5 tips to write CTAs that encourage users to take the next step.

Attracting visitors to any website takes a lot of work. You need to pour through brand research, design an attractive website, build up your SEO, and run campaigns to bring in traffic. The idea is that, once visitors land on your home page, your website will do the rest of the work. And yet, many site owners inadvertently lose a lot of visitors through one simple mistake: They don’t know how to write a good Call to Action (CTA).

CTAs are, at their most basic level, instructions to the reader about what they should do next. But in a few powerful words, they have a lot to accomplish. They must sooth doubts, offer direction, entice, and explain all at once. Yet they’re often treated as an afterthought—something visitors will automatically click on, simply because it’s there.

In reality, the opposite is true. You’ve designed your whole sales funnel around convincing your visitors to click those words. Here’s how to make them count.

1. Start with an imperative verb.

This is the first and best rule of writing a good CTA: don’t hedge. The whole point, remember, is to tell your user what to do next. Your users are looking for clear, direct language, because this is easier for them to parse. If your users have to stop and think about your button, it’s already failed.

One tip here is that a CTA button should finish the sentence “I want to…” After all, this is what the user is thinking mentally. A CTA that finishes the thought is begging to be clicked.

WordPress call to action reading "Create your website."

Here’s one off the WordPress website. The CTA here could be “Get started,” which would be fine, but “Create your site” is a more motivating phrase. Visitors don’t just want to “start” something (a business? a marathon?)—they want a website!

WordPress CTAs for blogging plans.

Here’s another row of CTAs from the same page. Notice how the CTA changes to draw attention to the specific plan. This keeps visitor attention focused on the products. When they click the button, they know they’re not entering a generic funnel—they’re starting a path specifically based on their chosen plan.

2. Be explicit.

I’m a seasoned Internet veteran, and that makes me very wary of clicking vague buttons. There’s nothing more off-putting than an obtrusive, flashing advertisement with a big, green “CLICK HERE” button. What will happen if I do “click here?” I don’t know. The button doesn’t tell me.

Do you know what happens when I see these buttons? I don’t click them. I mistrust them implicitly.

Beyond that, they’re a sign of armature web writing. We all know that buttons are made to be clicked, so writing it out is a waste of space. Nor does this phrase provide a satisfactory completion of the sentence “I want to…” Do I want to “click here?” Probably not.

Instead, use the space to say exactly what clicking the button will accomplish for the user.

Buffer CTA reading "Show me the next tip."

This example from Buffer’s social image creator is a great example of a CTA that tells you exactly what’s going on. When you first visit the page, it walks you through tips to help you learn how to use the app to create images for your social media profiles.

The button could just read “Next,” but that would break Rule 1 (start with a verb) while also failing to tell the reader what to expect. Next what? This CTA answers clearly: next tip.

3. Address hesitations.

Directly addressing buyer hesitations isn’t just about convincing them to buy your product or sign up for your services—it’s about establishing trust.

Netflix Call to Action reading "Join free for a month."

It should come as no surprise that Netflix handles this admirably. One their main login page, the CTA is as clear as possible: it includes the word “free,” assuring the user that they’re not about to be charged money, and “for a month” puts an explicit time reference on the button. Users can click knowing exactly what they’re getting.

Netflix CTA ghost button reading "Try without committing."

A little further down the page, Netflix gets even more explicit. This “Try without committing” button is about as hesitation-proof as you can get. You’re not about to be trapped into an annual contract you can’t afford.

4. Offer incentives.

A good CTA isn’t just about lowering hesitations—it’s also about raising incentives. Your visitors may already be kindly-disposed toward your CTA, but give them a good incentive, and it may just be irresistible.

MOO call to action reading "Order a free Sample Pack."

Check out this one from MOO. Again: it begins with an imperative, and is explicit about what the button does. But it’s also offering the user a reward for clicking: a sample pack! For free! Of course, ordering that sample pack will mean entering enough customer information into their system for them to be able to contact you for further marketing purposes, but in return, you get a free (!) set of sample business cards, so you can decide if you really like the way they look.

HootSuite CTA reading "Start Your Free 30-Day Trial"

Here’s another one from Hootsuite that’s very similar to the earlier one we looked at from Netflix. “Free 30-Day Trial” are all words to encourage sign ups. It may be on the longer side for a CTA, but as each word adds value to the button, I don’t see this as a problem.

5. Avoid negatives.

Finally, here’s a thing I’d like to stop seeing: opt-out text that is designed to make users feel guilty and bad about themselves for not clicking your CTA. Maybe it was clever the first time I saw it, but sadly, it caught on, and now examples abound.

Example of a pop-up with a confirmshaming CTA.

See what they’re doing here? They have that big “Send Me the Meal Plan” button in green (which is a great CTA), then below it a snarky and obviously false statement that they expect you to click on to exit the pop-up.

Honestly? Half the time, when I see these, I don’t exit the pop-up. I exit the site.

These pop-ups are like getting a multiple choice test with all wrong answers. It makes users feel bad, and it’s unlikely to improve your sales and conversions in the long run. Do you want customers who only clicked your CTA because they felt coerced into doing so—however mildly? I don’t. That doesn’t sound like the road to a happy customer relationship.

Integrate your CTAs with your workflows and ad strategy.

Writing a good Call to Action will help convert visitors to customers. But the words are only part of the batter. The placement of your CTA buttons on the page, the number and prominence of them, and the pages they lead users to are all additional factors to consider.

Ghost buttons, for instance, are a design element that can de-emphasize a secondary CTA so as not to draw attention from your primary strategy goal. CTAs placed in your website navigation will stay with your users as they travel through your website, while others may follow a user as they scroll down a page.

If you’re designing a marketing campaign to drive users to a specific landing page, a prominently-placed CTA will do most of your heavy lifting. And elsewhere on your site, CTAs can subtly draw users along a site path that eventually leads to conversion.

For such a simple piece of text, your calls to action do a lot of work. Don’t let them be a hasty afterthought.

Published 12/19/18 by Laura Lynch