What is a Call to Action (CTA)?

The “call to action” or CTA has been a core requirement of effective marketing for nearly a century. For many copywriters and marketers, the call to action is what pulls together an article, email, advertisement, commercial, mailer or landing page. With the advent of online and digital marketing, the importance of the CTA has grown because marketers can now easily test the effectiveness of CTAs – as well as determine which types of CTAs work best for specific campaigns and products.

Why CTAs are important

Marketing calls to action are based on the sales adages of “always be closing” (ABC) and asking for the sale. CTAs get more people take the next step, whether it’s making a purchase, becoming a member, subscribing to a list or taking the next step toward a marketing conversion. Some campaigns can succeed without a call to action, particularly if the recipient is already very interested. But the need to have a strong call to action is based on two basic realities of marketing and sales:

  • Many prospects will not take the next step unless properly asked or invited
  • Many prospects want to take the next step but are unsure how

Effective CTAs address these two very important challenges. They help people who are eager to take the next step, as well as encourage those who may be unsure, hesitant or resistant. For those familiar with the funnel concept of marketing and sales, calls to actions can be seen as the connection between one stage of the funnel and the next. But rather than provide a static bridge, the CTA is a driver pushing prospects through the funnel.

What exactly is a call to action?

CTAs can take many different forms:

  • Hyperlinked buttons
  • Hyperlinked text
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Chat boxes
  • QR code
  • Web page or domain

But at its core, the call to action, as its name suggests, is an invitation. Some invitation are louder or stronger than others, depending on the context. Nevertheless, all CTAs are an invitation to the recipient to take the next (or ultimate) step.

Creating effective calls to action

The key to successfully designing and creating calls to action is understanding that CTAs don’t exist in a vacuum. All CTAs must have a context. And in most cases, that context can be multi-layered based on the audience, product, preceding messages already received, brand reputation, local characteristics and other factors. In other words, the CTA must be relevant. That may seem overly complex, and it can be. But there are some basic “call to action” principles, best practices and guidelines that many marketing professionals follow:

  1. Testing. This is probably the one definitive method for finding the most effective CTA. Through A/B or multivariate testing, marketers can leave no doubt as to which CTA performs best for a specific campaign, ad or email.
  2. Placement. Have you ever heard of the Guttenberg diagram, Z pattern or F pattern? These are design theories that try to describe how readers view a page. All three, however, are based on the Western reading method of reading left to right, then down. I would say that there are probably at least two worthwhile locations on a page for a CTA. The main one is at the very end of your content flow. With most landing pages (and other ads and emails), you also want a CTA above the fold.
  3. Repetition. It doesn’t hurt to have multiple CTAs on one page. In fact, it is sometimes necessary, especially with long or multi-page pieces. As Zig Ziglar wrote (paraphrasing an old Latin phrase): “repetition is the mother of learning, father of action and the architect of accomplishment.” And you never know when a reader or viewer reaches that tipping point when they’re finally receptive to a call to action. Also, some prospects may not want to convert via an online form; they may prefer a phone number, chat box or email address instead.
  4. Contrast. The CTA should stand out from the rest of the page or screen. This may entail a different (brighter) color, bigger button, eye-catching word choices, or all three. The bottom line is that you want your call to action to grab the viewer’s attention.
  5. Offer and benefit. Effective CTAs typically involve an offer, promise or benefit for those willing to take that next step. It could be a pricing discount, a free whitepaper download, chance to win a prize or simply more information to answer their lingering questions. The context will determine which CTA type will probably work best.
  6. Value and trust. Value is not the same thing as offer or benefit. The value hits closer to the brand, seller or author. It goes deeper by trying to answer why they should trust the offer or benefit promised. Consequently, some CTAs will include star ratings, trust logos (from third parties like the BBB) or testimonials from satisfied clients.
  7. Urgency. You’ve probably seen many CTAs online, on paper or on television that set a timeline. This offer only good until the end of the day, month’s end or first 10 callers! They may be annoying, but they work. They create a sense of urgency that does work on many recipients.
  8. Ease of use. When you have some ready and willing to take the next step, the last (and worst) thing you want to do is put obstacles in their way. Calls to action should be easy to understand and use. This means minimizing the actions needed, especially form fields.
  9. Personalized. As noted earlier, calls to action must be relevant. In many cases, this relevancy entails personalization. This doesn’t mean you dynamically insert their name. But CTAs could be personalized by making sure the right offer or benefit is made, based on the target audience. In addition, marketing automation tools such as HubSpot allows marketers to show a different offer to known leads and prospects.

Do you have additional principles and guidelines to share about calls to action?           The Web1Media Digital Marketing Encyclopedia is a free resource for web marketing professionals, website owners and webpreneurs. We welcome your comments, corrections and recommendations. The content contained on this website may not be scraped, reproduced or copied for commercial purposes without the expressed written consent of the author and website publisher.