How To Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

What’s the most important element of your copy?

Headlines? They hook initial attention so of course they’re important.

Body copy? That’s where you create interest and build desire. It’s also where you’ll convince a prospect to take the next step, which is the…


Calls To Action are the final stage in your sales letter, blog post or landing page. Tiny in size, but huge in impact. Consider this statistic: emails that contain a powerful call to action get 371% more clicks than those without.

They capitalize on the attention you’ve hooked and the strong feelings of need you’ve built. They seamlessly lead readers to do what you’d like them to do. Without a powerful CTA, your marketing materials are nothing more than interesting reads rather than the action-causing, sales-driving materials you need them to be.

Brian Massey offers one of the best explanations of great web design I’ve seen. He says:

“So the best design isn’t the one that makes your company look cool and edgy and sophisticated. It’s the design that supports conversion, has room for good copy and powerful calls to action that make people click the big orange button.”

This a great explanation because it focuses on the necessity for your site to elicit action. Which is exactly what a great CTA does. However, just slapping any old Call To Action at the end of your content isn’t going to work. Effective CTAs need to:

  • Be compelling
  • Have a clear benefit for the user
  • Continue the conversion momentum
  • Actually cause action

The CTA is the final nail in the coffin. It has the potential to drastically increase your conversion rate or sink your whole operation.

Unfortunately the majority of CTAs you’ll see online are pretty weak. They display the default texts “Submit,” “Buy” or “Purchase,” none of which compel the user to actually take the action.

So let’s take a look at a few methods that you can employ to turn your CTA from a lackluster, run-of-the-mill instruction into a conversion-killing motivator!

Keep It Value Focused

What do your customers want?

This is probably the best question marketers can ask themselves. Your product doesn’t sell because it’s the cheapest or because the color is nice; it sells because it solves a problem.

Great copy is where you illustrate how a product can solve the problem that its target audience faces. As a whole, marketers have become pretty adept at solution-focused copy: they’ve developed headlines that communicate a product’s solution with laser focus and desire-building content that persuades with benefits and images.

But these individual elements don’t cause huge lifts in conversions. In fact, 81% of online customers delve into extensive product research before purchasing.

how to create CTAs that cause action

Consumers jump from site to site to find the best deal possible. Do you really think that just a witty headline or a pretty Call To Action button is going to convince them that your product or service is the best solution in your industry? Of course not.  

Sales aren’t made on the effectiveness of one element. There needs to be a cohesive, complementary customer journey where every element in every stage builds upon the one preceding it.

That cohesive customer journey is one of the most important aspects in marketing. Exacttarget surveyed hundreds of marketing managers, 86% of whom said that a cohesive journey is critical to marketing success.

how to create CTAs that cause action

Every stage needs to build on the last one to create a greater level of desire and need for your product, yet this is where many marketers fail.

They’ve created desire by focusing on the benefits with their headlines, lede and body copy only to then switch to a vague or blah CTA that shatters the benefit-focused approach they’ve taken.  

No one wants to “Submit” their email address.

No one wants to “Buy” a product.

No one wants to “Order Now.”

These words are simply not compelling, have negative connotations and, in the latter two cases, are related to a reduction of one’s bank account balance. Something we’d all rather avoid.

So how do you ensure a compelling CTA?

Continue to focus on the benefit!

Use words that remind the customer that they’re getting something rather than telling them that it’s going to cost them.

Below I’ve listed a few discoveries made by Michael Aagard and included the results to hammer the point home:

1) Change “Order” to “Get” (make it more concrete for the reader).

how to create CTAs that cause action

2) Change “Your” to “My” (make it personal to the reader).

how to create CTAs that cause action

3) Add “& Get Started” (make it urgent and immediate for the reader).

how to create CTAs that cause action

All three examples above (and every other example in the article) expound upon the basic practice that a CTA should highlight the benefit.

Modern consumers are fickle. They’ll abandon carts or cancel payments on a whim if they have even a tiny measure of doubt. You need to reinforce the benefits that they’ll be receiving at every stage. Don’t fall at the last hurdle by breaking the momentum you’ve built with a sudden mention of what it’s going to cost them.  

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Test Your Colors

One of the worst pieces of advice on CTAs is to turn all your buttons orange.

Testing the color of your buttons because someone else found that orange worked well for them isn’t what optimization is about.

The success of CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) relies on the elaboration of a basic three-step plan:

  1. Research and analyze your audience.
  2. Find the colors, designs, language, etc. that resonate with them.
  3. Amend your site to incorporate these elements and create a better customer journey.

Read More: 13 Quick Tricks to Increase Conversion Rates that You Can Do Right Now

You can’t just copy someone else’s methodology and expect the same results. It doesn’t work that way. You need to find what works best for your audience.  

A couple years ago there was a lot of talk about the big orange button and how it was “the future of marketing.”

People went crazy over it and copied the darn button only to find that it didn’t bring in the results they wanted. Why? Because they ignored the basic three steps which focus on their own audience.

Since then there have been plenty of other studies on CTAs—studies that show orange isn’t always the best choice. How’s that for irony?

Check out this test from an e-commerce site that sells mobile phones and other accessories.

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

Source: Conversion XL

They tested different colors on their “buy now” buttons. They tested white, green and orange. In this case, the orange button won with a 5% better conversion.

You could argue that orange is a more prominent color, but that’s not always the real reason why it boosts conversions.

Take another look at the following pages:

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

In this example the red button performed 21% better than the green. The color isn’t arbitrary. What’s the primary color scheme on both? Green. So the red button didn’t win because it was red; it won because it stands out from the green background and therefore draws the eye to it.

The key to effective CTAs is having the button stand out from the rest of the page.  

But don’t take our word for it. Visit the website of any successful business and look at their CTAs. Are they all orange, or are they in fact optimized to stand out from the background?

Take a look at the following examples.  

Here’s a powerful CTA from Spotify. Is the button orange? No. Do you know where to click? Absolutely!

how to create CTAs that cause action

Here’s another example from Evernote. Once again, the CTA is not orange, and yet your eye is drawn to it.

how to create CTAs that cause action

Check out this example from Monetate.

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

They tested a blue button against an orange button for their “Add to Cart” CTA. Counterintuitively, the blue button won the test, producing a 9% boost in conversions.

Here’s another test which proves that contrasting the CTA color with the rest of the page makes the biggest difference in boosting conversion rates.

This is the original:

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

And this is the new image that was being tested:

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

Of course, conversion rates shot up when when the new design was tested.

But it would be a mistake to say that the button color had something to do with it. If you take another look at the original, you’ll notice that it actually doesn’t even have a button. The CTA almost blends in with the image and becomes invisible.

In the second image, the CTA is more prominent and looks like an actual button.

So in this case, switching up colors would have small marginal effect on the conversion rate. What actually mattered was making sure that the CTA stood out from the rest of the color scheme.

Monetate wrote the following regarding the false idea that red/orange button colors convert better than all others:

“…if you dig into the results, you’ll see that orange buttons were almost always tested against a control of no button at all. In cases like this, it’s hardly a surprise that orange buttons make a difference. Of course they do … when compared to no button at all! Practically any button will make a difference, regardless of color.”

There is no gold standard for the color choice of your CTA button (not even gold!). You simply need to test different variations to discern what stands out, draws attention and resonates best with your audience.

Free Bonus Download: Get our free marketing guide to learn tactics that have actually generated millions of dollars for our clients! Click here to download it for free right now!

Choose Your Position Carefully

While we’re on the subject of dispelling bullshit advice, let’s address the fold.

I don’t buy the advice that putting your CTA above the fold is always best. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. The question is figuring out when it’s a good idea and when it’s not.

Personally, I like to use what I call the “logical point of decision” approach.

Before you slap your CTA above the fold, ask yourself if your prospects would likely be ready to purchase from you at that particular point in their customer journey. Have they had enough time to analyze and understand the benefits of your solution so that paying for it seems like a wise investment? If not, then it’s too soon for the placement of your CTA.

Generally speaking, this rule follows the principle that the more complex your offer, the lower down on the page (or later in the customer journey) your CTA should appear.

how to create CTAs that cause action

This rule also works with the expense of the product. The more expensive it is, the lower down on the page your CTA needs to be. Why? Because convincing someone to spend thousands of dollars will take longer than asking them for 10 bucks.

Let’s put it in real-life terms.

Imagine that you’re shopping at the mall. The first store you enter sells apples—a simple product, the benefits of which are easily explained. As soon as you walk through the door, a sales assistant says, “Hey, you wanna buy some apples? They’re good for you, taste delicious, and are only $4 a bag.”

What are the chances of your buying? Pretty high, right? If you’re in the market for apples then that’s all the convincing you’d need.

The next shop sells TVs. Again, upon entering, a sales assistant approaches you and says, “Looking for a TV? That one’s good. It’s 3D, HD, comes with a free Blu Ray player, and is only $4,000.”

Would you buy it?

Probably not.

Why? Because you haven’t received enough information about it for you to spend $4,000 without some serious consideration.

If you were interested in buying a new TV, you’d probably spend at least a few hours researching the best options, reading reviews, talking to sales assistants, and ensuring that the set you were planning to buy had everything you needed in a television.

Asking potential customers to purchase an expensive product upon immediate entrance in a store isn’t going to convince them. It comes across as pushy, eliminates trust, and will put people off from buying from you.

MarketingExperiments utilized this approach with one of their tests and, after moving the CTA lower down on the page to a more logical position, saw a 20% increase in conversions.

how to create CTAs that cause actionhow to create CTAs that cause action

Websites that are not very complex to understand can have a clear CTA above the fold for a free trial, or even to purchase the product.

For example, check out Unbounce’s landing page.

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

Their product lets marketers build landing pages quickly without relying on engineering teams. So it makes sense to have a CTA above the fold that says “Explore the Unbounce Platform” or “Sign up.”

But on the other hand, a Salesforce product needs to give more information to its users before they’re ready to take any action. For example, this is an example of CTAs they have on their home page:

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

Salesforce has a variety of products users can use. So before they can ask people to sign up for any of them, they have to let potential users watch a demo, or allow them to learn more through a product-focused page.

After potential users have learned what they need to, then Salesforce can ask them to sign up.

How to Create CTAs that Actually Cause Action

If you have a complex product that requires a bit of explanation or “teaching” before people are ready to sign up, you could actually reduce your conversions by presenting a CTA too early.

When positioning your CTA button, examine the complexity of your product and the price of it. Put your CTA at a place where both desire and the logical decision to pay are greatest.

Free Bonus Download: Get our free marketing guide to learn tactics that have actually generated millions of dollars for our clients! Click here to download it for free right now!

Add a Little Urgency

Nothing supercharges your conversion efforts like adding a little urgency.

When CROs speak about urgency, they often refer to the inclusion of countdown timers or limited stock displays. The thought that we might miss out on a deal or a product might run out is often enough to coax us into immediate action.

You can create urgency in your CTAs with the addition of a few simple words. Instead of using statements of benefit such as “Get your free e-book,” experiment by adding certain urgent elements like those below:

  • Get your free e-book right now!
  • Get 50% off today only!

Urgency is always a winner in CRO. WiderFunnel tested the effects of urgency in a CTA and saw a 106% increase in conversions.

how to create CTAs that cause action

One thing to watch out for when adding urgency to your CTAs is: don’t do it too often. Part of the reason urgency works so well is that it makes the action the user is about to take feel more important than all the other potential actions they could take.

So if you add too much urgency to your page, or try to persuade customers through urgency too frequently, then it could lose its effect in the long run. That’s why it’s best to save this tactic for your most profitable CTAs.

Words of urgency are simple to implement and provide an easy win for you. That extra word or two may not seem like a big deal, but sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones.

One Page, One CTA

The golden rule of landing pages that should never be broken is:

One page, one purpose.

If you want people to sign up for a newsletter, that’s the only CTA that the page should have. If you want them to purchase a product, that’s the only CTA that should be on that product page.

Never complicate matters or confuse your users with multiple CTAs. When faced with too many options, people will get overwhelmed and avoid making any choice.

Oli Gardner calls this “the attention ratio” and says that you need to aim for a ratio of 1:1. That ratio signifies the number of actions a user can take and the number of conversion goals.

Oli actually managed to secure a 31% increase in e-book downloads after changing his landing page from this page with a ratio of 10:1:

how to create CTAs that cause action

To this page with a ratio of 1:1:

how to create CTAs that cause action

Remember that the key difference is in the ratio, not the number of CTAs. You can, in fact, use multiple CTAs on your page as long as they all have the same conversion goal.

Long landing pages are the perfect example of how to effectively utilize multiple CTAs.

Free Bonus Download: Get our free marketing guide to learn tactics that have actually generated millions of dollars for our clients! Click here to download it for free right now!

A long landing page will have numerous points of logical decision where a user is ready to make a purchase. Those already aware of the product will need little convincing, while unfamiliar prospects will need to read the whole thing.

A smart marketer will place numerous CTAs throughout the page at the various points where different customers are most likely to purchase.

Take this screenshot from Basecamp as an example:

how to create CTAs that cause action

There’s a lot of copy there but they’ve made good use of several CTAs at points where people will be ready to click.

The trick to implementing numerous CTAs is to ensure that they all have the same purpose. You can’t have two CTAs on one page that have two different purposes. Getting people to sign up is one conversion battle, and getting them to purchase is a completely different battle.

Focus on winning one battle at a time to win the overall sales war.

Closing Thoughts

CTAs may be small, but they’re incredibly mighty.

You simply can’t overlook their importance and must give them just as much time and attention as any other page element. Remember to incorporate these rules to ensure that your CTAs are as effective as they can be:

  1. Use value-focused words
  2. Test different color combinations (try to find contrasting yet complementary colors)
  3. Place them at the logical decision-making points on the page
  4. Utilize urgency elements for more immediate action
  5. Keep a 1:1 ratio between actions and conversion goals

As with any other CRO advice you read, never take this article at face value. Remember to always look at the underlying assumption and methodology. If someone says orange converts best, don’t change everything to orange; rather, run your own color tests and see if this is true for your site.

If you want the best results with your CTAs—or any other page element, for that matter—test your own variables and observe how your audience reacts to them.

If you’re not a CRO-savvy marketer or you just don’t have the time, Single Grain can help you! We’ve helped business of all sizes improve their marketing ROI, ultimately increasing revenue – check out some of our case studies here.

Click the green button for your FREE consultation to see how we can help you with your conversion rate optimization. (Have some non-CRO questions? That’s cool, too! Let’s chat.)

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