How to Create The Perfect Call-to-Action

Written by Neil Patel on August 22, 2015

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None of these common call-to-action triggers will probably get you the desired result, because your target audience is more knowledgeable than ever before.

If you want to learn how to write the perfect call-to-action that’ll captivate your target audience, educate them and increase your conversions, this in-depth article was written with you in mind.

Download this cheat sheet of 8 tactics to create a perfect call-to-action.

One of the main reasons why most landing pages and sales pages are not converting leads into customers is a weak call-to-action.

Not all call-to-action messages are created equal. Most B2B digital marketers aren’t using effective CTAs to engage their ideal customers. And, even worse, some aren’t using them at all. According to Small Biz Trends, 70% of small business B2B sites lack a call-to-action.

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Stop giving flimsy excuses for your lack of an effective call-to-action. Now’s the time to focus visitors on simple and effective decisions that will boost conversions and establish you as an authority, says Joanna Wiebe.

To be honest with you, writing a call-to-action message that will compel your visitors to take the right action isn’t an easy task. The 8 tactics below will simplify it you. 

Tactic #1:  Selling the Trial

Forget freemium. Use a free trial instead. There are certain calls-to-action that you can’t help but click and the “free trial” CTA tactic is one of them. It works especially well for companies that sell software as a service (SaaS), such as Sales Force.

Don’t be afraid to offer free trials. There are at least 8 ways to convert these free members into paying customers through email marketing.

It’s vital to guide your visitors as they go through each stage of the buying process. This helps you to identify what’s effective and what you can ignore. There’s a way to balance the customer’s needs and objections that’ll help you increase your conversion rate.

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When we started KISSmetrics and CrazyEgg, we adopted this tactic to grow our customer base. Shopify grew its revenue 10x within 3 years and now has over 175,000 users, thanks, in part, to its 14-day trial.

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If you want your customers to take action, you’ve got to assist them, by removing all possible obstacles. Remember, they’ve got a lot of questions and they’re looking to you to provide the right solution.

If you ask them to buy after their first encounter with your brand, 84% of them will bounce off your site. But, if you offer them a free trial, you can increase conversions by 328%.

However, note that when using free trials in your call-to-action copy, you’ve got to be careful not to lose the trial users at the end of the trial period.

A study conducted by Massey University Marketing Professor Harald Van Heerde and his co-researchers from Tilburg and Maastricht Universities examined household data from 16,512 customers. The study revealed that a large percentage of users who signed up for a free trial didn’t upgrade to a premium (paid) solution after the trial period.

That data should alert you to the pitfalls that can trap unwary software service providers.

Through A/B testing and tracking actionable metrics, you’ll be able to figure out the optimal timeframe to use for your free trial.

Which of these would work best for you: a 14-day or 30-day free trial period? It’s hard to tell. I don’t know the nature of your business and how responsive and adaptive your ideal customers are.

So, instead of guessing, test it out to know definitively which time period works best for you and leads to more conversions to your premium product.

For example, Moz offers a 30-day free trial:

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Shopify offers a 14-day free trial, while Bigcommerce chose a 15-day free trial period:

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So many top brands, regardless of their large customer bases, still offer free trial periods to new users. For example, take a look at Insightly.com, a popular CRM software service company:

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Tactic #2:  Write a Benefit-Oriented CTA

Your call-to-action has to offer some form of benefit to the customer. Otherwise, your click-through rate will suffer. Let me explain how important this is, using Google as an example:

You know that the web is primarily powered by content. In the past, before Google started rolling out their algorithm updates, many people weren’t terribly concerned about the quality of their articles, blog posts, videos, ebooks and other content. But, it’s a different ball game today.

Why is Google so passionate about the value that you provide in a piece of content? It’s because of Google’s users.

People are desperately looking for the best possible answers when they use Google as a search engine. If Google doesn’t provide the right answers, they’ll switch over to Bing, Yahoo or some other search engine such as Duck Duck Go or Mamma. The benefit to its users is access to the best information.

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In the same vein, your call-to-action has to show a benefit to your users. If people aren’t sure about the value that your CTA button will deliver, they’re not going to click it.

Having tested different copy on my CTA buttons, I’ve decided to stick with offering benefits. At QuickSprout, I promised to help my readers “double their traffic in 30 days.” Then, on the CTA button, I ask them to click to watch the free course:

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I’m not the only marketer who offers value and creates copy around the benefits that users will get if they come on board. Noah Kagan, the successful digital marketer, does it best:

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Note: The placement and color of your call-to-action buttons is as important as the message. Many people have found that placing an opt-in box on the right side of the landing page works best, while other marketers get more conversions when the button is placed at the bottom of the page.

image31Do red CTA buttons work better than green? It’s hard to tell. These variations in results tell you one thing – you should test every element of your call-to-action.

Tactic #3:  Showcase Instant Gratification

Nobody likes to wait. I hate to see a long queue at the airport or bank. You’re probably the same.

That’s why, if you want to grow your online business, you’ve got to ensure that your customer service is working. Trying your customer’s patience, such as with long hold times, comprises 35% of what consumers call bad customer service.

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Satisfying your customers is the ultimate reason why you’re in business. And, instant gratification is the opposite of delayed gratification.

When ideal customers come to your landing page or store, they’ve got questions, such as, “will I get maximum satisfaction from buying this product or subscribing to your email list?”

In almost every other real-life context, delayed gratification is the key to success. We value the things that we have to work and wait for.

But, when it comes to persuading people to take action online, especially when you’re selling a digital product (e.g., an ebook or software), even a slight delay in giving people what they want will affect your conversion rate negatively.

Understand that the web is a virtual space. Consequently, it’s harder to trust someone. According to Traffic Maven, “today’s consumers are becoming increasingly accustomed to instant gratification.” They want the immediate reward.

If I come to your online digital camera store and purchase a camera, I’m not going to expect the product to appear in my hands immediately. It’s a physical product, and you, as the retailer, have to arrange for shipment and other logistics. But, if I purchase software from your store, I would expect to download it immediately.

Social media expert Jon Loomer understands how to use the power of instant gratification to get people to opt in to his email list. His call-to-action wording is “Get Ebook,” but it’s been converting well for him.

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Russ Henneberry, Director of Editorial for Digital Marketer, strategically uses the power of instant gratification to craft his call-to-action messages. He also uses two words, “Download Now,” to appeal to people’s emotions and persuade them to opt in.

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Tactic #4:  Evoke Curiosity

When you use curiosity effectively, it’ll lead to increased sales.

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In 2014, Andrew Sobel listed 6 rules for evoking curiosity. One of those rules is to tell people what you do and the results that you get, but not every detail about how you do it.

Curiosity is the desire to know something. If you craft your call-to-action message in such a way as to create the desire in your prospects to know what’s on the other side of that CTA, they’ll be more willing to click. And, the higher your CTR, the more sales you’ll make.

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A new study from the University of California-Davis suggests that when our curiosity is piqued, it results in changes in the brain that help us learn not only about the subject at hand, but also about incidental information.

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Increasing your customer’s curiosity for your product isn’t a matter of pure luck. Emotional triggers such as trust, delight, surprise, fun and, most importantly, satisfaction evoke curiosity in your users.

When people trust you, for example, they’re more willing to take an action that you ask them to take. In the same vein, when people are delighted with the copy on your landing page or PPC ads, they’ll click, because they perceive a benefit.

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Curiosity makes you want to jump on an offer, because you can envision the reward and how it can improve your own life. It’s an emotional quest to learn more, know more, have more and be more.

Your target audience members are human beings who make rational and/or emotional choices, depending on the information before them.

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Copywriters know that people buy products emotionally, then justify the purchase with logic. If that’s true, then it’s your responsibility to use curiosity to evoke emotions that will persuade your customers to buy. Even in B2B buying, emotions matter more than logic.

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Creating urgency also helps stoke some curiosity. A sense of urgency compels people to “get it now before it’s gone,” while curiosity makes a user look for a reward or benefit. When both elements are present, you’ll always see higher click-through and conversion rates for your offers.

Crazyegg, a heat map company that I co-founded, has seen a significant growth rate over the years. We’ve used several different forms of copy on our call-to-action button, but the version we use now apparently evokes a great deal of curiosity.

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Lots of site owners would like to know the reason why their visitors leave the site. The user anticipates finding out that information when they plug their website URL into the box and click “show me my heat map.”

Music Law Contracts also evokes curiosity in their call-to-action button. The landing page headline makes a promise and the CTA button delivers on that promise.

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Note that when evoking curiosity, you’ve got to be honest with your customers. Don’t lure them in with power words and action buttons, only to give them something other than what you promised.

When you promise to give users free videos, do that. Stick to your promise and your conversion rate will be high.

When writing your call-to-action, you should find a way to integrate these 5 persuasive words:

  • You
  • Free
  • Bonus
  • Because
  • Instantly
  • New

On the KISSmetrics blog, we understand the impact of using persuasive words to convince users to join our email list. Take a look at our pop-up box:

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Tactic #5:  Aggravate the Problem, Then Offer the Solution

A research study by 1st Financial Training Services revealed that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain – yet 91% of those will simply leave and never come back.

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More often than not, what it takes to write a call-to-action that compels the customer to click and follow through is a deeper understanding of your audience. And, according to Lee Resource, “for every customer complaint there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent.”

Demian Farnworth shared a powerful copywriting formula for dominating social media platforms and captivating people’s minds:

  • Identify a problem
  • Agitate the problem
  • Proffer a solution

How can you leverage each of these elements to craft a call-to-action that gets your prospects to buy? Let’s explore each of these elements and see how it can improve click-through rate and conversions for our calls-to-action.

i).  Identify a problem: Your ability to identify your audience’s dominant pain makes all the difference. When you understand what problems they’re experiencing, you’ll be better able to provide the right solutions.

Remember, most of the problems that your target audience says they’re experiencing aren’t actually the main problem. For example, if you’re a web traffic expert and your responsibility is to help your team drive targeted visitors to a website, what do you think the first step should be?

One solution is to first set up a landing page to convert visitors into leads. Then, you would create a valuable lead magnet to persuade the visitors to sign up. If you plan to run a Google AdWords PPC or Facebook ad campaign, your landing page has to be ready before you write your ad copy.

In this case, the dominant problem of your audience isn’t web traffic per se, but landing page optimization. After all, if the landing page isn’t optimized to convert visitors into leads, no amount of traffic will help.

You can use Quora to help identify your target audience’s problems. If you consider the question below critically, it’s apparent that the person who’s asking this question isn’t a novice when it comes to web traffic generation. Take a look:

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What the person wants is a way to get traffic for free. This means that if you advise them to use PPC advertising, you’ve failed to identify their problem properly.

In the same vein, if your call-to-action doesn’t acknowledge your customer’s problems, you’ll get few or no clicks at all.

One site that understands its users and their dominant problem is HelpScout. The headline communicates as much: it acknowledges that many help desk solutions don’t deliver efficient customer service and reassures users that HelpScout knows they don’t want to settle for that kind of solution.

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Help Scout tells users, in their call-to-action, to “see the difference” – the difference between other help desk solutions and the HelpScout solution.

Find a way to identify what your ideal customers are struggling with and leverage that to draw them into your offer.

ii).  Agitate the problem: After you identify a dominant problem, but before you proffer a solution, you should agitate it. To “agitate” means to arouse interest or make somebody anxious about something.

If you don’t agitate or address the problem head-on, then consumers will never know that you have the solution. A recent Forrester study reveals that 45% of U.S. consumers will abandon an online transaction if they perceive that their questions or problems aren’t addressed.

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Your target audience may not know the implications of the symptoms they’re experiencing as a result of their problems. If that’s the case, then it’s your duty to let them know about it.

This copywriting technique has long been used by Dan Kennedy, Ted Nicholas and other renowned copywriters.

Here are two examples of an agitated problem, from Robert Stover:

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Remember that you can agitate a problem in your landing page headline, subtitles and bullet points. Each of these elements will either increase or decrease conversions for your call-to-action.

Vistaprint.com, a company that prints business cards and other marketing materials, understands how to convince its prospects and customers. On the landing page, the company believed that most marketers and business owners have problems with getting the word out and acquiring customers.

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If your target audience consists of business owners who are tired of creating content to drive traffic to increase their sales, all to no avail, you can capitalize on that when writing your landing page headline. Your headline could be something like the following:

Stop Writing More Content. Use This 3-Step Formula to Turn Your Old Content Into a Lead Generating Machine!

iii).  Proffer a solution: This is the final element and it can make or break your call-to-action. You have to proffer a solution to the problems that your users are facing.

It’s not enough to simply identify and agitate the problem – your job is to make the solution available to them.

In his book, The Customer Service Solution: Managing Emotions, Trust, and Control to Win Your Customer’s Business, author Sriram Dasu explains how consumers perceive services and shows you how to enhance customer service, every time, by solving their problems.

An example of a brand that knows how to proffer the right solution is Webnode, which enables users to create websites easily, especially if they don’t want to mess around with code. Their call-to-action says it all:

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Awesome Web, a site that helps you find and hire web designers and developers, uses a slightly different approach in its call-to-action. Instead of using a CTA button, it uses text links pointing to different services. But first, the site asks the user to identify which problem they’re facing:

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At Quicksprout.com, I used a similar formula to craft my landing page message and call-to-action. I started by asking a question: “Do you want more traffic?”

Of course, no reasonable digital marketer would say “no.” That’s why I created the Quicksprout tool to help them identify why they’re getting traffic, what steps they’re missing and what steps to take to get more.

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Tactic #6:  Leverage the Urge to Belong

Have you ever felt like you missed out on an opportunity that could’ve transformed your life and business? Human beings have this urge in their DNA to always belong. Your ideal customer doesn’t want to miss out on what others are already experiencing.

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The urge to belong is related to the concept of social proof. Techcrunch noted that social proof is the future of marketing, because it’s the easiest way to ease customer’s minds and eliminate their objections.

Social proof is centered around a concept that people will take action based on what others have done. In other words, it means “following the crowd” – doing the same thing that they did, because you don’t want to miss out on the reward.

Here’s an excerpt from ConversionXL, to help you understand social proof better – Dr. Robert Cialdini is the father of persuasion and influence:

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A lot of brands use social proof in various ways – i.e., the number of people who have joined their email list or use their product – in crafting their call-to-action messages.

For instance, MailChimp, an email marketing company, notes that over 8 million users have already become MailChimp users. This would likely motivate first-time visitors to convert, too.

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Help Scout’s marketing expert, Gregory Ciotti, also uses social proof to grow the company’s email list. One of the ways he persuades first timers to opt in is by displaying the current number of email subscribers:

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If you study examples of social proof critically, you’ll see that the vast majority of them aren’t written directly on the call-to-action buttons. And, that’s appropriate, because the call-to-action itself should only contain carefully selected copy aimed at leading the customer to click the button.

Pat Flynn, founder of SmartPassiveIncome.com, also uses social proof to showcase his email subscribers and persuade new visitors to sign up.

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Social proof can work on other parts of your site, not just on the main blog section or landing page. Several smart bloggers showcase the number of their subscribers on the sidebar, to persuade new users to opt in. Darren Rowse, founder of Problogger.net, is a good example:

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Tactic #7:  Use a Strategic Cliffhanger

You’ll never believe what happened next…!

Cliffhangers are primarily used by fiction authors and screenwriters. A cliffhanger is just an unresolved ending in a part of a serialized drama or book that leaves the audience or reader eager to know what’s going to happen next.

Cliffhangers can also work for marketers. You need people to click your call-to-action button, or you won’t get any conversions. The CTA is the tipping point between the time “bounce” and “conversions.”

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It’s cliffhangers that make fans and movie enthusiasts want to tune in to the next episode of a TV or movie series.

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Hollywood does a great job at segmenting a movie into a series of films, so that the audience will want to watch all of the films in the series to find out what happens at the end. Dr. Seuss says it best:

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If you use the same strategy to craft your call-to-action message, your target audience will be compelled to find out what’s on the other side.

As human beings, we need closure in our lives. The open loops that are created in Hollywood movies, bestselling books and marketing stories leave us dissatisfied.

Hence, we’re always on the lookout for more and we want to keep reading until we get to the end. Here’s a perfect example of a cliffhanger that Kevan Lee used to initiate a call-to-action in this tweet:

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Turbotax, tax preparation software owned by Intuit, understands that storytelling is a powerful marketing technique that no one can resist. As long as the target audience consists of human beings who are driven by emotions, this will remain true.

Turbotax.com uses the cliffhanger concept to persuade potential customers to watch its video:

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Evernote uses a cliffhanger to get users to upgrade to a premium solution, right on their homepage. The CTA button (Go Premium) itself is a mild form of a cliffhanger, because it entices the user to find out what features are available in their premium version:

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Cliffhangers can be applied in any field. If you’re a freelance web developer, you could write three different call-to-action messages that will appeal to customers looking for WordPress web design, HTML web design and Joomla web design.

Content Marketing Up is a perfect example of a blog with multiple cliffhangers. Potential clients can easily choose what they want:

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FreshBooks applied the above technique in its call-to-action. Since it’s offering accounting solutions to non-accountants in various fields and industries, they crafted four different CTA buttons.

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Your CTA copy is a crucial element of every landing page. You have to make sure that it’s relevant, useful and easy to understand. A little tweak in the copy can make a lot of difference.

For example, Fitness World, a major chain of gyms in Scandinavia, changed its CTA copy from “Get membership” to “Find your gym & get membership.” That simple change led to an impressive result: the company’s click-through rate increased by 213.16%.

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Tactic #8:  Offer a Bonus

We all crave a reward. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but we humans can’t resist the allure of a freebie.

So, one effective way to attract and retain more customers is by offering them a bonus. You should also start offering a bonus in your call-to-action message.

When a company or service provider gives you an opportunity to save some money when placing an order, that’s a form of reward, because the risk is on them.

A good example is Sprint, a company that provides cell phones and call plans. Sprint grew its customer base through this strategy. Currently, Sprint offers savings of $200 or more on the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.

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Verizon does the same thing, offering customers the chance to save $300 when they trade in a phone for a new one. In fact, most telecommunications service providers use “bonuses,” such as extra savings, free shipping, buy-one-get-one-free offers and rebates.

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Conclusion

Your landing page, promotional banners, sales copy and PPC ad campaigns will generate quality leads and customers to your business when your call-to-action button is clicked.

To a large extent, a high click-through rate will result in a higher conversion rate, if all other elements (such as your sales funnel and offer) are well-optimized for your target customers.

Remember that you don’t have a blog traffic problem. The major challenge associated with building a profitable blog, sales funnel or product is getting the right people to click the “Order” or “Add To Cart” button.

If you can persuade a handful of people to do that every day, you’ll see consistent sales.

Finally, whether you’re driving traffic from search engines or through social media referrals, keep in mind that you’ve got to test your call-to-action messages and copy.

There is no single rule for writing a compelling CTA. It’s only by testing variations that you can be sure of what works.

What is your best strategy for writing a call-to-action that compels the right people to click and follow through?

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