I started this article looking for 101 call to action examples.
My plan was to review the all-time great copywriting controls and find the calls to action that made them so effective.
After all, they were written by the historical greats.
But I hadn’t read more than a handful of mailings when I discovered something interesting. All the CTAs were essentially the same.
Well, that was a bust!
Or was it?
I found some interesting parallels between traditional direct mail calls to action and the digital calls to action being written today. And I found three criteria for effective CTAs that work no matter what format you’re using.
Let’s take a look…
First, some traditional calls to action
Reviewing traditional direct mail promotions, I found three things that nearly all calls to action accomplish. See if you can find them in this line-up of old CTAs. (I’ll tell you my findings below.)
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Those were the more creative ones. But the majority read like this:
Do mail your acceptance to me today.
So act right now. The postage is paid and you’ve got nothing to lose but a great garden to gain!
SEND NO MONEY NOW! But please mail your card today!
So if you’re looking for knowledge, a rewarding adventure, and the advantage a future perspective can offer, mail the enclosed card today!
See the pattern?
The CTA is your final instruction to your reader, so (duh!) there won’t be 101 variations.
In direct mail, you have to tell people to “mail the enclosed card.” In digital marketing, we ask for a click.
No matter how creative we get, it still boils down to this one request.
But if you look closely at the examples above, there are three things that nearly all the CTAs include:
- A no-obligation statement that removes or reduces risk. In many cases, they’re asking for a free trial rather than a purchase. In other words, try us, you’ll like us. This gives people the confidence to buy.
- All of them contain some version of “Mail your acceptance card.” This is simple usability. You have to tell people what to do next. Today it would read, “Click the button below.”
- Encouragement to respond right away. That’s standard direct response. Don’t give people an option to wait and think about it.
Let me show you a few more examples
Transferring traditional techniques to digital formats
Some digital CTAs perfectly mirror the old mailings. Take this one from Stansberry Research’s Retirement Millionaire promotion.
The pattern is there:
- Try it, you’ll like it: “Try” is in all caps.
- There’s no obligation, which is the modern version of “send no money now.”
- He wants a response “right away.”
- Click on the “subscribe now” link to fill out a form.
Now let’s look at some other formats for CTAs…
The “why not” argument
Sometimes there isn’t a strong reason to take action. But there’s no reason not to, either. Here’s how W Magazine used this logic in an old direct mail piece:
This offer may not last long. So order W now—and see what you think of your free issue. After all, with so much to gain—and with absolutely nothing to lose—shouldn’t you at least take a look?
And here it is in a recent 1-2-3 Shrink promotion:
Your CTA needs to make you want to click, and let’s face it, there isn’t always a compelling reason to try something. Price can get people’s attention, but it’s not good for business, so a common alternative is to ask, “why not?”
Making it all about the benefits
This old Audubon promotion didn’t just offer a subscription. It offered “all the benefits of membership.”
To begin receiving AUDUBON at once and to enjoy all the other benefits of membership in the National Audubon Society, simply return the enclosed form.
If you can offer membership in an exclusive group, this may be a useful approach. But what if you aren’t offering a club, per se?
Focus on the benefits of responding, like this “Off the Grid” promotion from Sovereign Investor:
Who doesn’t want to protect their wealth, build a fortress around themselves, and live a richer, more satisfying life?
Leading with a strong CTA
Here’s the headline in an old Earthwatch promotion:
Got some free time? A week? A month? A summer?
Come volunteer for a conservation project in the wilds, an environmental project in the tropics, an archeological dig abroad.
Or if you’re busy now, cheer us on from the sidelines.
Adventure? Save the world? Wow! It even has a built-in call to action, the “come volunteer” statement. Today, I’d recommend following this headline with an order button.
The call to action for this promotion is good, but not nearly as compelling.
Remember, the CTA must tell people what to do next. Which means it can’t always have the same excitement level as your headline or lead. Here’s how Earthwatch did it:
If our organization sounds like something that you too would take pleasure in being a part of—whether by participating actively, or cheering us on from the sidelines—I urge you to send in the order form at your earliest convenience…so your adventures can begin with the very next issue of EARTHWATCH.
Can the lead ever work as your CTA? In the Earthwatch promotion, it could have. But back then, you had to provide instructions for how to respond.
Today, people are comfortable with responding to digital offers, so you don’t need to provide the instructions that made their CTAs clunky. You can simply provide a link or button—and people know what to do.
Here’s a digital promotion that pulls off this technique quite well.
It was introduced in an Early to Rise email like this:
Click the link, and you land here. There’s nothing on the page but the CTA.
Selling the trial
Because people are so comfortable with digital formats, your CTA can almost be implied. (Implied, but not forgotten!)
Prevention promotions typically ask for a Try rather than a Buy. It sounds less obligatory, so buyers offer less resistance.
And Prevention is so sure you’ll like their products, they give generous trial periods. Here’s one from Prevention’s Dance It Off! promotion. Notice that the actual CTA is in a graphic:
Of course, software and similar products rely on the trial too. Here’s Crazy Egg’s call to action:
This approach emphasizes the no-obligation element of strong CTAs. And it works.
Two CTAs that don’t work
I mentioned above that you can leverage people’s comfort with digital marketing, which allows you to streamline your calls to action. But you still need to be clear.
Weak or no CTA
One of the most common (and worst) mistakes in direct response is to assume people know what to do, and forget the call to action.
From my perspective, that’s what this promotion does:
This is just a portion of the page—there are floating elements that didn’t allow me to grab it all—but this screenshot has the majority of the information.
Where’s the call to action?
“Pick your city” is all I can see. That’s not compelling, risk-reducing, or benefits-oriented. In fact, if you read the fine print, the author of the book won’t be at the event.
There’s little here to compel anyone to respond.
The other extreme: too strong of a CTA
I can’t tell you what’s on the page because the pop-up acts as a pay-wall, so to speak, blocking entrance until you share your email:
Here, I’m stuck if I don’t respond.
“Join Now” or don’t view the page.
This call to action is a little too high-pressure for my taste. What saves it is the “Why we ask for email” link at the bottom of the form, the promise of 70% off, and the no-hassles language below the button.
But I still don’t want to be forced into compliance, so no thanks.
You want a strong CTA, sure, but not too strong.
The winner: A benefits-oriented, personal CTA
TheStreet’s Quant Ratings promotion showed up in my inbox, and it’s the clear winner among the promotions I reviewed.
Look at the call to action:
This CTA does a lot of things right.
- It implies no work on your part. It’s completely benefits-oriented and personal, asking you to put TheStreet to work… for you.
- There isn’t a vague, uninspiring “click here” command. The link is embedded in the benefit statement. And that statement is phrased as a command, so I can’t miss it.
- There is also a button—in a bright, can’t-miss red—that offers an incentive for clicking: “Save $150.” (You’ll need to test the color that works for your promotion, but here, red does well.)
- Urgency is subtly included in the CTA with “don’t wait another minute.” So it urges you to respond now without resorting to hype.
Does it fulfill the three criteria for effective calls to action? You bet:
- It offers a trial membership.
- The link and button provide implicit instructions (without going so far as to omit the CTA). It’s clear that you’re supposed to click on the link or the button.
- You’re asked to respond now: “Don’t wait another minute.”
Not only does this call to action use the same techniques that worked in direct mail, it improves on them, because there’s no bulky paragraph telling you where to find the response device and how to submit it.
With digital, you can build the response into the promotion for a seamless user experience.
CTAs may have changed over the years, but the goal hasn’t changed: Put the right message in front of the right people at the right time. It’s critical that you learn to do this well. And, of course, there’s no better way to learn than to be testing your CTAs.
Have you got some favorite techniques for an effective call to action? Or do you struggle with telling people how to respond? Let us know in the comments below.
Read to the end of this blog post to receive $1 million!
Oh, if only that were true. I’d probably read through more than once. However, now that I have you thinking about the proper way to motivate someone, I’d like to share some tips on how to craft a clear and engaging call-to-action (CTA) for your marketing campaigns.
What Is a Call to Action in Marketing?
In marketing, your call to action is the part of your advertisement that tells your target audience what they should be doing once they click on your PPC ad and hit your website or landing page. The simplest example of a call to action is "Buy now!" The more information you can provide your potential customers with your CTA, the better it will be for all parties involved. You can let your audience know what to expect when they click on your ad, and you can help dissuade the wrong users from clicking by means of a clear and direct message. While it is also important to understand what industry-specific phrasings or messaging your potential customers would respond well to, the CTA tips below are equally valuable.
Image via Boris Lechaftois
1. Use a strong command verb to start your CTA
It’s all about being clear and concise with your CTA. You don’t have a ton of space in your ad to get your point across, with the character limit set at 35 characters per description line, so it is important to get straight to the point. Let your audience know exactly what you want them to do, and don’t dilly dally – start the CTA with the desired action.
- Run an e-commerce website? Start your CTA with words like “buy,” “shop,” or “order”
- Promoting a newsletter or white paper? Start your CTA with words like “download” or “subscribe”
- Want someone to request more information? Try “fill out a form for…” or “find out how…”
Let’s go back to that white paper example. If you’re a marketing agency promoting your latest tips and insights, you want to be sure to that your audience understands exactly how to access that white paper. If your CTA read something like “Our latest white paper is available” you may not get a great click-through rate, as folks might not be sure where or when they can expect to get their hands on it. A call-to-action such as “download our white paper today!” is much more direct and informative, which should help improve CTR.
2. Use words that provoke emotion or enthusiasm
You want to be able to elicit a strong response from your audience as a result of their enthusiasm. If your CTA is enthusiastic, then your audience will be enthusiastic too. Take a CTA like “buy now and get 50% off!” – not only are you providing them with a massive benefit, but who wouldn’t be thrilled to get their order for half off?
For someone looking to book a trip with their family, a CTA such as “plan your dream vacation today!” will excite them about the notion of a family trip and make them eager to click on your ad. A small, yet effective element here is adding an exclamation point to the end of your CTA in order to provoke that enthusiasm. It makes your CTA pop, and gives it a little extra kick.
Look how much more exciting exclamation points make everything
3. Give your audience a reason why they should take the desired action
In other words, what’s in it for them? Will it help them do their jobs better, lose weight, or save money? This will tie in heavily with your value proposition, or unique selling point (USP). Your USP is arguably one of the most important pieces of acquiring new leads, so creating a nice USP/CTA mash-up is a great way to increase clicks. A good example of this would be something like “call today to schedule your free consultation!” Not only have you stated the action you want the user to take (call today), but you have also provided them with a reason why they should take that action (a free consultation).
4. Take Advantage of FOMO
This is actually one of my favorite tactics when it comes to a successful CTA. Fear of missing out, otherwise known as FOMO, is an extremely effective motivator. When people think they might lose out on an opportunity that might not come around again, they’ll be mighty quick to hop on the bandwagon. One of the best uses of FOMO in your CTA is to mention a sale or promotion that your company is holding, and which won't last forever. You probably get emails with this sort of messaging all the time, I know I sure do. I’m talking about messaging like “Shop today! Sale ends on Monday,” perhaps during a three-day weekend. Or even “buy now while supplies last!” during the holiday season. It’s tough to ignore a prompt like that, especially during a time-sensitive, under-the-gun type of situation (e.g. the Christmas season). Similar to provoking enthusiasm as we discussed earlier, provoking fear of missing out in your CTA is sure to get you some additional clicks.
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
5. Know your devices
Creating a killer call-to-action is important, that’s no secret. But I also urge you to consider customizing your CTA based on the device being used by your audience. Google considers desktop and tablet as the same device, as the screen sizes are roughly the same, and people use them for search in similar scenarios. An example of this would be a person sitting on the couch at night, who sees an ad on TV for a product they’re interested in. The next thing they’ll probably do is grab their laptop or tablet and search for more information on it.
However, mobile devices tend to have different user behavior and search intent than desktop/tablets, making it prudent to tailor your CTA based on device. Users who search for something on their desktop or tablet are typically still doing their research, and are not quite ready to commit. But users searching for something on their mobile phone are often looking for “instant gratification” or fast results. Someone could be walking down the street when they see an ad on a moving bus, and whip out their phone and quickly search for what they saw before it leaves their brain. Their search will also likely result in a phone call to complete the desired action, rather than browsing a website. My advice is to create a more phone call-centric CTA for your ads that appear on mobile devices. You could try something like “call now to get started” or “call us today for more information,” and that should help guide your target audience to take the action you want them to take.
There are two ways you can make this tactic even more effective:
- Google gives you the ability to set a mobile preference for your ads, which allows you to designate certain ads to only appear for searches completed on mobile devices. With this option, you can focus your CTA on generating more phone calls.
- You can also enable call extensions, which allow you to display your phone number alongside your ads. This option is available for all devices, and I strongly recommend that you take advantage of it, but Google automatically adjusts the way your call extensions are displayed on mobile searches. Instead of your number appearing, a small “Call” button will be display, allowing for one-touch dialing. This is what is known as Google’s “Click- to-Call” function.
Google’s Click-to-Call button appears on mobile searches
6. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative
It’s important that you keep your CTA’s fresh, much like you should with your ad copy in general. A good, old-fashioned A/B test is a great way to identify which CTA’s bring you clicks, and which CTA’s bring you frowns. While your tried and true calls-to-action like the ones we’ve already discussed are always good to use, you really never know how they’ll perform in your account until you actually use them.
PPC is definitely a game of trial and error (which is why it can be frustrating!), and your calls-to-action are no exception to the rule. Something could look great on paper, or may sound great when a colleague recommends it to you, but the only way you’ll absolutely know for sure if something will work for your account is if you test it out. Your target audience may not respond well to what could be considered a “surefire CTA,” which is enough to make you pull your hair out. I recommend not only testing different CTA’s, but being creative with them too. If your target audience isn’t responding well to your ads, you might as well try to think outside the box a bit!
Elisa Gabbert shared some examples of creative CTAs in a blog post if you are looking for some additional inspiration, while Dan Shewan examined what makes some call to action examples so effective in a separate post, so do your research!
7. Use numbers when possible
We consumers respond well to seeing numbers such as pricing, discounts, promotions, incentives, etc. It helps us to determine whether or not it’s worth splurging on items we desperately want, but probably aren’t essential to everyday life. So when the opportunity arises, why not appeal to your target audience that way? I am always a big proponent of including pricing information in your ad copy in general, and that includes your CTA. If a user sees your pricing information in your ad, and decides to click through to your site, then you know they are still interested in the product or service you are offering. Now you know you have yourself a valuable click, and an increased chance at generating a conversion. But, if you don’t include your pricing information in your ads, someone may click through to your site, excited about your products/services, but then get scared off by your prices; now you have yourself a less than desirable situation. This leads to the dreaded wasted spend in your account, and who wants to deal with that?
Try experimenting with your pricing information in your CTA, as well as any other applicable numerical information. A CTA such as “Shop today for TVs under $300!” not only shows a user how little they will pay for a TV, but it also hits on the FOMO element as well (pretty sneaky huh?). If you are running a special promotion for shipping, you could try something like “order by Sunday for 1-day shipping.” Maybe you are an auto body shop looking to incentivize your audience with a discount; your CTA might look something like “Book today! 15% off your next visit.”
Honorable mention: Use crappy language
This doesn’t make the top 7, as it can be a little risqué, but it can also be pretty effective in catching someone’s eye. I don’t always recommend trying this, as it can be tough to pull off, but sometimes using negative words can motivate a person to change something they are self-conscious about. For example, if I was on Google looking to lose weight and saw a call-to-action such as “end your crappy diet today,” I might just want to click. Sure, it’s a bit brash, which is why I recommend using this technique sparingly, but it definitely commands attention.
Another example might be if I was looking to fix the brown patches in my lawn. If I was perusing Google and saw an ad with a CTA like “your yard sucks, let us fix it,” not only would I probably chuckle, but I would also probably click – just to see exactly what that lawn company could do for me. You’re walking a fine line with this technique, but it can pay off.
Do you have a preferred call-to-action, or perhaps one that surprised you with how well it did? What about one that you were hoping would perform well but ended up bombing? I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to sound off below!
MORE:17 Best Practices for Crazy-Effective CTA Buttons