What are Calls to Action and Why Does Your Website Need Them?

Have you ever signed up for a newsletter on a website or downloaded a document you ended up never reading?

Well, you probably encountered an effective call to action or CTA for short.

While CTAs are ubiquitous on the web, not all of them are effective. Many small business websites lack a clear call to action, while others shout at you with competing offers.

The biggest mistake most websites make is not providing a clear next step for the visitor. When crafting your offer, don’t assume your readers will know how to respond to it or take the next step.

A call to action streamlines the process by making it so simple to sign up for your subscription or newsletter, that your visitors don’t think twice about following your instructions. The easier you make it for them, the more frequently you will turn viewers into leads and leads into loyal customers.

Effective CTAs

Thankfully, there are some proven strategies when it comes to creating impossible-to-resist CTAs. Even if you look in magazines published decades ago, you’ll find calls to action not altogether dissimilar from the ones we use today. If you incorporate some of these techniques into your writing, you’re bound to get more click-throughs, more regular visitors, and more overall success.

  1. Risk-Free Trial:

Effective CTAs offer the chance to try out a company’s services without committing. Maybe they offer a free trial or the chance to cancel subscriptions at any point. A consulting company might send out a free newsletter with tips that will leave readers wanting more. A free trial makes a subscription more palatable because the client is not obligated to commit right away. Later on if they want to continue, they should be more than happy to subscribe.


  1. Obvious Next Steps:

It may seem obvious to you, the business owner, what you want your clients to do, but if you don’t tell them explicitly, chances are they won’t do it. That may mean, “click on the green button below to sign up for your subscription,” or it may mean, “enter your e-mail address to receive our free newsletter.” Either way, you have to instruct the reader to take an action. That is why we call CTAs calls to action. If it takes a client more than thirty seconds to figure out what to do next, chances are he’s going to move on to the next website. Clear, explicit CTAs are effective CTAs.

  1. Encouragement to Act Immediately

You want to gently but persuasively encourage your potential client into acting immediately because the longer she waits, the more likely she is to second-guess herself or move on to something else. Even if time is not limited, it’s in your best interest to generate a sense of urgency. Phrases like “The time to act is now” or “this is a limited time offer and may not be available again” may be just the edge you need to compel your readers to continue.

  1. Give Them What They Want

You always want your CTAs to focus on the benefits of your services. Make sure though that you are giving your potential customers what they really want. For instance, if you are a freelancer, offering “Sales Copy That Actually Sells” is a lot more effective than just “Professional Writer.” If you can tap into the clients’ real needs or desires, your cues will be that much more powerful.

Remember features aren’t benefits. Focus on the value, the outcome, the relieving of the client’s pain points. For example, a weight-loss company may advertise that with their program, you will “live life to the fullest.” Weight-loss companies are fully aware of the fact that people want to become healthier at least partially because they believe it will allow them to live happier, more productive lives. So, Weight Watchers, South Beach, and Special K all market their plans accordingly.

  1. Simple, Compelling Design that Grabs Attention

When creating your CTAs, don’t forget about design and placement on the page. Use bold colors and clean lettering on your buttons or opt-in form areas. Leave lots of negative space around the CTA on the page to attract the reader’s eye.

Generally, you want to use a single Call to Action per page. In some cases, you may want to use a primary call to action high on the page, with a secondary call to action lower on the page and less prominent. No more than that or you will confuse the visitor.

What to Avoid In Your Calls to Action

  1. Weak Proposals

By instructing your client to take action, you’re far more likely to get the result you want. If you plead and beg, you lose some of your credibility. If you aren’t absolutely sure that your products or services are worth purchasing, then why should your client? Phrases like “May I send you a free copy?” or “Would you like to sign up for our subscription?” are weak and easy to refuse. You don’t want your potential client to think twice about what you are asking him to do. A call to action should be firm and somewhat authoritative.

  1. Forceful Commands or Restrictions

On the other hand, you don’t want your calls to action to be too forceful. If a client feels like you’re bombarding her with advertisements and promotions, she’s likely to balk. Take a pop-up wall, for instance. In this case, a client is required to put in an e-mail address to see a webpage. If the client feels as if she has to subscribe or she can’t continue, she’s probably going to feel as if you are forcing her into compliance.

Clients can immediately tell when you are trying to manipulate them, so it’s best to try some of the softer approaches we’ve mentioned above. Offering a free-trial, for instance, helps to create a sort of decompression zone that compels the reader to find out more about your company without forcing them to do anything they might not want to.

From a design perspective, you might try a less obtrusive slide-in offer rather than the pop-up that requires your reader to stop everything and click before she can move on.

  1. Passive Aggressive Opt-Out Language

This is a personal pet peeve of mine. It’s manipulative and feels, well, icky. You don’t want to turn off potential future clients if for whatever reason they don’t want to opt in today. Even if today’s answer is no, leave the door open and leave your website visitors with a good feeling. Avoid the “No, I don’t want more clients” and implied versions of “No thanks, I’ll stay uncool” Opt-Out language. It’s insulting. You’d rather create and maintain positive vibes and good will than go for the quick sale.

Now Your Turn:

Your marketing content is only as effective as your CTAs because if you cannot get clients to subscribe or sign up, then your clever titles, persuasive copy, and careful editing will have been for naught. A call to action doesn’t necessarily have to be forceful or complicated to be effective either. A few lines can be more than sufficient if done correctly. If you’re struggling to generate leads, then read over your content to see if you can polish up your calls to action and compel potential customers to take the leap and join you and your team.