In marketing, a call-to-action (CTA) is the word or phrase that encourages your audience to engage, in other words, the key to turning website visitors into customers. 

A good CTA increases the likelihood that a consumer clicks on an ad, while a bad CTA results in fewer clicks and lower ROI.

Unfortunately, even the best marketers tend to focus their efforts on the more creative aspects of an ad, such as colour and product imagery and opt for a CTA that feels right or looks good rather than spending time perfecting the message.  

Persuasive language

The CTA is the one opportunity to tell consumers what to do, therefore, the words used need to be as convincing as possible, and accurately reflect what you’re offering. If the aim is to drive sign-ups for a free trial – tell people that using a CTA like “Start your free trial” rather than “get started”.  

There isn’t really such a thing as ‘bad’ words and ‘good’ words, but there are certainly some words that are better at gaining attention and eliciting action. Words to avoid include: buy, sign-up, and download as these words imply that the consumer needs to exchange something (money, time, personal information) in order to benefit from your product or service, in other words, they create friction. Strong words that do not create friction include: explore, discover, and get.

Pole position

Your CTA button needs to be in the place where the action is most likely to be taken. When the CTA is a dedicated landing page, it should be above the fold as it is more likely to be seen because you’re not relying on people scrolling through your content. Within an ad unit, the best performing CTAs tend to be on the bottom right-hand side.

Colour psychology

Selecting colours for marketing will be primarily driven by the overarching brand colour palette and style. However, there are two other things to consider when using colour in marketing.

Firstly, psychologists believe that different colours subconsciously affect how we feel. For example, red (used by Oracle and Coca-Cola) creates a sense of excitement and energy; blue (used by IBM and Twitter) elicits a feeling of trustworthiness; and yellow (used by Amazon and Snapchat) provokes feelings of enthusiasm and opportunity.

Secondly, the visual hierarchy of your ad or landing page will dictate the objects that are recognised first by the human brain, and it has been proven that objects with the highest contrast to their surroundings are recognised first.

Creating an environment that is in keeping with the style of your brand, uses contrasting colours and makes use of colour psychology is an art and somewhat subjective so it’s worth involving specialist creatives and getting feedback from non-marketing and non-creative people within your organisation.

Sense of urgency

Going back to the concept that the purpose of the CTA is to get consumers to take the desired action, it’s important that your message creates a sense of urgency. There are many ways to do this and it will depend on the specific action you’re asking people to take. Generally, phrases like ‘now’ and ‘today’ work well for things like free trials and testers because there is little action required for the consumer.

One of the pitfalls many marketers fall into is trying to create a sense of urgency through superlatives, for example, ‘best deals available now’ or ‘our biggest sale ends today’. While this may seem like a good idea, consumers are savvy and distrust these messages. It’s best to stick to facts and use phrases such as ‘only 2 days left’ and, ‘buy now to get 40% off’ work well when you want to drive sales as they add a sense of urgency and convey a benefit of immediate action, i.e. not missing out and getting a discount.

Test and learn

Educated experimentation is fundamental to perfecting your CTA. The best test and learn strategies involve making small changes, for example, changing the copy, varying the colours, and moving the position of the CTA.

The impact of these changes should be evaluated in isolation, against baseline performance. This will provide a true measure of the impact of the changes. Don’t get carried away with enthusiasm and change several things at once – you won’t know which adaptations have driven performance increases.

Although it may seem like perfecting your CTA is an uphill battle, the success (or failure) is really down to a handful of things, and when you get it right, your odds of success dramatically increase. Start by making small changes, learn quickly, and be creative.