The Four Elements of Effective Calls to Action [GUIDE]


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As an integral part of so many marketing campaigns, you’ve probably already been exposed to thousands of different calls to action. As one of the most effective ways to boost conversions, a well-designed CTA can easily spell the difference between red and black ink at the end of the month.

Although there are hundreds of tips online about how to write an effective CTA, just about everything you need to know can be broken into four elements that are present in nearly every effective CTA.

What is a Call to Action?

For the sake of clarity, it’s worth defining what a call to action is. In the simplest terms, a CTA is a suggestion for a reader to take some action. A CTA can come in the form of a button, a banner, a sentence at the end of an article, and so on. Even a shopping cart on an ecommerce site can act as a call to action.

Almost every element included in the CTA is relevant, because A/B testing has demonstrated that even a minor and apparently superficial change to your CTA can have serious consequences for conversion rates.

You usually find a CTA at the bottom of the fold on a website or near the end of a pitch in order to increase chances of compliance, because people are more likely to comply with your request after you’ve had the opportunity to explain why they should do so.

Elements of CTA

What makes a great CTA great? Nearly all effective calls to action can be broken down into four simple elements: risk aversion, specific request, urgency to respond, and originality.

1. Risk Aversion

The first element is risk aversion, which is a statement that makes it clear to your reader that there’s no obligation or risk to the action suggested by your CTA.

If you want your reader to subscribe to an email list, the statement of no obligation might include a mention that you take your reader’s privacy very seriously and won’t spam them. If you’re trying to get your reader to use a trial of your product, the statement of no obligation might include the fact that your trial is absolutely free.

This is a way to provide your reader with the confidence to take action without the need for second guessing their decision.

2. Specific Request

The second element of an effective CTA is a sentence that specifically tells the reader what action to take. Click this button, go here, read these whitepapers, or whatever else you want to direct your reader towards.

People are more likely to comply with your request when explicitly asked, and when your request is easy to comply with.  The easier it is to comply with your CTA, the more compliance you’ll receive.

If you want your reader to click on a URL, provide multiple clear links to that URL. Just be wary of overdoing it and giving your reader the impression that you’re just trying to sell something.

When you don’t directly provide your reader with a specific action you want them to take, the result is a weak CTA.  Try to be as specific as possible in telling your reader what you want them to do, but try not to resort to a timid CTA like “click here.” The most effective language for a CTA tends to be demanding, like “download this” or “watch this” rather than “please try our new service.”

3. Urgency to Respond

The third element of an effective CTA is urgency to respond.

When people delay taking action, often times that action will never happen. If your reader delays taking action for even one day, it drastically decreases the chance that they’ll take action at all.

That’s one of the reason why late night infomercials work hard to create a sense of scarcity by claiming the deal they’re offering is for a limited time only or mentioning that supplies are limited.

Creating urgency is one of the easiest ways to capture your reader’s attention using a simple emotional connection. You can use humor, desire, fear, or any other emotion so long as it can help you create some kind of emotional connection with your reader. This usually means appealing to the reader’s desires and figuring out why they should want to click on your offer.

That’s why “please subscribe to my Facebook page” isn’t nearly as compelling as “subscribing to my Facebook page will help you start saving today!”

4. Originality

The final element of an effective CTA is originality.

Consumers are exposed to numerous calls to action each and every day. The more generic the CTA, the more likely your reader will be immune to the message. Simple calls to action like “comment below” or “like this article” aren’t effective calls to action for many people, and instead act only as reminders to comment or like your content.

That’s why original calls to action can be so rewarding. If you’re looking to brainstorm some original ideas for a great CTA, you can start by listing the actions that you want your readers to take. Once you’ve complied a list, create as many reasons as you can for why someone might want to do as you ask; this list is the perfect starting point for creating an effective and unique CTA.

Necessary Testing

You can’t improve on these elements in your CTA unless you measure and test how they perform. And it’s worth measuring nearly every detail of their delivery. Independent research has demonstrated that changing the handful of words on a CTA button can alter conversion rates by more than 20%.

It can be as simple as changing “see pricing options” to “show me my deal.” Even minor changes to the color of your button can boost your CTA by 20-30%. That’s one of the reasons that Gmail tested more than 50 different shades of blue before selecting the highest converting shade for email sign-ups.

One study by searchenginewatch.com compared specific CTA words like buy, find, purchase, shop, etc., in order to determine which attracted the highest click through rate (CTR.) What they found was a 100 fold difference between many of the most common CTA terms.

Where words like “get” had conversion rates as low as .04%, “order” received conversions as high as 2.54%. Similarly, some words brought in high CTR, but had relatively weak conversion rates off of that traffic.

To Sum Up…

In summary, testing your CTA is an important exercise in determining what works for your specific audience and your specific niche.

You should test even very minute changes in your CTA, because minor tweaks can make for major differences in conversions.

In your testing, you shouldn’t be misled into thinking that the CTR of your CTA is all you should be concerned with. So what are you waiting for? Take a look at your own calls to action so you can start testing today!

About Omar Kattan
Omar is MD & Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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