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Call-to-Action 101: Why they’re important and how to use them

This is guest contribution from Michael Kuhlmann.

Would you like to increase your readership? How about boosting downloads for your latest white paper or newly-launched digital product?

The secret to success sometimes lies in the obvious.

While you may have placed a sign-up field for your newsletter or added a new product to your e-commerce site, your job as a content marketer doesn’t end there. You need a CTA, a call-to-action!

The easiest way to start is by answering the “why” question. Why should somebody subscribe to your blog? Or, why should I buy this new product? The answer can be anything from “Buy 1, Get 2 Free!” to “Sign up today and never miss another post!”

A sleepy reader without a call to action

Finish the race

When you’re ramping up a marketing campaign through an email, landing page or any other asset, it’s easy to get lost in the offer and messaging. You’ll talk about all the amazing things your customers will want and maybe even include a bulleted list of why your goods and/or services are so awesome. You might even throw in the “time-limited offer” verbiage to incentivise your customers.

After you add your button that reads “click here” somewhere in your content, you might be inclined to call it day. Don’t! You’ll just have wasted a lot of time and effort on what’s, really, your first draft.

Let’s backtrack a little.

Every form of communication with your customer should begin and/or end with a call to action. While it’s easy to point out the importance this carries over your marketing efforts, it’s best explained through an example. Consider the following marketing copy for an email:

Scenario

Unilever announced it will sell a new body spray this December called Squirrel-Off, which is intended to repel food-begging squirrels.

Call to action: Example A

Ward off those pesky squirrels this holiday season with Squirrel-Off!

Call to action: Example B

Keep squirrels away this holiday season with Squirrel-Off, the amazing scented body spray that protects you from those unwanted critters.

Example A sounds abrupt, lacks any type of interaction with the reader and isn’t warm or fuzzy. Example B, on the other hand, is more descriptive and increases the click-through rate (CTR) by linking the bolded call to action in addition to the advertised product.

Split testing your call to action

Split test

To calculate the effectiveness of the marketing copy with and without a call to action, we can refer to what’s called an A/B split-test.

A lot of email service providers (ESPs) have a built-in functionality to measure this, but for the sake of keeping things simple, let’s assume we have a database of 200 contacts. If we also assume that our ESP is fairly basic without a simple or automated A/B split-testing functionality, then we can halve our contacts and send them the marketing copy with the contents from Example A and the other 100 people receive the contents from Example B. The CTR from the latter email should yield higher.

Calculating the effectiveness of CTAs doesn’t hinge solely on the email copy nor on the medium in which you use it, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated.

For example, if you’re not too keen on fiddling with Google Analytics and have a fair marketing budget, you can use Optimize.ly or Visual Website Optimizer on your landing pages. You can perform split-tests on your hero shot and call to action buttons, as well.

Does a red pill button outperform a blue pill button? How about button with a chevron or triangle? The possibilities to what you can measure are endless, but the common denominator will always be your content, your call to action.

To hone down on your CTA, you’ll want to answer five questions.

1. Does your first sentence grab your attention enough to continue reading?

An easy way to figure this out is to think of your favourite product or service and substitute it for the actual product or service you’re promoting. If you’re thinking, “Sure, this sentence is still good enough” stop right there and revise it, because your first sentence needs to be excellent!

When it’s excellent, the road is paved for your customers to keep reading your content, which will increase the chances for them to perform an action – starting a trial, getting a discount, downloading a document, etc.

used-car-salesman.jpg

2. Do you have emphatic CTAs sprinkled throughout your content?

If you think your call to actions might be a bit weak and you’re worried about making them sound too “sales-y”, don’t worry. Make them sound “sales-y”.  Obviously, you don’t want every sentence to have a link pointing to your product or service, but your call to action should be noticeable throughout your content.

The worst thing you can do is have a boring call to act

ion that nobody cares enough to click on, which brings up the next question.

3. Have you linked your CTAs?

Sure, you can expect people to read your entire content and scroll down to click on your awesome call to action button, but let’s not be so lazy. Your customers need a bit of hand-holding and that requires you to give them more than one way to click on things. For example, if you’re prompting them to “discover new music”, then make sure to link your CTA to the appropriate page.

4. Are you tracking your CTAs?

Hopefully, the answer is always “Yes”. If you’re shrugging your shoulders, link-tracking simply means you’re counting how many times people have clicked on your linked call to action.

You can use tools like Google URL Builder or Bit.ly or any other tracking method for that matter. You’ll want to get into the habit of continuously measuring your marketing efforts, as that will help you promote your products and/or services more efficiently. It takes a bit more time, but you’ll make much more informed decisions for your next campaign.

5. Are you using a pill-shaped “Click Here” button?

Yes? Shame on you!

That type of marketing belongs next to the blinking text from the late 90s. If you want people to start a trial, your pill-shaped call to action button should read “Start Your Trial” … and, yes, make that title-case, because it stands out more. Don’t be vague! People should be able to look at your CTA button and figure out what happens before they click on it.

Once you’ve tweaked your content, give yourself a pat on the shoulder and a quick breather, because you’ve just scratched the surface on optimising your marketing effort starting from your call to action.

Michael Kuhlmann is a highly-caffeinated content creator at Quote Roller. When he’s not writing stuff, he spends time with his shutterbug wife, teeny toddler and West Highland White Terrier named Beary White who has a Napoleon complex. 

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Comments

  1. This article from Michael is top of tops. It is the most comprehensive post about call-to-action that I have ever read.

  2. Thanks for such an informative article! I enjoyed reading the article and love the picture of the reader falling asleep. I do agree, call to action is very important to increase your click ratio. In addition, testing different call to actions helps figure out which one works better.

  3. John Liam says:

    You have mentioned everything one needs to do to improve CTAs, measure the success and where and how to place them in content. Very well written.
    John

  4. Troy Spro says:

    Thanks for this Michael.

    I have just been feeling my way so far with these and this has given me a few more ideas to work with and also work on.

    The key is selling your CTA with it feeling natural and not a sales trap with no return.

    Thanks again.

  5. webly says:

    Simple ways to start implementing CTA’s on your website. It’s so overwhelming with all the information out there that I get discouraged before I start. I’ll try to simple suggestions and the split test.

  6. ken murika says:

    I have learnt a lot about CTA and I will do everything to make use of the info

  7. CTA is a very interesting subject! There’s also the matter of urgency:
    [buy it NOW] vs [buy] for example
    Like you said it’s all about handholding :)

  8. Sohil Memon says:

    Never known about CTA this much! For the first time I came across as of such detailed guide. Thanks for it and now do have a post on some advanced level also!

  9. Donny Gamble says:

    CTA is very important especially when it comes to promoting an affiliate offer or your own product on your blog. You want to provide the reader with both curiosity and an action that is compelling enough in order for them to click on your link.

  10. David says:

    Wow.I did not even know what CTA’s are until now. Nice article !

  11. Altaf Gilani says:

    Thanks Michael, you’ve hit right on the nail.

    CTA is one of the most important aspect of Usability. Integrating right CTA on right place can not only increase the interaction, but also conversion ratio of the website which is the core requirement of any business…

  12. Arthur Burlo says:

    I still don’t have enough traffic and subscribers to do any tests such as the ones you propose, but when I will do I will be coming back to this article for sure.

    I love the way you split down the steps one should take for a successful call to action. I will be implementing it in my list building strategies, although I am not sure what to use to grab attention.

  13. Susan says:

    The post is very well written, it clearly explains what is CTA and how can it be implemented. I will surely try to implement CTA in my blog to increare the readership.

  14. Daryl says:

    Great tips Michael! I’ve read a bit about CTA’s but I’ve never really seen the process broken down before. I’m definitely going to work on my call to actions a bit more to encourage readers to interact!

  15. Nikhil says:

    Nice post It tech me lots of new things about CTA and I will try to implement it in my website. thank you.

  16. Starting CTAs with power verbs makes all the difference in the world. Thanks Michael!

    Ryan

  17. This is interesting I wonder if starting out my podcasts with a call to action would work just as effectively I know Derrick halpern does that with his social triggers insider I’m going to give it a try

  18. Phuong Le says:

    Very informative after reading this blog post I need to take my web designer class for better call to actions. Yes, I tried lot to make helpful but not like this.

  19. Michael Kuhlmann says:

    Thank you Raymond, Nancy, John, Troy, Sohil, David, Altaf, Nikhil, Ryan and Phuong!

    @Arthur – You don’t need a whole lot of traffic to start testing. In the beginning, it’s more about getting into the habit of going through the testing motions, so it becomes second-nature down the road =)

    @Freddie – Would love to know the result of that, as well. It’d be hard to figure out if your beginning or ending CTA was the most effective one, but I suppose if you can track two different links via two different CTAs, that’d be something fun to test.

  20. I think we should always have in mind the call to action sign.

    Even in our posts where we don’t have a product to sell we should be having a direct sign for what we want them to do next, either see the next article, share it, or sign up!

    When I see the emails I used to send I can totally see where I was failing – call to action sign :)

    Thanks for the post, great one!

    Best of all,

    Nelson

    • Yes, when I look back to my older work, I found that I only used CTAs sparingly … and part of that, I think, has to do with my background in journalism (ie. don’t be annoying, don’t push ads) and being a designer (ie. don’t clutter). Having done marketing for some time now, I scrapped all my past notions of what it means to get people to do things. Anyway, thanks for the comment! =)

  21. Helen says:

    Yep, calls to actions do matter when it comes to blog posts. Though – as for A/B testing – seems like it would be better to start with optimizing landing pages.

  22. Jennifer says:

    I appreciate the scenario of the two CTA with the Squirrel-Off. Some companies have CTA but they miss the mark with their wording. Coming on too bold or not bold enough will turn potential customers off.There’s a fine balance that needs to be met.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more. My pet peeve is “Learn more” for emails that are supposed to be catchy. If it’s a regular (ie. weekly/monthly) email, I’d say that’s fine, but for one-offs, it’s pretty dull. Anywho, thanks for the comment!

  23. Alexa says:

    Quite agree. Calls to action make a blog post more appealing. Readers need a solution, so here it is. Do it.