broader the CTA, the better. “We’ve found that often it’s our more vague CTAs that tend to attract more clicks,” he writes. (This diversity in opinion illustrates the importance of A/B testing—what works for someone else might not work for you.)
“For example, we recently started to change the language that we use in our emails very slightly, so rather than mentioning specific products or offers in our CTAs, we’d be inviting readers to check out all of our offers.” On the website, too, the retailer offers an ad promoting “up to 50% off”—encouraging the visitor to click through to a page listing each product offer. Because the e-commerce retailer sells many different baby products, not every prospect will be in the market for the same items, so it can be valuable to encourage prospects to view all offers before narrowing down their marketing message in future collateral.
Simplify your CTAs
While it may be tempting to encourage multiple CTAs, stick with one in each message: Research shows that singles increase clicks 371 percent (!) and sales 1,617 percent (!!) over multiple CTAs. So ask your visitor to download your ebook OR sign up for a free trial—but not both, or she'll probably stick with neither.
Also, consider a colored box: In multiple tests, red tended to generate the most conversions over other colors, such as green.
Offer personalized help
The online jewelry retailer Four Mine uses its email CTAs to give its customers or potential customers an opportunity to interact with a salesperson. Their calls to action involve requesting more videos, images, and details about their rings, gemstones, and diamonds. At the bottom of their website, there’s a “Let’s Talk” button.
This works for Four Mine because it allows the customer to feel like there is someone on the other side who will offer them personalized help based on their specific needs. It also facilitates sales because it addresses anxiety about product unknowns that can dissuade online purchases. “Any CTA that makes the customer feel comfortable asking questions can generate effective leads,” Four Mine’s Slisha Kankariya says.
Use web behavior to customize CTAs
One of the most effective ways to increase the impact of your CTAs is to focus on an action that a specific prospect has already shown interest in, based on her previous web behavior. For instance, if a website visitor has visited the animals section of your e-commerce art prints shop, you can add her to your “animals” email group, so she’ll receive a “see new work” CTA whenever you have an adorable puppy print up for display.
Focus on small, realistic steps
In order to drive a successful CTA, make sure you’re not asking your customer to overcommit. If you’re an e-commerce store that sells musical instruments, for instance, your customers may not be ready to pull out their credit cards to buy a new guitar at the drop of a hat.
But by adding less committal CTAs, like “add to wish list,” you can help keep your products top of mind—and then use marketing automation to track how often they return to the product link on your website. When they do, you can trigger another email reminder, including a special promotional offer to purchase the product. Keep surfacing your recommendation on a timed schedule (perhaps weekly?), and sooner or later, you may get your prospect to commit.
While CTAs are important, they’re just a small part of the equation in pulling a prospect all the way through a sales funnel. Focus on bold, direct CTAs paired with a strong marketing strategy that helps you track your buyer’s journey and sends your prospects the right content at the right time. Pay close attention to context in determining the right CTAs for buyers at every stage, and you’ll be able to build a strong marketing pipeline that won’t let you down.