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What converts? The psychology behind the call to action

​If you feel like your campaigns aren’t quite hitting the mark, your conversion rates are dwindling, or the response from your audience is quieter than tumbleweed, don’t despair. In a difficult financial climate, it’s hard to know how to boost interest, but the answer could be a simple as beefing up your call to action.

​What is a call to action?

Whenever you communicate with your customers your call to action (CTA) is the most important message you’ll deliver. Some marketers would argue that without it, you probably shouldn’t bother.

Your call to action is all about persuasion. Whether you want people to sign up for your newsletter, download a brochure, book an appointment or make a purchase, your CTA needs to get them to take that crucial next step. It’s also about getting them to do so NOW – not at some random point in the future.

Here’s an example from Habitat

​It’s all in the mind

​The success of your CTA lies in the psychology behind people’s behaviour. It’s about understanding the impulses that make them take action and the messages that stimulate those impulses.

Behavioural psychology is a complex area, obviously, but there are some simple rules you can follow to pique interest and encourage action, regardless of the marketing platform you’re using.

In fact, while communication methods have changed rapidly over the past decade, many of the most effective call to action messages are similar to those used in early advertising and direct mail created a century ago.

​Where to put your ​call to action

​The answer to this is anywhere you know your audience will look.

You might think of a call to action as something that comes at the end of a piece of content – a summing up of your argument. This can often be the case.  A CTA is a great finish to a well-argued blog or informative Facebook video, for example.

Equally though, a CTA can be placed anywhere on a website or within an email or social media post. It can be copy, but more likely it will be a banner, image, button, or other visual cue to click through to the next stage.

​What makes a good ​call to action?

​Behavioural psychology is complex, and while we can only scratch the surface of the things that make people respond to a call to action, there are a few factors you should bear in mind …


​1. Start with your goal

​Have the purpose of your call to action at the front of your mind at all times as you construct your landing page or write your email or design your post - everything should build up to that all-important CTA.


​2. Make conversion happen

​Do this by removing the barriers people may have to responding to your call to action. Free trials, no obligation, cancel at any time, limited offers all give your audience the confidence to take the step now, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be locked into something further down the line.

This Netflix landing page is a good example – with a warning system in place, what could possibly stop someone taking the no obligation 30-day trial?

Example of a call to action - Netflix free 30 day trial

​3. Is it absolutely clear what your audience needs to do?

​There are lots of different ways of expressing your call to action, but make sure you’re clear and explicit about what you are asking of people. Good call to action button messages include:

  • ​Start your free trial
  • ​Donate now
  • ​Book a visit today
  • ​​Find your local store

​These all explain what you want people to do and are better than vague commands such as ‘click here’ or ‘find out more’.

Such as this landing page from estate agent KFH...

call to action example - KFH landing page

​Or this one from Airbnb...

AirBNB landing page

​Be careful, however, not to force people to take action. Avoid pop-ups where the only way out is conversion – you could scare them away from your site altogether.


​4. Is your language spot on?

​Depending on your audience, the right phrases or wording can make all the difference to your conversion rates. For example, the word ‘free’ will be enticing to most visitors. So if what you’re offering is free, use this word.

Your copy needs to evoke a sense of urgency, be clear, pithy, personal, action-orientated, and unequivocal in meaning.

Create the impression that there is a limited supply of whatever it is you’re offering and a limited time to take up the offer – such as this email.

example of call to action for an offer

​Try the ‘so what’ test to make sure the content is clear – if the benefits aren’t obvious, keep asking ‘so what’ until you’ve nailed them.

Words which have resonated with audiences down the decades, and still work today, include now, new, guarantee, hurry, last chance, limited, today only and, sign up.

Remember, even if you’ve decided to take a creative or quirky route with your copy, the call to action must be clear and unequivocal.

Such as this one from, US home insurer Lemonade...

Lemonade landing page

​5. Don’t ignore the call to action visuals 

  • Does your call to action button colour matter?

​Much has been written about the psychology of colour - blue is said to signify trust, while green is associated with health and growth. Red is good for impact – you’ll often see it on act or donate now buttons but it can mean danger too. Consider colour choice, but make sure any CTA button works with the background colour of your page and your own branding too.


  • ​Best font for call to action?

​The same goes for your typeface. First, make it legible. Using a different font to the rest of the page will help your CTA stand out but it needs to work with your brand and complement any other fonts on the page.


  • ​​Call to action and images

​A picture tells a thousand words, so make sure it’s relevant and emotive enough to drive action. This is particularly true when it comes to Facebook or Instagram.


  • ​Placement – where to put your call to action button

​It might be good to have your CTA upfront and noticeable (above the fold) but placing it after your audience has read and absorbed your messages (below the fold) often works too. You may need to audience test your placement for the best result.

This email CTA from Birchbox is an example of a below the fold CTA.

birchbox
  • ​Call to action button - size and shape

​Make sure your CTA stands out and is noticed, but not so much that it obscures everything else on the page.

Curves and rounded edges are pleasing to the eye and draw attention – again, it’s worth testing this out to see what works best on your page.

  • ​Website call to action

​Remember, you want users to come to your landing page and you don’t want them to leave without taking action. So, your entire landing page should be built around the CTA.

Placement is important, and a logical flow of information through to the CTA should leave users in no doubt of what they can expect if they click on your CTA. You need to make it easy and simple for users to take action – be persuasive.

For example, this landing page for Dogs Trust...

website call to action example

​A successful landing page should have these elements:

  • ​An arresting headline – this should be compelling, simply worded, and attention-grabbing.
  • ​A high-quality image – this should enhance and be relevant to the service or product you’re offering, and, like the headline and subhead, attention-grabbing.
  • ​Well-crafted, easy to understand content – the user needs to understand what the product, service or offer is about, so make sure you explain it to them clearly and concisely.
  • ​A logical layout which flows  – make sure there is a ‘conversion funnel’ which the user can easily travel down to convert. Start with a piece of explanatory content, outline the benefits of what you’re offering, then end with the CTA.
  • ​Testimonials – reviews and testimonials add trust and value to a service or product.
  • ​Best social media ​calls to action

​While much of the advice about constructing a good CTA applies across platforms, there are some subtle differences to apply when it comes to social media. With limited space and the need to halt the scrolling with a high impact post, keep your copy punchy, succinct and engaging and your images top quality and arresting.

These tips apply to Twitter CTAs  but also to Facebook and Instagram...

  • ​Be clear in your CTA – tell people what they need to do whether that’s download something, visit a page or share content.
  • ​Don’t be afraid to ask for retweets, follows and replies, but offer something in return, whether a prize draw, free trial or helpful response.
social media call to action examples
  • ​​Think about context. Give your reader something, whether it’s funny, interesting or nice to look at. If you can offer something exclusive – insider tips or a first look at something new, all the better.  
Facebook call to action example - estate agent
  • ​Look for a CTA that catches something that’s current or trending, but make sure it’s relevant to you.

​For example this tweet from John Lewis​:

  • ​Use a personal, conversational tone to engage your audience and show the people behind the brand.
  • ​Use quality images that are clear and have impact – clean, white backgrounds work well on Facebook.
  • ​If using video make sure your call to action button is a natural progression from what the audience has just seen.

​Why you should A/B test your CTAs

​While you might be sure your content and call to action will result in multiple conversions, you absolutely must test this out first.

A/B testing, which is also known as split testing or bucket testing, will enable you to see what performs well and what doesn’t. What works for one campaign page might not work for another. The best practice approach is to conduct A/B testing and be guided by the results.

​Got a question?

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