Effective calls to action

What makes an effective call to action?

When buyers and sellers are face to face, calls to action – CTAs – are part of the sales patter. The showman’s initial “Roll up, roll up!” is a CTA that’s designed to attract new customers. Once an irresistible story has been told about whatever is on offer, they then close with another CTA to buy whatever ticket/widget/life-changing product they are peddling. In these situations, the calls to action can be modified by the seller according to how interested, or otherwise, they think their customers are.

But CTAs are just as vital – indeed, even more so – when the buyers and sellers are at a distance from each other, as is much more typically the case nowadays. Whether responding to an advertisement or shopping online, people need to know how they can proceed with a purchase or how to get any additional information they might need before deciding to buy.

Since the advent of e-commerce, the art of creating CTAs that work has become much more of a science. It’s easy and inexpensive to test different messages on different segments of the same audience and then examine the data to reveal which is the more effective. It has enabled the rapid evolution a few current principles behind successful CTAs. Let’s take a look at them.


1. Use persuasive text



This screenshot uses a few techniques that combine to make an effective CTA. It very simply sets out a customer need and a benefit. if 76% of Google and Facebook budgets are wasted, the odds are high that the visitor is part of the 76% who need to get more for their money. The problem is solved by talking to the company’s experts.

‘Free’ is a powerful word in CTAs, and free offers and free trials are a common feature of many e-commerce websites. Free offers and trials often sit alongside an alternative button that allows those who are ready to commit now to spend their money.

Another reason for offering more than one course of action is that there is more chance of keeping your audience with you. If only an option to buy is presented, it risks losing those potential customers who aren’t yet ready to take that action.



Apple’s brand is so strong, they have a queue of people who will buy the latest iPhone almost regardless of any consideration beyond the fact that it is from Apple. Hence their CTA screen is a model of simplicity, and the straightforward choices on offer are ‘Learn more’ and ‘Buy’.

Putting the buyer in control like this may seem counter-intuitive to sales people who like to steer their conversations down proven routes, but it reflects the reality: remote customers do have control, so make a virtue of it.


2. Create a sense of urgency

Create a sense of urgency


‘Grab’ implies speed, while ‘start earning’ offers the customer an immediate benefit that will accrue if they take action.

Putting the buyer in control like this may seem counter-intuitive to sales people who like to steer their conversations down proven routes, but it reflects the reality: remote customers do have control, so make a virtue of it.


3. Make them obvious

 It’s almost superfluous to mention, but it should be easy for people to see what they need to do next. On ‘busy’ web pages key information can get lost, so give it prominence. Techniques include making CTA button colours stand out from the rest of the page (sometimes even to the extent of the colours clashing with brand colours, much to some designers’ dismay!) as here:

Clashing colours


There is a risk here that the viewers’ eyes will be drawn to the buttons before the benefit of following the CTA has been established. A CTA button is a mechanism for taking the action called for rather than a CTA as a whole.

Netflix takes a different approach, where their CTA button still stands out but sticks to their brand colour. The option to ‘Cancel at any time’ is also promised, to give the consumer that reassuring control described previously.



Final thoughts

At the time of writing, online hotel booking firms have been taken to task by the Competition and Markets Authority for some of their sales practices, including the use of CTAs that suggest rooms are in shorter supply than they really are. As with all messaging, the aim of finding the ultimate CTA should never overtake the need to maintain brand integrity.



Beware too of offending cultural sensibilities, which change over time, or of not being entirely clear of what action you are calling for. Quite apart from the condescending attitude to women of this infamous advertisement from the long defunct Willesden Electricity Company, its CTA is sinisterly unclear!



Here at Zing, we undertake a message-led approach to everything we create. Take a look at some of our past projects to see for yourself.

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