How to Incite Action: Anatomy of an Amazing Call-to-Action (CTA)

June 28, 2016


A few words perched on a colorful button situated in prime real estate on a website. Doesn’t seem like much, but the call-to-action (CTA) is a powerful tool to incite action. It often acts as the bridge between what your clients want and what their customers need.

So how do you write a CTA that readers can’t resist clicking? We’re breaking down the anatomy of some of the most successful CTAs. Consider which features apply to your next project!

Keep Simple Verbs in Your Call-to-Action

The first rule of writing a click-worthy CTA is to keep it simple so there’s no confusion about what will happen when a user clicks the button. To get the job done right, employ simple verbs like, “Join now,” “Register here,” “Subscribe today” or “Sign up.” There’s nothing splashy about a simple CTA with a clear message, but it’s often the right choice for a serious brand (think: legal, corporate, academic clients) looking to capture the attention of their users without going overboard.

Shining Example
: Evernote takes simplicity a step further with “Sign up for free.” It’s an uncomplicated message that includes a value proposition (“free!”).

Related: Avoid these common website fails

Write Your CTA in the First Person

Many CTAs are directives imploring users to do something. But what happens when you flip that and write in the voice of the user? CTAs like “Sign me up,” “Let me in,” “Make my day” instantly add a sense of familiarity and irreverence that can complement light-hearted brands trying to connect to their customers on a more personal, casual level. To do this one right, it’s important that the rest of your landing page copy is light and funny.

Shining Example: crazyegg’s name indicates that the company is whimsical and ready to play. The software company’s “Show me my heatmap” CTA is instantly familiar with its visitors, inviting them to try out what their product can do. They keep the momentum going on inside pages with CTAs like “Tell me more” and “Keep me informed.”

Find an Amazing Image/CTA Combo

Visual design is a key factor when it comes to the success of CTAs. While many landing pages get good conversions by plopping a great CTA in an eye-catching box in the middle of the page, others integrate the CTA button and language with the design of the overall page. In fact, truly excellent CTAs often work in concert with great imagery. Users will often click on a CTA just to see more images.

Shining Example: Designed to Move incorporates the concept of movement (critical to their M.O., which is to encourage activity in kids) into their landing page, including their marquis CTA “Play video.”

Related: Handy resource for finding amazing copyright free images

Make The Experience Transparent

Many CTAs send users to a page where they enter their contact information in order to subscribe to a service, get a free download, learn more or purchase a product. Some smart marketing professionals are reducing the number of clicks required by making the sign-up form part of the CTA. When done right, this is a great way to encourage users to take the plunge. They can see clearly how much effort is required because the two- or three-field form is right there on the landing page.

Shining Example: DropBox uses a simple design with a clear call-to-action and includes the sign-up process right there on the home page, so users can get started immediately.

Inject Humor

Funny CTAs have excellent conversion rates—when they’re done right. It’s all about coming up with the right vibe that complements the brand and uses humor that the ideal user can appreciate. Whether the rest of the website content and the client’s approach to working is wry, slapstick, sarcastic, wild or bold, be sure to match the humor with your CTA.

Shining Example: Huemor has an absolutely irresistible call-to-action “Launch: Do Not Press” that is perfectly on-brand for this smart digital agency.

Make Your Call-to-Action Risk-Free

Savvy web users are long past the days when they give out their email addresses to just anyone—or any company. Along with offering a compelling reason to sign up, you’ve also got to let them know you’re not going to slam their in-boxes with excessive emails or chain them to an iron-clad contract that’ll cost them time and money. That’s why CTAs that are up front about the risk-free nature of entering your contact information are so successful. A super simple way to communicate this concept is, “Try it risk-free.”

Shining Example: Netflix’s call-to-action, “Join Free for a Month” is succinct and simple. Note that the world “join” can be considered a both a directive (do it) and a simple offer (something to consider).

Explore a Slide-in CTA

Passive CTAs on landing pages are one way to go. Another is the obtrusive pop-up asking users to sign up or sign in. A third option plays it cool. The slide-in CTA scrolls in from the bottom of the page without interrupting the user’s reading experience. Slide-in CTAs typically offer free downloads or other resources that relate to the reason the user is on the site.

Shining Example: HubSpot not only employs slide-in CTAs, they offer a step-by-step tutorial on how—and why—to use them.

Give Customers Choices

If your client offers various products or services to different types of audiences, you might consider multiple CTAs. This helps readers get to the finish line faster by avoiding combing through information that doesn’t apply to them. You’ll often find multiple CTAs when companies employ the gamification trend in web design which exploits users’ desire for fun and choices when it comes to accessing products and services.

Shining Example: Barkbox offers monthly packages of special dog treats and toys—and they know their users are split between gift givers and purchasers for their own dog. CTAs “Get Started” and “Give a Gift” are right up front so users know exactly where to go.


about the author

Freelance Contributor Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.