Call to Action: 10 Rules on How to Write an Effective CTA with Examples
A call to action is the decision-making step. It’s either a sentence or a button that causes the reader to respond (either by providing their contact information or purchasing).
Let’s assume you’ve written persuasive copy on either a website, email or ad. The customer has been convinced that your product or service is good.
Without a good call to action, the potential customer doesn’t find a reason to act within a reasonable time frame and they either forget or lose motivation.
You’ve lost them. All the time and money you spent into writing a persuasive ad, getting their contact info and contacting them has been wasted, all because of a lack of a persuasive call to action.
The 10 Rules of Creating an Effective Call to Action
So, what are some elements of an effective call to action? Here are ten rules to an effective call to action:
Remove or reduce risk
Be as clear as possible
Provide a sense of urgency by highlighting the immediate benefits to the customer
Use a powerful action verb
Use words that pull out both emotion and excitement
Take advantage of the fear of missing out (FOMO)
Plan different ads for different devices
Use proper formatting elements
Let’s go into each of these rules in detail.
1. A Call to Action Should Remove or Reduce Risk
Almost everyone has gone to a product site and been asked to purchase something. Of course, if no one ever asked you to buy something, sales would drop dramatically.
However, there is a certain mentality that we get when we buy a product or subscribe to a service. We wonder if the product is worth the asking price, how easy it would be to cancel the service, or other things that we perceive as risk.
Here are some examples of companies that have reduced risk for the same reward:
Not only does Netflix offer a free month just for signing up, they also include the “Cancel Anytime” line in their call to action. This allows users to try it out for a month knowing that they can cancel at any time if they decide the product isn’t worth it.
This reduces the risk of signing up because they get the service for free and a guarantee.
This is an innovative mattress company that has quite a few elements that reduce risk. First off, the mattresses are much more expensive than most regular mattress, which could be seen as a huge risk for customers.
However, they offer a 100-day money-back guarantee and offer free pick-up returns instead of the hassle of trying to arrange your own return.
They also offer financing for as little as 0% APR. This makes the higher price notably less risky and, once you experience it, you may well find the higher price well worth it.
2. A Call to Action Should Be as Clear as Possible
A call to action should be clear and concise. You want to make sure that you are as clear as possible so that the customers know exactly what you want them to do—a confused prospect doesn’t buy.
If you want your prospects to sign up for an email newsletter or purchase, make sure it is obvious.
There are some instances that you would want to include multiple calls to action for different prospects. For example, if you run an email campaign, but they’re not convinced by your email, you would include a “learn more” button along with the option to buy.
This call to action is short. It tells us exactly why you should consider them: Launch your personal site in less than a day.
For anyone starting their own business, the website can be a daunting task. People could worry it will take forever, but WordPress Engine says it can be done in less than a day.
Not only is the message clear, they also use the “See Our Plans” button instead of immediately pushing the prospect to purchase. This also lowers the feeling of risk for the customer.
3. An Effective Call to Action Highlights the Immediate Benefits to the Customer
Closely related to being as clear as possible with what you want the prospect to do, you must also provide a very clear “why” they should act, and why they should act immediately.
Ideas of things to provide:
Exclusive sales for subscribers
Updates to the blog they were just reading
Free product or service, like a free consultation
Discounts for their first or second order
Amazon allows you to keep one free audio book if you sign up for a free trial.
I was personally hooked by this offer. I could experience how it improved my mood during rush hour traffic, while doing chores, or anything mundane.
It was also helpful that the the subscription costs less per month than if you purchased a typical new book each month.
Ulta is one of the most well-known makeup companies. They constantly give away free samples of products in their stores and online.
In addition, Ulta offers free shipping on orders over a certain amount. This encourages customers to increase the amount of their order because everyone likes saving money on shipping.
4. A Call to Action Should Use Powerful Action Verbs
Some companies will write extremely persuasive copy but reduce their response by using a “Click Here” button. The right action verbs can instantly boost your conversions.
Hubspot Social Media Scientist Dan Zarrell said the following:
“Verbs beat all — adverbs, adjectives and nouns — in terms of attracting the highest number of shares. In fact, Twitter updates that include verbs have a 2 percent higher shareability than the average tweet.”
Target Marketing has an article of 55 action verbs that help prospects convert. Among those include words like:
See the full list and try out a few to see which causes more conversions.
This call to action utilizes several important power words to both establish credibility and encourage new subscribers.
It has the words definitive (twice) and proven to encourage other people to believe their offer. The word free is also used twice in this call to action.
It also includes the word “you” to personalize the offer. Finally, it uses the verb “get” as the action verb. People prefer buying or getting things than feeling like they’ve been sold.
5. Use Words that Pull Out Both Emotion and Excitement
There’s a common saying in sales that “People buy emotionally, then justify logically.” If there is no emotion in your copy or call to action, people won’t buy your product or service. It’s as simple as that.
You want to use plenty of emotion in your copy and in your call to action if you hope for your prospect to act. Descriptive, emotional words that help the prospect visualize the pain, and later visualize your benefits make a world of difference.
You can also use emotional pictures and audio to further sell the emotion. Using exclamation marks in key locations incite a feeling of excitement that can carry a prospect to action.
According to Sumo.com, here are some examples of word choices to evoke certain emotions:
Happiness. Use heartwarming, inspiring, profound, zen, alive, light and healthy.
Memorability. Use captivate, genius, memorable, undeniable, unforgettable and impressive.
Simplicity. Use basic, cheat-sheet, easy, effortless, on-demand, painless, savvy, simple and step-by-step.
Excitement. Use bold, exciting, fascinating, intriguing, riveting, tempting, thrilling and transform.
This site has a lot more examples of powerful words to increase conversion as do several other research sites. I highly recommend you do some additional research to see which words are best for your particular product or service.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation was founded to help kids with fatal illnesse have one really good vacation or memory before they pass from this life.
As a non-profit, this organization relies on donations. It uses the intense power of emotion to draw out your compassionate side so that you will donate to their cause.
The words “wish” and “hope” are used consistently throughout the site as are pictures of those affected by these diseases. This helps personalize your donations and gives you more reason to donate.
This company specializes in online review software. To prove its value, it starts out with outlining all the major problems with managing your bad reviews, causing sincere feelings of pain for those experiencing this firsthand.
Then, at the end of the article, it shows what your life could be like without all the pain. That shift from perceived pain to perceived bliss is extremely effective in drawing out emotion and encouraging a sale.
6. Take Advantage of the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Even though it’s the younger generations that all use the term FOMO (fear of missing out), we all experience it. Whether we missed a big game, a lucrative investment, or precious time with our family, we all feel some sort of fear of missing something important.
In fact, the fear of loss is greater than the desire for gain. Need proof? See how you feel when you were looking at flights, delayed 10 minutes, and the price increased—you lost the deal and feel actual grief. You feel like you’ve been robbed (even though it was never yours).
You can invoke that same sense of fear in your prospects by including the idea of “scarcity.” It’s known as an “impending event” close. We all want to feel included in exclusive events and we assign more value to things that are scarce.
That is the primary idea behind diamonds, gold or other precious medals being more valuable in our eyes. Here are some ways that you can invoke that fear of missing out in your prospects:
Buy now while supplies last! We’ve all seen this quite a few times. This tactic is usually used for a new, limited-time products (like seasonal milkshakes, promotional game consoles, girl scout cookies, or grab bag assortments) or blow out sales (going out of business sales, end-of-stock sales, etc.)By using “while supplies last” instead of including an end date, you imply that, theoretically, the sale could end tomorrow if demand were high enough and could motivate people to act quicker.
Sale ends on a certain day. Coupons or promotional emails typically have an expiration date. This forces the prospect to decide within a designated time limit whether or not they want to take advantage of the current promotion.Depending on the sale timeline, you might consider setting the deadline as close to the date of receipt as possible so that they don’t forget about the promotional event.
Bonus timer. This works especially for e-commerce. You could throw in a bonus like, “buy within the next 3 minutes and get an additional 15% off your order” and include a timer on the website.The timer doesn’t necessarily have to actually stop the bonus from happening, but it can definitely accelerate the decision-making decision.
This is an email that I personally received from Dean Graziosi. Dean is a highly successful author and motivational speaker.
This email is highly effective because of his use of strong words (he uses free three times in this short segment of the email) and the impending decision deadline.
It is important to note that I got this email for the first time on the day when it was to expire. That means that I had about 6 hours to decide if this was something I wanted.
This kind of “impending event” close was highly effective for me as it is for a lot of people. No one wants to miss out on free!
This call to action tells the customer exactly what they should do and why. As a bonus, it includes a timer to play on that fear of missing out before the sale closes.
This sock company has a combination of a lot of the tips listed so far. Their website has a lot of elements that are effective, including offering plenty of free socks if you pay shipping, or you can get free free shipping on orders over $60.
This is an example of the fear of missing out. Not only do they use a timer (which disappears after the notification) but they also show when someone else orders as though the inventory might run out.
This typically results in someone being curious as to what made the previous person order and they’ll investigate. It also incites a feeling of fear that “someone else beat me to the sale.”
7. Plan a Different Call to Action for Different Devices
When you’re already using a computer and see an ad on your page, you are more likely to research, shop around, and compare other websites before deciding.
Computers are great places to use “Learn More” as an option or slide-in ads that stick on the page but don’t necessarily cover the entire page. That way people can still browse the site but the call to action shows them how to act.
Mobile devices, however, are typically used for instant information. For mobile ads, it may be a good idea to offer instant information by putting a phone number to call or, for those who dislike phone calls, an option to chat with a customer service or sales representative.
You can create separate compatible ad formats based on if they are using a mobile device or a laptop to test which is more effective.
Roto Rooter (Computer version)
This company has different ads for their different devices. The computer ad is notably longer than the mobile one.
They know that people on computers are ok with (and often seek) more information before deciding to purchase. Also, while the phone number is present, it isn’t the focus.
Roto Rooter (Mobile version)
For the mobile devices, this company has shortened the ad significantly.
Also, because they are on a phone, their whole call to action is based on calling. They even include a “Call” button for convenience.
8. Get Creative with Your Call to Action
I feel this one can not be overstated. Many people see a lot of advertisements, and are desensitized with the sheer volume of ads. To break through, don’t be afraid to get creative!
Huemor is a website and digital graphics company. While their copy for the call to action could be a little clearer on this from the start, the call to action button is extremely creative.
Their use of a guy on a jetpack with the “Launch” button and a “Do Not Press” warning below just begs you to push it. Nothing like a little reverse psychology to get people to unwittingly do what you want them to do.
Adult Swim Exit CTA
Unlike Netflix, which continuously asks “Are you still watching?” when someone has watched a lot of its streaming service with little activity, the Adult Swim app for Amazon Fire TV (and other similar devices) does something very unique.
When you are finished watching and try to exit, it pulls up this screen and gives you a choice between “Continue Watching” or “Exit to Boredom.”
Even if you were definitely done watching, this requires another decision, “do I really want to exit to boredom?” It’s a very creative way to make you reconsider if you are done watching, especially since they make money on ads during the shows you watch.
9. A Call to Action Should Use Numbers
Numbers are valuable in persuasive copy. They provide a way to visualize the benefits of your offer that customers would otherwise struggle to see.
Lots of e-commerce sites use numbers to show discounts or savings. Some places may use numbers for credibility (like number of current users or factory warranties).
Other places may use numbers to show their pricing compared to other competitors and incentivize people to purchase their product or even show the number of hours the prospect would save by using their product over another.
This call to action shows an effective way to use numbers. Not only does the double use of the number 15 cause people to rememeber this ad, but that number both describes the ease of use (only 15 minutes) as well as the potential savings (15%).
Hot Topic also has an effective call to action that uses numbers. The example provides a discount in exchange for an email subscriber while the other example shows a flash sale of 30% off.
10. Use Proper Formatting for your Call to Action
If your format isn’t appealing or doesn’t grab attention, you’re significantly less likely to get anyone to click on your call to action.
Tons of people have done research as to which formatting elements work best. Here is what I found about various formatting elements during my research:
Location of the Call to Action
According to WPMU DEV, there are the three questions you should consider when deciding on placement of a call to action. You can read the whole article which has links to the research sites should you choose to read those as well. I’ll include the three questions and a summary of what the experts have said on each question.
Above or beneath the fold? The fold is a term referring to the main body of text on a page. The old theory of marketing was to put all the important stuff at the top and the less important stuff at the bottom.However, the researchers have found that this isn’t always the best move. It’s best to put your call to action at the top only if the page is very simple or the call to action has everything the prospect needs to make a decision.In addition, they also found that putting the call to action on the bottom would be better if you have a more complex product or you have a well-written story that gets prospects involved.
Desktop or Mobile?
The original study of this was actually on google search results, and not on calls to action specifically.However, experts found that, on mobile devices, people didn’t even look past the fourth organic search result on Google while on a mobile device.Mobile device users want easy answers, so it is reasonable to assume that a call to action on the top of the page would be more effective if all information needed to make the decision is present at the top.
Left or Right?
This one is by far the most conclusive study with regards to the location of a call to action. The answer is: Right.
The reasoning behind this is best shown by the Gutenberg diagram, which is well explained in this article from Medium. The short explanation is that western people read from top to bottom and left to right. A person will automatically focus on the top left, then go to the top right, then bottom left and finally bottom right, as shown by this diagram:
The terminal area is where you typically want your call to action as it is where someone has finished scanning your offer and is most likely ready to act.
The Call to Action Button
Size of the button. The size of the button is extremely important. If you make the button too small, people can’t find it as easily. Smashing Magazine shows an example where the call to action button is 20% wider than the logo to prove the point.
Shape of the button. Make sure the button looks like a button. I got the following image from UX Planet, but the ideas are echoed in many research articles. These are good shapes for buttons:
The color of the call to action button. While the purpose of the overall color is to cause prospects to focus on the ad overall, the color of the button is to help them focus on the action you want them to take.Throughout my research on this topic, I haven’t found any conclusive results as to which magical color is the perfect color for the call to action. For example, some studies show that red is the highest converting color, others say exactly the opposite. However, optinmonster.com has a great article about general color rules. Below is a summary of the points made in the article that you can test for your personal business:
Your colors should coordinate with your brand image. Optinmonster uses the example of a traditionally masculine brand, Harley Davidson, and uses the example of putting a pink button on there instead of the current orange. Probably wouldn’t fit in.
The colors should be consistent. Whichever color you use to symbolize action should be the same all over the website.If you choose orange, make sure there are no orange headings or images so that orange is only associated with an action step.
The color should be a high-contrast color. The article has two great ideas for doing this: either a complementary color (opposite on the color wheel) or a triadic color (a third of the way around the wheel).This image can help with that:
The ellipsis. The ellipsis (…) can be an effective way to make your call to action flow to the desired button. When you see an ellipsis, your eyes naturally drift a little further to see what is next. If what immediately follows that is the call to action button, more people will see it and, more people will click on it.
Bed, Bath and Beyond
This coupon, gathered from an email, has excellent formatting. The deal is very clear about what the coupon is for.It adds a level of exclusivity by saying “for this email only” and creates a fear of missing out by including a date.
The button itself looks like a clickable button and therefore naturally increases the number of clicks.
Create Your Perfect Call to Action
Hopefully these tips and examples have been helpful in your quest for the perfect call to action. Remember to constantly explore different calls to action to see which combination works the best for your target audience.
Now, get out there and transform your business with your new call to action and watch the conversions start to flow!
Improve your Call to Action Further!
You may have mastered the art of a high conversion with an effective call to action. You might use these calls to action via email or on your website.
They either purchase, subscribe to a newsletter, download an ebook, etc.—and that’s how you capture their contact info. However, what if they’re too hesitant to provide personal information like an email address?
Luckily, there is a better option.
Web Push Notifications
With web push notifications powered by Seynd, many of the problems with email or site conversion are solved. This is a new technology that gets users’ attention using alert-style messages whenever they are using their web browser.
Seynd provides a way for you to get a subscriber with only one click. No email address or filling out forms + the benefit of receiving exclusive deals and notifications = low risk and high reward to you and your prospects.
Despite this exciting new technology, many companies still prefer to use email marketing or putting the call to action only on their website.
With email, however, only…
75% of emails are delivered- over 422 billion emails per day sent to Spam folder)
18% of emails are opened
7% of emails result in a conversion
If the call to action is only on your website, you rely on people searching for you constantly or constantly revisiting you to check on specials. Better hope you made an excellent impression the first visit!
Following are some of the advantages of using Seynd over a call to action just through email or your website:
100% delivery rate
100% open rate – appears automatically
93% read rate. Requires action—or won’t go away
4 times higher opt-in rate vs email
One click subscribe – versus name, phone, email, etc. The system “remembers” them by their IP address and browser. Lower unsubscribes. Less than 10% of opt-ins cancel within a year
Users will be notified as long as they are on their computer or device. They don’t have to come looking for you to see your message.