Understanding Calls to Action
As anyone up to date with online marketing is well aware, the strategies and tactics associated with conversion are becoming ever more sophisticated. While page views, a few years ago, were considered a useful metric in predicting conversions, they are less helpful now. Obviously, page views matter in their own way—the more users viewing a page the better—but their usefulness in predicting conversion rates has sharply declined as the market has evolved.
Conversion is the process of “converting” a mere viewer to a buyer, or a user to a consumer. The path from viewer to buyer is often described using the term “conversion funnel.” Just a funnel uses a wide opening to guide a substance to a targeted objective, the term conversion funnel describes drawing a user in to first view the page, and then motivating the user to commit to registering, purchasing, or otherwise
One of the most important intermediary tools to facilitate the journey between the user first viewing a page and committing to the publishers goal is a call to action. In its most basic form, a CTA is an instruction which prompts the viewer to respond to the material in some fashion. For example, in a television infomercial, the call to action may be a graphic, accompanied by a narrator, which states “Call today, operators are standing by!” In a radio advertisement for a local shop, the CTA may encourage listeners to stop by today for a free quote.
Online, calls to action generally fall into two categories: pure text and interactive elements. Textual calls to action mimic the traditional calls to action found in magazine, radio, and television. Interactive elements can include banners, buttons, hyperlinked text, QR codes, or other graphics. Regardless of the method, the purpose remains the same—to improve conversion rates by inspiring the viewer to take action.
Who Needs a Great Call to Action?
Everyone! Online calls to action are an important tool for a number of different marketing strategies, including inbound marketing and permission marketing. In fact, nearly every organization or individual with a website can benefit from implementing optimized calls to action that serve to focus users attention, improve participation, and secure leads.
- Blogs & Vlogs
CTAs are important for independent blogs and blog networks, because they can be used to determine user interest in a product or topic, secure followers, create mailing lists that facilitate communication with readers and viewers, or encourage fans to create a personalized account or profile to increase users response, interaction and engagement.
Look how the Buffer Blog converts people into readers, the whole home page is one giant call to action.
- E-commerce sites and Companies with Services
E-commerce sites can’t ignore CTAs, because they’re extremely important in terms of converting users who are browsing into users that are buying. A call to action on an e-commerce site or e-store need not be only to push purchase; calls to action can appear at any one (or multiple) stages in the conversion funnel. For example, offering window shoppers the opportunity to create an account which offers them certain benefits (like creating wishlists, registries, and so forth) could be an important motivating factor that eventually leads to a sale.
For companies that offer their users services, calls to action can be used not only for motivating orders directly, but for encouraging users to request quotes, more information about a service, and so on.
Start-ups, charities, crowdsourcing sites and similar organizations can greatly benefit from increasing user response through a well-crafted call to action in many of the same ways that blogs, vlogs, and e-stores can, including mailing lists, increased engagement through user registration and account creation, and encouraging users to commit to the site financially or via increased participation.
Elements of a Great Call to Action
There are a number of elements to keep in mind when designing a call to action, regardless of type:
The primary purpose of a call to action is to inspire readers, viewers, and users to take some type of action. Samples of actions you could be trying to get viewers to take include visiting another page, downloading content, making a purchase, creating a profile or account, etc.
The secondary purpose of a call to action is to encourage the user taking action to do so in the immediate future, preferably right now. The goal is to get your viewers and visitors to take the next step while they’re still on your site—not just to come back later.
Finally, the third main purpose of the call to action is to be informative; users should know upon viewing it or reading it not just what action they are expected to take, but how that action will benefit them.
Call to Action Buttons
It has become more important than ever before to translate calls to action into an interactive form online. User response is improved when the call to action is integrated with an interactive element on the page, and there’s little reason with today’s sophisticated web site and web application functionality not to utilize this helpful tool. For that reason, our guide will focus on call to action buttons. However, most of the techniques described in our guide can be applied in some form to calls to action of a variety of different types.
The Call to Action Button Checklist
Just as with traditional verbal calls to action, call to action buttons can only be considered optimal when they incorporate great language choices. There are several things to keep in mind when choosing call to action language:
It should be actionable: Because the primary purpose of a call to action is to inspire action, and specifically the action of the reader or viewer, calls to action are most effective when written in second person point of view (i.e. talking to “you”), and when they directly invite further action through the use of verbs. For example, “Discover more about ______,” and “Explore _____.”
It shouldn’t be cliché: This is somewhat more difficult to master. There are certain phrases, associated with calls to action, which have become so trite that they can negatively impact user response. An imperative “read more” isn’t going to inspire readers. “Call today,” without some supporting benefits won’t be effective. “Submit” has also become somewhat of a no-no, with “sign up,” or “request” being more effective. The difficulty in avoiding trite phrases lies in the speed that online marketing evolves and changes; new trends are quickly adopted and often become used prolifically so quickly that they become trite in a short period of time.
It should be urgent without being demanding: Don’t use language to force commitment too early. “Buy now” is not as effective as “Find out more,” for example. Obviously, there’s a point in the conversion funnel where users will be encouraged to fully commit to a purchase, but there’s nothing to be gained from trying to force that commitment early. Instead, your call to action should coax, inspire, and motivate users to continue through the process of conversion. Keep in mind that subtle differences in language can create noticeably different impressions amongst viewers; “Register” for an account has a connotation, for many readers, that the process may be time consuming, while “Sign up” is less intimidating.
It should be straightforward: There are many opportunities in online marketing to use elevated language; the CTA is not one of them. Simpler is almost always better; any hint of confusion in a call to action is bound to lower user response rates. Not only should the language be straightforward to avoid confusion, it should also be consistent with the language used in the content of the page. For example, if the page advertises “A no-hassle guide to optimizing calls to action,” the CTA should say something like “Download your no-hassle guide here,” versus “Download e-book.” This consistency reassures users that they’re on the right track, and the repetition draws their eyes to the call to action. It’s also important because there are ads which can sometimes mimic a site’s call to action (“Download here!”, etc.) and specific wording can ensure that readers are confident enough to actually follow through with a click.
It should offer a clear benefit: Your call to action should demonstrate value to your users. A free download is good, but a free download that your viewer knows will benefit them today is better. Let’s say that you’re offering an ebook download for insomniacs. “Sleep better tonight” lets your readers know that this download will help them, it uses actionable language, it’s unambiguous, and it asks them for nothing more than a click in exchange for a straightforward, easily defined benefit.
Bigger is better. Your call to action should be prominently displayed. If it’s on a page with text content, like an article, making it the same width as your text column is ideal. If it’s on a separate page, you can go even larger. While your actual call to action button may be smaller, it should be housed in a larger graphic layout that draws the eye and informs that viewer that they’ve reached an opportunity to interact with your site on a new level.
Size is also helpful for those users who are looking to move forward immediately; the last thing you want to do is frustrate a highly motivated customer by making the next step too subtle or difficult to find at a glance.
Equally as important as its size is the placement of your call to action. User response is typically improved when users are exposed to valuable content above the call to action; providing detailed information before leading them toward conversion helps to convince users of the benefits they are about to receive. It’s not necessary to place your CTA after all of your content, however. Calls to action can be placed above the fold, below it, at the end—so long as it’s led by quality content, there are plenty of effective options for CTA placement. Choosing the right one for your page will depend upon the overall layout and flow of information on your site. Because of the variety of different options, experimenting with differing placements can be an important step in fully optimizing your call to action.
Placement can affect not only the number of clicks you receive, but can also affect the quality of those leads. For example, placing a call to action above the fold can sometimes lead to more clicks—but the percentage of full conversions from those clicks may be lower than from a call to action placed below the fold, because those who click at that point have more information about what they’re following through with.
At imonomy we put a very clear call to action on top and made sure to give a different color (I will talk about colors next…)
Choosing the colors for one’s call to action is both a science and an art. There are a couple of different strategies which can be used to great effect. Humans are incredibly visual creatures and great use of color can have an enormous effect on click through rates.
Some research suggests that people make sub-conscious decisions about products, websites, and environments within the first minute and a half of exposure, and that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of that assessment is solely based on color.
I simply can’t overemphasize how important conscientious color choices can be.
Color and Psychology
One of the methods for making call to action color choices is to appeal to psychological associations between colors and emotions, symbols, and mental states.
Red is well known to be an eye-catcher in marketing, and it’s no mistake that so many huge and longstanding brands use it as a central color in their logos, promotional materials, packaging, and ads. Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Nintendo, Kellogg’s, Nabisco, and Time magazine are some notable examples.
Red is a very evocative color; while the emotions it represents can vary based on context (romance and anger are both symbolized by the color, for example), red delivers them with intensity. In fact, that’s red’s most telling trait: the ability to intensify. It creates urgency, stimulates the appetite, and can even increase heart rate.
Orange is combination of yellow and red, and reflects that with its warm, enthusiastic, friendly effect of on personality. It’s a lighthearted color that brings to mind youth, freshness, and excitement.
Yellow is also stimulating, but in a more mental than physical sense. It’s less passionate than red, and less intense; however, it’s also less ambiguous. Yellow almost always brings about feelings of cheerfulness, optimism, clarity, and positivity. Yellow is light, bright, and grabs attention like no other color—but too much yellow can be problematic, because it can cause eye fatigue, or overstimulate the nerves causing the viewer to feel tense or strained..
Yellow is not used as extensively as the other primary colors (red and blue), but can be used to great effect as an accent.
Green and blue are two of nature’s most constant colors, and the human emotional response to the color green has much to do with our associating it with the natural world. Fresh, bright greens represent health, growth, relaxation, fertility, prosperity, and positivity. In addition to associating green with nature, we also associate it with money and wealth. It offers many of the advantages of the color blue (it can be peaceful and inspire trust, for example), while the yellow used to create it gives it a sense of vitality and excitement that blues tend to lack.
Blue is, emotionally, the opposite of red. Think soothing, rather than intensifying. It’s cool to red’s warm, peaceful rather than passionate. It’s said that the color blue increases focus and productivity, gives viewers a sense of security and can help build trust in the viewer. It curbs, rather than stimulates, the appetite, and it’s the color of choice for most men. It’s also non-invasive, coaxing attention rather than grabbing it.
This blend of blue and red is often associated with beauty, royalty, wisdom, and success, which makes it especially suitable for beauty products, as well as for products and concepts which focus on creativity, knowledge, and wisdom.
Color and Design
The relationships between different colors, visually, can help your call to action pop off the screen. The good news is, you can create this effect using whatever basic colors are advantageous for your brand and site design, just by accenting these colors with their contrasting complementary colors. The basic complementary pairs are as follows:
- Red and green
- Blue and orange
- Yellow and purple
Even slight adjustments in hue (using teal rather than blue to offset red, for example) can be extremely effective in drawing the viewer’s eyes to your call to action and increasing user response.
This should go without saying—but make sure your button looks like something that should be clicked on. There are a few things to keep in mind here:
- Make sure your button resembles a button in general, and doesn’t look like just highlighted text. If users don’t realize they can interact with it, they won’t.
- Make sure your button displays well in terms of resolution. Blurry, pixelated, or otherwise compromised buttons scream “spam” or “scam,” not “act now!”
- If you want to use a non-traditional button shape, that can be a great way to stand out, but use an alternative method to ensure that viewers understand your button is clickable (mouseover text/animations, directional graphics like arrows, shading, etc.).
- Always include alt text! Although it’s much less common to have difficulty with graphics loading correctly than it used to be, there’s still always the possibility of a glitch making your button “disappear” from the user’s point of view. Have alt text means that even if this happens, motivated users can still take action.
Your Perfect Call to Action
While the techniques above can help, savvy marketers will note that there’s more than one way to build an effective call to action—so how can you know if your CTA is really top notch?
The best way to optimize your call to action is to test it, preferably against other calls to action with the same goal in mind. A/B testing via marketing agencies can be very helpful in this regard; you can also run your own informal tests. A/B testing refers to testing two versions of the same thing; in this case, two differently designed calls to action which can be used with the same purpose in mind. When you design a call to action, always come up with an alternate design or two so you can try them out. Take note of what does and doesn’t work, and keep records—you’ll learn a lot about visitors to your site in the process. Something as simple as a turn of phrase, a different color choice, or a different button shape may have much more success than your original design; there’s no reason to limit yourself.
You can also personalize the calls to action viewed by different target audiences, if your site has the functionality to do so. You could be showing more urgent, commitment-heavy calls to action to strong leads, for example, while coaxing new site visitors with a more informational, coaxing CTA asking them to set up an account with your website.
The most important thing to keep in mind when designing your perfect call to action is to be mindful of its purpose and its role in the conversion funnel and to use trial and error. You should always be aiming for improvement!
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