Call to Action (CTA)

What is a Call to Action (CTA)?

Call to Action (CTA)

Are you wondering what a CTA is? Have you ever signed up for an online subscription, downloaded a program, or made an online purchase? You may have already seen a CTA without realizing it. A call to action — or CTA — is a kind of instruction to audiences, encouraging them to take action. They're the backbone of all online engagement. Effective CTAs are action phrases that bookend stages of a customer journey, giving an opportunity — and direction — for taking immediate action.

What Does a CTA Do?

Many business owners think of the basic CTA meaning as simply a request to purchase their products or services — or a link to help a website visitor reach their main landing page. Instructions like “call now!” or a purchase button on a website are certainly calls to action that accomplish that objective, but not all calls to action exist to sell a product or service.

Some CTAs exist to encourage engagement. One simple CTA that most people see every day is the “like” button that sits below Facebook posts and content on other social media platforms. A call to action button that directs people to subscribe to a content feed is another example of an engagement focused CTA. Even “share” icons on web pages are another CTA button that isn't directly connected to sales.

You'll find calls to action at every level of the sales funnel. A blog post or a video about plumbing repairs might be top funnel content, but they'll still include a specific CTA to help guide people down into the next level of the funnel. Bottom level sales materials often have the most obvious examples of CTAs, like an action button that says “request an appointment” or a clickable button that leads directly to a sales portal. The key function of each CTA, at every level, is to carefully direct potential customers in your target audience through the conversion funnel and drive the customer journey.

General Call to Action Examples:

  • Phrases like “call 888-273-8850 to find out more” written in online content, ad copy, and other marketing materials
  • Large headings & banners that reiterate service features or provide simple instructions like “request an appointment”
  • Links to product, service, and sign-up pages with anchor text like “get started today“ or “sign up online”
  • Offers for free trials, temporary subscriptions, or limited-time offers
  • A CTA button with prompts to subscribe, follow, or share content
  • Suggestions to learn more about specific products, services, or other offers
  • Requests to join an online community, access gated content, or sign-up for a mailing list
  • A CTA button or fillable field that connects directly to sales pages

How Do You Write a Good CTA?

Keep It Simple

If you've never written a CTA before, the best tip to remember is “concise, precise.” An optimal CTA expresses exactly what you want your target audience to do, and what they'll get by engaging with your call to action.

A good CTA should be short, specific, & clear above all things. For example, the CTA on Netflix's home page simply says: “Join Free for a Month.“ It's short, sweet, & straight to the point. Nike's famous CTA, “Just Do It” is even shorter and even sweeter.

10 Tips for Writing a Good CTA:

  1. Start with a Verb: If you're struggling to even start a sentence, narrow down your CTA to one verb and start there. Strong action verbs give your target audience a clear idea of what you want, and what will happen if they follow your CTA. Spotify has an excellent example of this practice used well. The CTA button on their homepage that says “Play Free” reduces everything to just two words, a verb and an adjective — an action & a benefit.
  2. Give a Good Reason: Nobody will engage with your call to action if they don't have a reason to do so. You need to tell people exactly what they'll get by clicking a CTA button or link. That mean you should describe what you're offering and what the benefits are. Even if you just include instructions to “learn more,” that still shows blog readers that you're offering information and that they'll get a better understanding of whichever subject you're talking about.
  3. Appeal to Emotion: Many actions are driven by emotion, and eliciting an enthusiastic response is easier if you evoke positive — or negative — experiences. Utilizing language that plays on previous negative experiences and provides a solution is a great way to create emotional drive. Use phrases like “Fix Your Frustrating Faucets” or “Protect Yourself from Wood Rot.” Even words like “dream renovation” or “amazing lawn” are simple emotional appeals.
  4. Create FOMO: The fear of missing out is a simple emotion that any marketing campaign can utilize. Limited time offers are an obvious example of this practice. For CTAs you can create the same effect by using phrases like “while supplies last” or “Sale on Now!”
  5. Remember Formatting: Formatting is especially important for a single CTA button, but even a simple phrase meant for blog readers should be crafted with formatting considerations. Think about placement, size, and colour. If it's a button, is it above the fold? If it's a phrase in a blog, is it too subtle or too distracting? It should be distinct enough to stand out but not so blatant that it disrupts everything around it.
  6. Don't Forget the Funnel: An effective CTA should reflect its place in the sales funnel. Something like “Buy Now!” will leave a bad taste if it's in content that's simply meant for creating awareness at the prospecting level. Likewise, failing to provide a direct connection to your products or services will be frustrating for people looking at bottom funnel content who are ready to make a purchase.
  7. Rephrase Your Hook: Did you start your introduction with a hook like “Does Your Door Squeak?" or, “Are You wondering What a CTA is?" Rephrasing your hook in your CTA is an easy way to build cohesion throughout your content and reiterate the problem you're trying to solve. For the hooks above, you might write “Fix you Squeaky Door Today” or “Find out More About Digital Marketing Terms Like CTA.” 
  8. Tailor to Phones: People searching for something on their desktop computer or tablet have different behaviours and intentions than people looking for something on their smartphone. Mobile searches have high potential for instant gratification — and quick conversions. A CTA that directs people to call a phone number will have a bigger impact on content created for mobile platforms.
  9. Speak Directly to Your Audience: General language that isn't addressed to readers is weaker than language directed toward your audience. Write from a second person point of view, using words like “you” to address your reader. You'll get more responses from phrases like “Fix Your CTAs" or “Start Your Renovations Today!”
  10. Think Creatively: Don't just mimic the styles and designs you've seen before. That's a fine place to start if you're still learning, but the best calls to action stand out from the regular, repetitive examples around them. Think about how you can rewrite standard words to make them more interesting. Can you highlight something unique? Can you be more specific? Is there an interesting way you can tailor your language to make it stand out? 

Should You Use Multiple Calls to Action?

You should always consider the customer value journey when creating marketing messages. Whether you're working on something for prospecting, lead conversion, or customer retention, you need to consider your target audience and what will work best for both your audience and your project. Sometimes that means including only a single CTA at the end of a blog post or video. Other times, you might need multiple CTAs to convert leads into customers.

Many professionals do use multiple, smaller CTAs as a means of guiding people toward a larger decision. For example, consider how a custom carpenter may assist someone with a cabinet renovation. They might start by asking their potential customer to consider their options for different materials, colours, and hinges. By the time they've progressed through all those small decisions, they'll have built toward the final custom product. At that point, the carpenter provides a final call to action by asking them when they'd like to get started with their project.

Calls to Action on Websites

In general, CTA is a marketing term that refers to any specific initiative meant to drive people toward making a choice. On websites, CTAs come in specific forms, and they should serve specific functions. Some forms, like a CTA button, are obvious, but some are subtle. Complete integration of both types is the best way to optimize your use of online calls to action.

On a website, a call to action might include several elements, all of which work together to drive people toward pressing a button or entering their email address. That kind of feature is another example of the way an organization might use multiple CTAs. Those comprehensive calls to action will simultaneously employ several principles of CTA design — such as bold statements, powerful verbs, and lists of benefits — that all culminate in a clickable button with a simple action phrase like “Sign Up for Free!”

Examples of Digital Calls to Action Include:

  • Clickable buttons
  • Fillable fields
  • Banner text
  • Graphics
  • Images
  • External Ads
  • Links
  • Social media posts

How Do You Know If Your CTA is Working?

Once you've added a call to action, it's important to continue analyzing results to ensure that it's working. The typical objective of a digital CTA is getting clicks from your users, which is why tracking your click-through-rate is one of the best ways to determine whether or not your CTA is doing its job.

Don't forget that the ultimate goal of any CTA is also to lead people toward making a final decision — typically to purchase your products or services. If all your calls to action are working, you should eventually see increased lead generation, conversions, and sales.

How Do You Pick the Best CTA?

Writing, designing, and implementing a call to action isn't an exact science. Whether you're trying to write an amazing CTA for your email campaign or just create an outstanding call to action for your latest social media post, knowing which language works best for your audience takes time, practice, and testing.

A/B testing — a.k.a split testing — is one of the best ways to evaluate different calls to action. Use all your best options and ideas. Keep track of the differences between important metrics like conversion rate and click through rate.

The process of A/B testing will help you better understand the language, tone, and techniques that generate responses from your target audience. That deep analysis is important whether you're targeting an old demographic or a new potential audience.

Once you tested all your options, choose whichever strategies create the best results and make those calls to action your new standard for reaching target demographics. If you're creating calls to action for a limited time event or a large feature on your website, don't forget to consider updates. Trends, styles, and preferences all change over time. You need to continuously adapt and alter your long-term CTA strategy as changes happen. Tired, boring repetition isn't effective, but fresh, interesting writing is.

Do You Absolutely Need a Call to Action?

A CTA is an important message meant to motivate readers to take your desired action. Many marketing experts agree that it's one of the most important parts of any content, website, or marketing materials. An exceptional CTA is what powers the engine of your sales funnel. Without a source of power, that complex mechanism will cease functioning.

Potential customers don't just expect to see a CTA. Many of them want one too. Visiting a website or reading a blog post that doesn't have a message about where to go next is confusing and disorienting. The last thing any business owners want is more obstacles between their customers and their offerings. A call to action makes it easy for potential customers to continue their journey toward getting the benefits of your products or services.

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