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7 Tips for Writing Winning Calls to Action for Your Website

Quick: what is the last action you took on the internet?

Bought something on Amazon? Watched a funny video on YouTube? Signed up for DreamHost? Caught up reading your favorite blog, perhaps?

Well, whatever it was, it was most likely an action you took because you were invited to.

Likely, it wasn’t a formal request. Rather, the invitations you see flooding the web are virtual invitations — both the subtle and the neon-emblazoned — that encourage you, the reader, to act. You’ve seen them litter the internet:

  • Click here
  • Subscribe
  • Add to Cart
  • Sign up
  • Download now

As it turns out, there’s a lot of thought that goes into encouraging clicks. Putting the right message in front of the right people at the right time — an effective call to action (CTA) — is a way to get those people to buy, read, click, and download. CTAs are the gateway to everything you want to happen with your small biz or website: sales, lead generation, a larger email list, conversions, traffic, and more.

What Exactly Is a CTA?

So what exactly is a CTA? Think of it as a website owner pointing a virtual megaphone at visitors and saying, “Do this!”

It’s a smart, well-placed (and well-designed) incitement to act, read, download, visit, or buy. It draws the eye — and the click — with magnetic visual elements and sharp copy.  Like these:

"Call to action: Start Reading"

The Simple Programmer entices visitors to download a free e-guide when submitting basic info.

"Call to action: Try us for free"

Fitness brand Orange Theory invites new gymgoers to try their workout for free.

"Call to Action: Join in"

Bath company Tubby Todd prompts users to sign up for an email newsletter by offering a first-time discount.

A CTA’s main goal is to direct readers to a course of action — and a thoughtful and personalized call is the best way to do that. Without CTAs, your visitors will have little reason or motivation to engage with your brand.

Our 7 Hacks for Writing Winning Calls to Action

A winning CTA sounds ideal, right?

Here’s the catch: writing an effective and engaging CTA is not as simple as telling your visitors to click with a big, flashy button. Turning passive partakers to active engagers takes some planning, well-worded copy, and an alluring design.

Not sure where to start? Here are our seven tips for baiting those clicks — without being clickbait.

1. Know Your End Game

First things first: What do you want from your small biz or website? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you working to increase pageviews? Build sales? Strengthen relationships with customers? Whatever your end goal, your calls to action should reflect that purpose.

For example, take a look at the differing goals of these three companies:

"Call to Actions: Join Now"

Makeup subscription brand Birchbox’s landing page entices visitors to join their monthly service and watch an accompanying video. They’re hunting sales with this CTA.

"Call To Action: Submit"

Clothing company Madewell wants to grow their email list by inviting visitors to subscribe with a clever pop-up message.

"Call To Action: Like Our Facebook Page..."

This timely pop-up message that appears upon entering the HUSH hunting and fishing site encourages users to engage with the brand on social media.

The type of call you use for lead generation (for instance: a “Download Now” button) will be different than what you might use for increasing sales so think ahead before plastering buttons all over your site.

Taking time to map out a few goals will help guide your decisions regarding word choice, design and packaging, and the implementation of your CTA.

A thoughtful plan strengthens your site’s output (like stats and sales)!

2. Pick Your Target Audience

As if it needed stating, each internet user is different. What they’re doing on the web — whether it be scanning the news, binge-watching Netflix, or scouring shopping deals — is different.

Therefore, when creating effective CTAs, you need to take into account the diverse audiences you have interacting with your site and what their goals are.

For magnetic CTAs, you need to identify the groups you want acting on your message. Why? Because you’ll probably want each group to do different things and will need to tailor messaging accordingly.

"Call to Action: Get It Now"

The Minimalist Baker food blog identifies and targets an audience group — new visitors — with a pop-up offering an exclusive e-book.

Marketing agency Canvas United invites potential clients to explore its brand by showcasing a unique portfolio.

"Call To Action: Subscribe"

Clothing retailer Dwell and Slumber invites those who are already engaging with the brand to commit to subscribing to an email list.

So before taking pen to paper and crafting your calls, determine who you’re trying to target.

3. Choose Your Words Wisely

Now, how to invite users? What words will draw them in? This is a critical step, as the words you choose can make a big difference in how — and if — users respond your CTA.

Luckily, it’s not rocket science. There are a few fool-proof ways to write click-worthy CTA copy. Here are the basics. In the words you use:

  • Be Clear — Perhaps one of the most important to-dos: don’t leave people scratching their head at your message. And never assume they’ll already know what to do when presented with your CTA. Increase usability by guiding your visitors: tell them what to do and what to do after that. Avoid distracting or jargon-heavy words and phrases; after all, you want to attract attention and clicks, not divert them. Vague/confusing = uninspiring.
  • Be Inclusive — You can foster a relationship with visitors by using inclusive and friendly pronouns, like “you” and “we.” Make it a team effort! This means highlighting your visitors’ needs and how you can meet them — together. Speak their language by humanizing a message they can relate to. Additionally, when offering a “no thanks” option, (say, in an email newsletter opt-in) keep it polite. Visitors who leave with a bad taste in their mouth (thanks to a rude-sounding opt-out) might not ever return.
"Call To Action: Sign Up For Newsletter"

This opt-in email from The Alison Show uses friendly language (“Let’s do it” and “your” pronouns) to encourage visitors to subscribe. You feel like a friend and not just a reader.

  • Focus on Value — To get visitors to do something, they need a reason. Give them a compelling “why” to respond to by highlighting the benefits and value you offer, especially when they perform the desired action. Focus on what your site uniquely offers, whether it be out-of-this-world recipes, expert e-courses, or an enticing discount. While personalizing your copy to highlight your brand’s one-of-a-kind offerings, make sure to use action-oriented words that not only contribute to clarity of message but strongly emphasize immediate action.

Don’t let internet traffic ignore your call. If your CTA doesn’t meet these criteria, revise. And then, revise again!

Still feel like you need some easy-to-follow templates to get started? Try these suggestions.

4. Keep It Short and Sweet

In the same vein with the type of language you choose, the length of language is just as important. Meaning, it’s best used sparingly.

Think of it like Twitter talk (pre-280-character days). No one browsing the web is looking for a dissertation to read. Instead, they’re “snacking” on content, their attention flitting from bite to bite. Because of this, you’ll need to stress the benefits of acting on your call in as few words as possible.

Try to keep your CTA copy under 150 characters, but again, finding the length sweet spot for your site may take time (see tip No. 7).

"Call To Action: Can I Give You My Free Guide?"

This pop-up CTA is too long and leaves visitors questioning what they’re even being asked to do. Too much copy diverts the eye.

5. Eliminate Risk

Don’t make fulfilling your call-to-action the equivalent of canceling a gym membership (read: impossible). And please don’t be pushy. No one likes interacting with an overly-aggressive salesperson — on the web or otherwise.

Consider using a CTA for a low-risk trial — like experimenting with a free 7-day trial versus committing to a full sale right away. Giving visitors a chance to try gives them the confidence to make buy (or return to your site, read more posts, etc.)

"Call To Action: Join Free For A Month"

Netflix is a popular brand that allows no-obligation free trials. This enticing CTA also implements good design principles (see next tip) and smart, simple word choice.

High-risk CTAs can sometimes repel visitors (internet users, as it turns out, are often wary of commitment) — these might include forced-to-comply requests, like not being able to access content without submitting an email address. Sometimes you need gated content, so try to balance the type of CTAs  you use to keep visitors returning.

"Call To Action: Start Your Free Trial"

Hulu’s “Limited Time Offer” CTA emphasizes the need to act quickly, while still prompting users to fulfill a low-risk task.

Now it’s our turn! Start your free trial of Remixer, our click-to-edit website builder.

6. Give Your CTA a Design Package

So, you’ve fine-tuned your word choice and primed it for readability. You’ve tailored your message to the unique goals of your business and crafted it in the language of your audience(s). Now what?

Well, your message will fall on bored eyes if it’s not primed for aesthetic value — words and design: they’re a package deal. Is your CTA message lost in a cluttered site? Hidden within a blah color scheme? Then you’ve squandered away an opportunity for a click.

Don’t let your hard work go to waste. Incorporating engaging visuals with your CTA will help attract attention and incite action. Use smart design (it can be simple) to build visual guidelines — whether that be through buttons, color schemes, etc. that helps your reader understand what you want them to do.

"Call To Action: Give Me the Free Resources"

WPBeginner’s simple pop-up message uses repeating color design (and guiding visual elements) to lead the visitor to a specific course of action.

Distinguish CTAs on your site with contrasting colors, a unique fill-out form, or timely pop-up; and remember: never underestimate the power of white space. You can also use your design to showcase value, emphasize scarcity, and encourage timeliness.

"Call To Action: Start The Year Fresh"

Target’s fresh color scheme encourages clicks.

"Call To Action: Tell The Best Stories"

A magic trick? We’re sold. Visitors can’t help but click on Struck’s smartly-worded and well-designed CTA.

"Call to Action: Show Me Dinner Recipes!"

In addition to incorporating a beautiful image, Food52 highlights the brand’s unique offering. The wording is fun (and the “no, thanks” message polite and low-risk).

"Call To Action: Subscribe Now"

With a price cross out, the NYT showcases value in their pop-up CTA.

"Call To Action: I Am In"

A Pinch of Healthy’s fun wording (isn’t “I am in” way more exciting than plain ‘ol “subscribe?”) and status bar element entice visitors to engage.

7. (This is a) Test

One of the best ways to find success with your CTAs is by testing them. Using your chosen analytics tool, try out different versions of your CTAs and monitor the success of each. You may need to test out multiple variations of copy or design elements to find your most magnetic messages. There’s always room for improvement.

"Call To Action: Click To Start"

This CTA showcases value and employs good use of color to highlight important elements, but would the length be right for your site? Test it and see!

Last Call

Next time you reach for your smartphone, take stock: what virtual calls are you answering? It’s probably more than you think; they’re pervasive on the web.

To get people acting on your unique message, you need a magnetic invitation. Smart copy and design contribute to an effective invitation — and enthusiastic response.

What are your tips and tricks for getting internet users to act? Did one of our copy or design guidelines help you wrangle a new sale or increased engagement? Share with us below (see what we did there?). #CTAHumor

About the author

Megan Hendrickson

Megan started her career in women's magazines, but after authoring waaaay too many "Walk Off the Weight" columns, she merged into the tech lane. She writes and edits for DreamHost and shares an inordinate amount of WordPress content on Twitter.

2 Comments

  • A top tip I’ve also seen is to simply flick through a magazine or website, looking for the ads that catch your eye. Then you can save or take a picture of them, analyse how & why they caught your attention and model off of them.