The 411 on Creating Strong Calls to Action (CTAs)

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From design tips to what makes for compelling offers, learn the ins and outs of creating effective CTAs

 Creating Strong Calls to Action

The “CTA” acronym is a popular buzz phrase, but what, exactly, is a CTA and how do you create strong ones? (And why does it even matter?) Let’s get to it, shall we?

What is a call-to-action (CTA)?
It’s exactly as it sounds: you’re asking the website visitor to take a specific action, such as downloading a white paper, contacting sales, or subscribing to an email newsletter. In marketing speak, your CTAs help drive conversions. Once people click on a CTA, they are brought to a landing page where they complete the action, such as filling out a form. These folks have now been converted into a lead (and if everything is set up right on your back-end, you can continue engaging these folks through something called “lead nurturing” – here’s an article we wrote on how to set up a lead nurturing program).

Why the big fuss over CTAs?
The right CTA can often dramatically increase conversions. Likewise, the wrong CTA might not perform well at all. So what makes for a “right” and “wrong” CTA? Glad you asked. That brings us to the next question.

How do I create CTAs that increase conversions?
Oh, if only it were that simple and a one-size-fits-all formula existed. Sadly, it’s not that simple and there isn’t one formula. That said, there are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • The words you use matter. No, they REALLY matter. OK, so all the words you use on your website matter, but the choices you make on your call-to-action buttons can often mean the difference between conversions and no conversions. Be clear on what you want people to do (the action), be clear on what the benefit is to the person (what do they get for clicking?), and say it in as few words as possible. Here’s an example: Download our FREE ebook. Clear action, clear benefit, four words.
  • The design you use matters. No, it REALLY matters. Here’s the thing about CTAs. They need to stand out. They need to pop. So they shouldn’t be the exact same colors as your site’s  palette, but, at the same time, they should work well enough with your site’s overall design aesthetic. They should shout “I’m here” but not in a real obnoxious way. Need some design inspiration? HubSpot shares 101 examples of effective calls-to-action here.
  • Consider the above-the-fold, below-the-fold debate. Most marketers and designers will likely recommend you place your CTAs above the fold. That said, you might very well have a good reason for placing it below the fold. Just make sure you can articulate why. When in doubt, go with above the fold. Also, don’t crowd too many CTAs onto one page (definitely no more than three). Here are some more tips and guidelines on where to place CTAs throughout your site.
  • The CTA should lead to its own landing page. And on this landing page, you should restate what the CTA promised and provide more detail. The look and feel of the landing page should reflect the look and feel of the CTA to some extent (basically, you want people to feel continuity between the CTA and the landing page itself).
  • At the end of the day, it’s all about value. The greatest words, design, location, and landing page won’t mean diddly squat if there’s no real value to what you’re offering. Make sure your offer isn’t a thinly veiled sales attempt or something cheap and flimsy. Ebooks, white papers, helpful tips and charts all make for valuable downloads. Need more ideas? Check out this post we wrote on the secret sauce to compelling offers.

Should I design the CTAs myself?
Like everything else in life, it depends. It depends on your design sense, your schedule, and your willingness to create multiple options. If you’re handy with programs like Photoshop, you can certainly give it a go. Otherwise, you can hit up your web designer for some guidance or outsource to a web/graphic designer. Some marketing software, like HubSpot, comes with CTA-making capabilities baked right in. Do a Google search on “designing call to action buttons that convert,” and you’ll find lots of resources like this one from online marketing guru Michael Aagaard.

I heard something about testing CTAs – is this important?
Yes, because these tests will reveal which CTAs are your “winners”—the ones that convert. Essentially, you’ll want to have variations of the same button. The rule of thumb is to change one element and test. So you might have a button with the same words, same shape, same size, but different colors. You’d set it up to do a split-test (also known as an A/B test) where certain web visitors would see Button A and others would see Button B. After you get enough critical mass, you’d see which button is performing better, both in click-through-rate (CTR)—meaning the percentage of people who clicked through to the landing page—and actual conversions (meaning the people who completed the action, such as filling out a form). Then, you would use the “winning” button going forward. You can split test lots of things, not just CTAs. You can test different landing pages, different layouts, and different copy.

Setting up, conducting, and analyzing A/B tests sounds complicated, and it can be depending on your site’s complexity, what you’re testing, etc. Of course, there are resources, plug-ins, and people you can outsource to (your web team should be able to offer some guidance or suggestions). If you’re interested in giving it a go yourself, here’s a straightforward video tutorial on how to set up a split test (with no knowledge of coding or HTML).

Should I use CTAs only on my website?
Nope. You should use them on blog posts, email signatures, social media—basically, they should be an important ingredient in your online marketing mix.

So now you tell us: how do you use CTAs in your business? We want to hear. Share in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “The 411 on Creating Strong Calls to Action (CTAs)

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