Want someone to buy your product? Or perhaps you want them to donate to your cause, contact you, or read more about your services? In any of these cases, you’ll need strong calls to action (CTAs) on your website...ones that people just can't resist clicking.
How to Craft Great Calls to Action (CTAs)
First things first: what the heck is a "call to action?" Hubspot defines it as “an image or line of text that prompts your visitors, leads, and customers to take action. It is, quite literally, a ‘call’ to take an ‘action.’”
Pretty broad, right? There are a lot of things you can do with a call to action, which is partly why it can be difficult to get it right. Here are a few steps that will have you creating clickable CTAs in no time.
The human mind is set up for anticipation. Every day, we anticipate things happening. We anticipate the sun will come up, the stars will shine, the mailman will deliver a paycheck, and rush-hour traffic will be really, really bad. And most importantly for you would-be scientific CTA writers, the brain is more strongly wired towards positive anticipation than negative anticipation, so the brain will inflate its perception of a good reward while it deflates its perception of a bad result. If a person expects something good, it won’t just be good—it will be really good.
When you consider how to make the best CTA then, you need to start by building anticipation for that CTA with a good story. Here are some things to get you started:
- Create a conflict. Instead of a conflict between characters, there’s a problem consumers have that a product can solve. Just remember this: if there’s not a clear, pressing need for what you’re selling, no one will understand why they should buy it. If you want a clear explanation of how dramatic pacing works, just take a look at Freytag’s pyramid.
- Prime your reader with positive, upbeat language to describe your product, as this will trigger the reward centers in the brain. As readers become absorbed by your story and sense its narrative arc, they’re more likely to also anticipate a reward at the end.
You don’t need to write a lot of text to do this, either. Take a look at what Flickr does in two sentences: “The home for all your photos—upload, access, organize, edit, and share your photos from any device, from anywhere in the world.”
It works at such a short length because the conflict—“How do I store all my photos in an easy-to-use, functional way while staying light and mobile?”—is implied. Flickr presents itself as the solution to this problem, and it does so in a warm way. It’s a “home” for photos, not a database. It is also a place that allows for five specific activities, meaning it is useful in a variety of ways. And, it works everywhere.
To see what a ho-hum CTA looks like, behold the following:
- Join Now!
- Buy Today!
- Learn More!
What do all of these have in common? A lot of things, actually. Any nonprofit could use the first, any business the second, and any website the third. There’s nothing here that really tells people what they need to do. A good CTA will do more than tell people to take a vague action: it will tell them, with clear immediacy, exactly what to do.
Instead of being vague like the previous examples, consider doing something more specific:
See the difference? You’re specifying exactly what you want people to do with their precious clicks: download, buy, or sign up for something specific. Now that’s a good start, but you can make it even more powerful.
Use the first instead of the second person (think "I," "my," and "us" vs. "you" and "your"). When you use first-person possessives to frame your CTA, you’re doing more than speaking as a seller to a buyer; you’re putting your customers in the driver’s seat and giving them the decision. And if you’re referring to yourself in the first person, you’re developing a personal relationship with your client that “you” and “your” just can’t match. This is so effective that one marketer found it increased his conversion rate—the number of people that clicked on his CTA—90 percent versus second-person possessives ("Create My Account" outperforming "Create Your Account".) Here are a few examples:
You can also make it specific to the story you’ve written. There’s no one way to do this, because each company is unique, but you might want to take a look at what other companies have done in the past.
Never Be Negative
In the mid-1980s, nonprofit aid agencies tended to use sad or shocking images to motivate people to donate—but by the early 1990s, these tactics didn't work as well, due to what some referred to as “compassion fatigue.”
What’s the takeaway? Rather than focusing on negative campaigning, it’s better to build up to a positive conclusion. According to Regina Yau, founder of The Pixel Project, “Done right, positive campaigns build goodwill, generate conversation and galvanise the layperson to take action.”
Keeping that in mind for your copy:
- Focus on your own product and what it can do, rather than on your competitors. In fact, you don’t even need to mention them, since you don’t want customers thinking about products beside your own.
- Pose any problem as a challenge that can be overcome with your product.
- Steer clear of negative language, because people will implicitly identify your product with the negative words and images you’re conjuring up.
- Talk up your products' strengths.
- Show people why they should want it.
- Use positive action words such as “do,” “buy,” “give,” and others.
Even marketers who encourage the use of negative copy do so in a positive way. Bonding over a shared negative experience, encouraging people to explore their failures or negative emotions, stoking their egos by cultivating a sense of exclusivity, and other tactics are all trying to elicit a positive response through negative messaging.
Emphasize a good design
When it comes to selling goods and services online, it’s design, not content, that’s king. As Social Triggers blogger Derek Halpern writes, “Online, you only have a second to grab someone’s attention. And during that second, people make snap judgments about you, your business, and your website. Before. They. Read. Your. Content.”
That’s because visual cues like color, shape, size, and more elicit reactions on the unconscious level, called “visceral reactions.” When you see an amazing design and it just “clicks” with you, you’re probably having a visceral reaction to what you’re seeing rather than a conscious one.
There’s a lot of advice out there on how to design a good call to action. But if you just keep the following in mind, you’ll be off to a good start:
- Color: Certain colors convey certain things on an instinctual level. According to one study, certain shades of blue and gray are depressing, and yellow is frequently associated with happiness. Since you’re trying to evoke positive emotions with your calls to action, keep that in mind with your color choices too. Read more on the psychology of color.
- Contrast: A beautifully written call to action that no one can see or read clearly isn’t much use to you. Pay close attention to how the color of your text appears against the color of your button, and make sure that people can read it clearly and quickly at all screen sizes. To see an example of contrast in action, observe how Brightmove mixes orange and white to create a powerful visual display.
- Size: A button that’s too big will be seen as just another page element that isn’t clickable, while a button that’s too small won’t be noticed among all the other content you have. Create a button that’s just right in size relative to the other elements on your email or landing page, and you’ll have people clicking in no time. Surrounding your button with enough empty or white space will also make it stand out. Flickr does this well with their new website.
Finally, don’t be afraid to test. If you’re sending out newsletters, vary your subject lines and see which ones get the most openings. If you’re trying to get people to visit your webpage with a CTA button, vary your wordings to test whether one phrase works out better than another.
Matthew Strebe is a freelance writer and editor working in the San Francisco Bay Area. When he isn't scribbling away, he's hard at work napping or reading a new book of poetry.