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What Makes A Good Call To Action?

What Makes A Good Call To Action?

As you can imagine, this is a question we’ve been asked many times over the last 12 months as we took Respond from an idea on a sheet of paper to a platform with over 150 advertisers.

We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we do have a rich seam of data to mine after running a multitude of campaigns and split tests across sites in many industry sectors, with variations in design, device, browser, location and many other variables.

Here’s what we’ve found so far…

Size matters!

It might seem counter intuitive, and doing this might go against every instinct, but making a call to action button bigger to get more attention can have the opposite effect.

Large buttons can be perceived in much the same way as banner ads – as visual noise not worthy of attention. Why? Because large graphical elements are typically designed to impart commercial messages – increasingly savvy web visitors know this and so focus elsewhere on the page.

The lesson? Use only the space you need and give your button room to breathe. The white space around a button can be as effective as the button itself in drawing attention.


It’s true in broadsheet newspapers, and it’s true online. Placement on the page is critical, and there’s no better place to be than above the fold – that is, visible on the screen without the user needing to scroll down the page.

Of course, it’s not enough to just be in the upper part of the page. Banners are typically placed right at the top, and click-through rates have fallen dramatically year on year. Eye tracking studies show most people simply don’t look in the margins, whether that’s the header or the side columns – a phenomenon known as banner blindness (as illustrated below).

Banner Blindness

So where’s the sweet spot? It is, of course, as near to the content as possible. To be really specific, if your site carries editorial content, it should be close to the title and first paragraph. Why? Because that’s the only content many of your visitors will ever notice.

Most visitors simply won’t notice other parts of the page, and (depressingly for editors and writers) a significant proportion will start but never finish an article. If you want to catch people’s attention, you need to do it when they’re paying attention during those vital first few seconds.

Is it any wonder? Computers are distraction engines. It takes iron self-discipline to focus in the face of email, IM, Facebook, Twitter, apps of every kind, and real world interruptions, from phone calls to meetings.

Clicking buttons is not a priority for most people, unless those buttons are in the line of sight.


This is perhaps the most subjective aspect, but we’ve got some interesting findings.

As with size, the temptation is always to do more to make a call-to-action button noticeable. To add more colour, more effects, more definition.

But findings by Jakob Nielsen show that plainer graphical elements get more attention, because they are more closely associated with native site content, that is graphics that feel like they belong to the site, that look like they have a purpose and value.

That’s the reason why the Respond button varies by advertiser, but broadly stays within certain design constraints. We use a simple icon to represent the advertiser (or sometimes our own chevron), a background colour that’s consistent with the brand identity, and a slight gradient to give the button shape.

This approach to button design matches that used by the world’s largest site owners, from Facebook and Google to eBay and Amazon (pictured below).

Amazon Button

The Message

Last, but certainly not least, is the message the call-to-action button contains. As with all the above points, there is no right answer for all occasions, but we’ve found the following factor can play an important role in driving conversions:

  • Start with an action word – Get, Find, Discover, Save, Compare etc all convey a sense of action.
  • Don’t be too pushy – Visitors may not be ready to buy if they’re still in research mode (or the ZMOT), and may fear they’ll be entered into an unwelcome process or commitment if the call to action is too focussed on the end result.
  • Be relevant - We aim to match campaigns to content as accurately as possible based on the meaning our algorithm derives from the page. We look for certain keywords and phrases, discount others, and use other signals within the page in order to deliver the most relevant and compelling call to action message possible.
  • Be location aware – We also look at the location of each visitor to the page so we serve a button that’s relevant to their market. If you run an e-commerce site you may wish to vary to creative according to geography e.g. by language or currency.
  • Be concise – Call to action message must by their nature be to the point. Space limitations and reader attention spans demand it. This can be used to your advantage, as you can entice the consumer to want to find out more.
  • Be specific – People like to know what’s in store when they click on a button. If you sell widgets, make it clear that’s it’s widgets your going to see by using the call to action button. We achieve this in two ways – we match the action verb to the task e.g. ‘Compare’ will lead to a comparison tool, ‘Calculate’ will lead to a calculator widget, ‘Discover’ will lead to a search etc.

I hope you find these call to action button tips useful. If you’d like to add a Respond call to action button to your site please get in touch or register online now.

Respond are also listed on the recommended Affiliate Tools section of a4u - find out more.

Guy Cookson

Guy Cookson

Guy is the co-founder of Respond. Respond contextually matches call-to-action buttons to relevant

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