Understanding the Call to Action

It’s probably no news flash that the internet has completely changed marketing. Once upon a time, you ran an ad in a magazine or on TV, or maybe you put up a billboard. Then, you hoped the right people saw it and then thought about your brand at the right time to call you up, wander into your store, or seek out your product on the supermarket shelf. 

Today, your target market comes straight to your website, often looking to immediately take some next step, which might be contacting you, signing up for your newsletter, or even buying something on the spot. How often you achieve these goals are how you measure the success of your website. And it all happens around one pivotal button on the page—the call to action (CTA). 

If your customers can’t quickly find the right place to click to get what they want, if they can’t easily figure out how to move along on their buyer’s journey, if they come to a point where they simply don’t know what to do next, they leave your site. Probably ending up on a competitor’s. 

This is why you have to understand how and why calls to action work. The better you make them, the better your website performs. 

CTAs Are Mandatory 

Incorporating relevant calls to action on your web pages isn’t just a best practice… it’s a must. Users expect them and seek them out. If they arrive on a page already knowing what they want to do, they scan for that familiar button. If they’re just exploring, and your page convinces them to do something next, again, they look for the CTA. 

This is not the sort of deeply ingrained expectation you want to mess with. Web users are impatient and fussy and all too aware that they have many other options right at their fingertips. They want user-friendly websites that meet the expectations they’ve developed over the course of visiting hundreds or thousands of websites every single day, year after year. 

No CTA? No sale. 

Effective CTAs Are Obvious 

Strong calls to action are obvious in a number of ways. They are easy to find. They are usually large, colorful buttons that contrast with their surroundings. They are generally placed prominently at the top, bottom, or to the side of some text. They grab attention. They aren’t small, stuck way down in a corner of the page, or surrounded on all sides by blocks of text. 

It’s also obvious that they are in fact CTAs, and what happens if you click them. Web users are trained to know that buttons are clickable, which is one reason this form is so useful. The button should have at least a word or two—and not many more—that informs the user what happens upon clicking. Things like “Buy now,” “Sign up,” “Learn more,” “Download the ebook,” and “Get in touch” are some common, clear, concise ways to label CTAs. 

Strong CTAs Generate Curiosity 

Yes, as we just said, a good call to action lets users know what to expect next when they click. And it’s important that they aren’t met with any undesirable surprises. If your CTA takes them to an unexpected page, if it doesn’t do what it promised, if the users feel at all misled or tricked into clicking, you’ve violated their trust and almost certainly lost them. 

However, curiosity is a powerful driver. If you use the text and/or imagery directly around your CTA to make users wonder exactly what they get after clicking, they’re far more likely to click. Copy that refers to learning “secrets” or discovering something or becoming an exclusive member or getting a special offer or gift are common examples of capitalizing on this principle. Providing a clear sense of what happens when the CTA is clicked while simultaneously withholding important specifics is a related strategy. 

Anticipation of Reward Drives CTA Clicks 

People love anticipation. In many cases, it’s as pleasurable as getting whatever it is they’re waiting for. And it also makes getting it feel even better. Similar to the above about generating curiosity, build up anticipation about what comes after clicking on the CTA. 

Benefits-driven copy accomplishes this. Let users know how things are going to be better for them after they click that button. Tell them what improvement to expect, but, for an important distinction, don’t tell them the specifics of how that benefit is created. In other words, don’t get into features. Otherwise, you undermine their curiosity. Just tell them clearly what benefit or solution follows from clicking.

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