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FutureNow Article
Friday, Dec. 19, 2008

Calling You to Action

By Bryan Eisenberg
December 19th, 2008

Hanging out at SES Chicago last week, I spent some time with Stewart Quealy, VP of content development for SES, who told me that he enjoyed my last column about the power of a great unique value proposition. He suggested that as more new faces begin to adopt conversion rate optimization, some may not be as familiar with the fundamentals as many of us are.

And of course, the end of the year is always a good time to talk the fundamentals. This week, I want to discuss another conversion rate optimization basic: the call to action (CTA).

Two Types of Call to Actions

The most common thing that jumps to mind when we think about CTAs is the big CTA button. The less obvious, less famous is the textual CTA.

CTA buttons are those in-your-face buttons that excitedly point the way to your visitors taking a profitable action on your site. Their subtler sister, the textual CTA, usually shows up in the body of active window copy. Often it’s simply a standalone hyperlink; sometimes they show up as part of headers. Other times, they’re snuggled up against a product picture or a hero image, even in navigation.

Improving Call-to-Action Buttons

  • Shape variations. There are rectangles, squares, ovals, circles, and irregular shapes (like Amazon, which blends an oval and a rectangle). Corners can be pointy or rounded. Is there a shape that works better for you?
  • Colors. You have a world of colors to choose from; there’s really no wrong color.
  • Non-graphical buttons. There are also non-graphical “add to cart” buttons created from plain text or simple HTML with the traditional gray background. These can be styled somewhat using CSS (define). Would plain and simple be the best way to go?
  • Style variations. Two-dimensional or three-dimensional? With or without shadowing? Does your audience have a preference? Does the CTA stand out from other content on the page, or do other (less profitable) elements dilute the page?
  • Icon variations. Little images of arrows, carts, baskets, or bags may help distinguish your buttons from the other elements around them. Is there an icon that makes sense for your business and improves conversion?
  • Size variations. Larger isn’t always better. Will size matter?
  • Legibility. The previous factors work in combination to affect the legibility of an “add to cart” button. Font choice, font size, and text/background contrast will also affect how readily a visitor identifies the CTA and acts on it. The possibilities are limitless.
  • Location variations. Where to put your button: Above the fold? One above and one below? On the right or left or in the middle of the page? How far should you place it from neighboring elements?
  • Wording. Just think about all the possible ways you can say “add to cart.” Or “contact me.” Or “sign up.” The words matter. For example, years ago we influenced Dell to change the words in its configurator from “Learn More” to “Help Me Choose,” which had a significant impact.

Improving Textual Call to Actions

A ClickZ column I wrote in 2003 offers a quick guide to get you started:

The clearer the explicit benefit of clicking on a hyperlink, the more likely a visitor will click.

[CTA links] should be constructed with an imperative, an implied benefit of what visitors can expect when they click, and a clear sense of the information on the landing page. Which link best conveys what the visitor will find after the click?

  • Find out which after-school program is best for your child.
  • Find out which after-school program is best for your child.
  • Find out which after-school program is best for your child.

The first link implies the landing page lists programs. The second tells you the landing page probably lists after-school programs. The third tells you the landing page contains content that will help you decide which after-school program is best for your child.

Research has shown that the best links are between 7 and 12 words, but I prefer four to seven words for SEO (define) purposes.

While textual CTAs are all about the copy and the words, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to consider the copy on your buttons. Effective button copy and effective textual link copy have the same characteristics. So don’t forget to apply these CTA copy tips to your button copy as well.

Do You Have an Eye for Good Call to Actions?

Let’s see how you fare. Take a look at this page on IconFactory.com. These guys aren’t clients of ours, but we can safely deduce that the two primary CTAs are “buy now” and “download.” How well are these guys doing with their CTAs? What would you do differently? What would you like to test? Would you lay out the page differently? If so, how?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, then get to work on your own call to actions.

Add Your Comments

Comments (28)

  1. Excellent post, Bryan. One of my clients is currently working on improving the very CTA side of their webpages. I’ve sent them a link to this. Thank you for making this post.

    Re that Twitterrific example:

    1) Wording: I personally find it hard to distinguish the difference between the two (“get it” and “buy it”) buttons.

    2) Location: I’d put them in place of that “Get it for iPhone and iPod touch” button.

    3) Background Color: I would change the background of these buttons to green (onMouseOver change of shades of green would look appropriate).

    4) Shape: Love the rounded corners, but if we place the buttons under the product, some adjustment would have to be made to look organic.

    5) Font Size/Color: Slightly smaller size font in white when on the green background may work better than the larger size on the beige/gray background.

    6) The more appropriate place for the “Get it for iPhone and iPod touch” button may be under these two buttons.

  2. I think call to actions are so important to a well optimized website – thats why I loved your original book on this so much Brian!

    I also just wrote a post about the two worst words to use as call to actions… ‘click here’
    http://rich-page.com/web-analytics/revealed-the-two-most-useless-words-on-any-website/

    Rich

  3. I keep telling people this. I don’t think that optimizing a site for conversion is a “Call to Action” science. It’s a usability science. People aren’t going to click something because its big round and yellow, and says “Click Me”. The reason people click this types of links is because they’re already looking for where to click, and you’ve just made it easier for them.

  4. Great post!
    As a reply to the previous comment, I agree and I disagree :)

    I disagree because I have seen some very “aggressive/ effective” call for action buttons that do cause people to click on them. Look at this landing page as an example: http://worksmart-emarketing.com/ . My gut feeling tells me that most people click this call for action button and see the intro video.

    On the other hand I definitely agree, because the whole idea of the video is to create a user friendly experience and give an overview of the offering.

    Bottom line, I definitely think that call for action buttons (especially smart ones) can make a real difference, but they do not replace usability.

  5. The page has a huge problem in that Twitterific has three price points:

    1. $14.95 for Mac computers
    2. $9.99 for premium version for iPhone and iPod Touch.
    3. Free version for iPhone and iPod touch.

    My guess would be to get people using the Free version on iPhone/Touch first. Then get them to upgrade via the app to the premium version. Then get them to buy for their computers.

    But that’s just a guess. Of course, you’d need the testing to figure it all out.

    Plus what about a trial version? I think Icon Factory’s problem starts at the product right now.

  6. Nathania,

    There is also a free (ad supported version) for the Mac. It does seem this page was just cobbled together – that is why we are seeing so many issues like Geno points out so well.

  7. Bryan excellent post. It reminds me of how they used to test response cards for direct marketing campaigns. Would a stick, or a scratch off encourage readers to respond. Even on my own site I realize my call to action should be looked at in more depth. That maybe testing other formats might get me more customers.

  8. We continue to work on all of our sites to improve traffic and conversions. I think it is important to continually test your calls to action to help determine which ones work the best and deliver the highest conversion rate.

    Thanks for the great article with excellent advice

  9. [...] the column, “Calling You to Action,” I covered the basics of optimizing the calls to action on your site. The column prompted [...]

  10. [...] the column, “Calling You to Action,” I covered the basics of optimizing the calls to action on your site. The column prompted [...]

  11. I had never seen the data that the very long links had a better click through rate. I may want t split test that one, especially on outbound links that are nofollowed so I don’t care about the SEO impact. Thanks for the great article.

  12. [...] and secondary calls to action are clear, prominent, and the primary button is above the [...]

  13. Nice article. I think that example site you gave CTAs are in a poor location.

  14. The strong CTA is very important and vital part of each page. Each page would have a CTA that leads on other page. Avoid using blind page without following-up.

  15. Long 7 to 10 word links really look goddy on web pages I think, that’s why I’ve avoided them. I try to keep it under 5. Granted, CSS styles could be changed to make them look better, but that takes away from the link familiarity quotion.

  16. i always use a big button for my site. but CTR isn’t good. Maybe i will try with 4-7 words and split test for them…

  17. I live in an international location outside of the American/European delivery zone so what’s most important to me when shopping online is the international shipping charge. I know that might not sound immediately relevant to this post, but to me it is. You see, I am more likely to click through my purchases on those sites which dynamically calculate my totals either on the page I am shopping on or promise to do so easily on the first check out page. Nothing turns me off to a site faster than requiring me to fill out tonnes of information,(sometimes even CC info) before calculating shipping charges. Want me to click? Tell me upfront, what the click is going to get me (of course this applies specifically to online shopping).

  18. I agree with “Local Advertising”.

    It is anoying to go all the way through the order process – and then find out that the company do not deliver to your contry.

  19. [...] Eisenberg chez grokdotcom classe le call-to-action selon deux catégories [...]

  20. an eye opener, now I can decide which is which. thanks for sharing this.

  21. Web site conversion is complex task. I think you need to provide all the information and service like live chat to provide instant solution of user question

  22. I personally believe contextual CTA works better than the CTA buttons as most of the sites now use CTA buttons but contextual CTA builds more trust.

  23. The most common thing that jumps to mind when we think about CTAs is the big CTA button. The less obvious, less famous is the textual CTA.

  24. the sites now use CTA buttons types of links is because they’re something because its big round and yellow, I think you need to provide all the information and service like and says “Click Me”. The reason people click this better than the CTA buttons as most of

  25. [...] Calling you to action [...]

  26. First, the call to action – as has been said – has to describe clearly and specifically what action the user must perform and possible it has to express the advantage or benefit that will. In your example, buttons have a text too short and not describe anything… so it’s wrong!

    The CTA must stand within the web page or site. The button of the call to action must have a contrasting color with the background color of the site / page and the button should be visible. In your example button has a grey color too close to the page color.

    The right size of the CTA button should be about 225 pixels wide and 45 pixels height, while in your example the button is too small.

    The call to action must begin with an active verb that expresses immediately and clearly what action to take.

    e CTA must be placed in the portion of the web page visible to the user without him having to scroll the page, and your example is right here.

    The call to action and landing pages (the page where the user lands when he click on the CTA button/text), must be related to each other.There must be logical and semantic continuity between the two pages, otherwise the visitors who arrive on the page feel confused and leave the page. In your example I think this point is satisfied.

    Finally, the target of a call to action is to generate traffic to a landing page or a website, so this traffic will turn into leads.
    To ensure that this process occurs, in addition to creating effective CTAs, it is also necessary to optimize the landing pages, testing various types of layouts, colors, copy, length of the form, … etc., to see what page version converts more, and in you example I think that the page can be improved.

  27. [...] Calling you to action [...]

  28. [...] While textual CTAs are all about the copy and the words, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to consider the copy on your buttons. Effective button copy and effective textual link copy have the same characteristics. So don’t forget to apply these CTA copy tips to your button copy as well. via grokdotcom.com [...]

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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