Calls-to-action are what make your online marketing strategy profitable. They serve as a soft sales pitch to your online visitor, encouraging them to either make a direct purchase or take some other action that increases their chances of eventually purchasing. Optimizing these CTAs can lead you to higher sales, but there’s a distinct problem most online marketers face: because the CTA is a sales pitch, it’s easy to lose consumers’ interest and trust. If you have a large pop-up with text like “BUY NOW!!!!!!”, most of your users are simply going to bail.
A subtle approach is almost universally better—you have to be sneaky with your CTAs, but not sneaky in a way that deceives your users. Instead, you have to provide CTAs that are obvious, unintimidating, and undemanding of your users—but don’t appear to be sales pitches. Does that sound impossible to you? Try one of these seven sneaky-but-not-too-sneaky calls-to-action:
Asking for personal information is a bit of an intrusion. When you ask for a user’s email, name, and other bits of information, it’s obvious you’re going to use it to market to them. On the other hand, if you’re offering a subscription to a newsletter or content round-up email, that personal information is simply necessary. By asking for email newsletter signups, you don’t seem like you’re explicitly trying to sell to them; you’re just implementing a necessary part of the process. This works almost as well when asking for personal information in exchange for a free ebook or whitepaper; just don’t get greedy by asking for too many pieces of personal information.
This is especially useful if you’re offering software-as-a-service (SaaS) or another digital product. When you invite someone in for a tour of your product, you aren’t making a hard sales pitch, nor are you asking for any kind of commitment (like with the submission of personal information). Instead, you’re merely earning a chance to show off the highlights of your product/service. Depending on what you’re selling, you could offer a webinar-style demonstration, a short video clip, or an interactive online element to guide users on your product. By the end of the tour, if they like what they see, you’ll be that much closer to a done deal.
This is a CTA for a blog article or similar piece of content. As you’re probably aware, some of the best title/topic ideas for an ongoing content strategy come from common questions or problems that users have—not only do you appear more knowledgeable and authoritative by writing about these topics, you also have a higher chance of showing up in searches for those problems. After addressing the problem or issue, casually introduce your product as one solution—just don’t make it the focus of the article. Include a link to the purchase page, and you should be good to go.
Chat windows can be obnoxious or almost innocuous—be sure yours is the latter. Instead of going the obvious route with a “how can I help you with your purchase” style approach or using chat exclusively for customer service and troubleshooting, offer a chat window for general questions. People prefer interaction to indirect communication when they’re uncertain (e.g. they prefer chat over sending a support email), and you’ll get a chance to soft convert more users that way.
In order to use a “free trial” style CTA effectively, your trial needs to be truly risk-free. That means you have to collect as little information as possible—the minute a credit card number enters into the equation, people get skeptical. You can offer a free trial of your product or service anywhere on your website—and if you frame it the right way, it will look more like a free gift than an attempt to convert.
I’m assuming most of your online visitors are either coming in or staying because they like the content you’ve produced. Instead of trying to sell them on something else, sell them on more content. For example, you can offer a whitepaper or ebook at the bottom of your blog for more avid readers, or simply interlink to more blog posts with CTAs of their own.
This isn’t a CTA by itself so much as it’s a modifier on an existing CTA. Including a countdown timer induces a sense of urgency, and encourages users to make a final decision. Most potential conversions are lost due to hesitation, and “temporary” offers eliminate or reduce that hesitation. As long as you aren’t obnoxious with your countdown timer, it will serve as a subtle, sneaky layer of persuasion to help your users make the final call.
The more conversions you get through calls to action, the more profitable your marketing campaign will be, and the more recurring revenue you’ll receive from every visitor who crosses your path.
The problem is, creating a good call to action is hard. Countless companies have succeeded in driving thousands of visitors to their sites, only to suffer from low conversion rates because they didn’t have strong enough calls to action. Whether you’re creating an ad-style banner image or you’re embedding some short text in the middle of your blog post, these 10 factors are what make a call to action great:
Your first job with any call to action is to make sure it’s visible. A user can’t buy a product unless they first see the product, right? For content-based CTAs, this means offering a callout as a separate line of text. For ad-based CTAs, this means putting the design in front of the user as soon as possible on the page. Once you’ve got their eyes, you can start working on the other elements of a successful CTA.
People trust other people more than they trust corporate brands. If you want to make a strong appeal, you’ll need traces of personality in your CTA. To get things started, write the text of your CTA in your unique, personable brand voice. Including images of people in your design can also increase conversions—people always respond well to faces. You can also make a callout to your personal brand as a kind of person-to-person appeal.
Social confirmation carries a powerful effect. If other people have reviewed your product (or service), show off those reviews and encourage more people to join in the benefits. Try to get a testimonial or two from your current or most active customers, and feature them near your CTA. If you can also include images of these real customers, you’ll capitalize on both the “testimony” and “personality” elements of a great CTA.
People don’t convert just for the hell of it. They convert because there’s a clear value to converting. In the case of buying a product, it’s your job to convince customers that your product is worth more than the amount of money you’re asking for it. Even for simple transactions, like asking for users’ email addresses, you’ll need to make a value proposition to make the CTA worthwhile.
Make sure your visitors understand the value of what you’re offering them—whether that’s a star product or a free trial of your software. Keeping things concise, a handful of bullet points should do the job just fine—otherwise, include a brief testimonial or a list of credentials that convince your visitors that you know what you’re talking about.
When it comes to the value of your CTA, the full description of whatever it is you’re selling, and your motivations for selling it, clarity is king. The more transparent you are in your intentions and offers, the better. Let consumers know exactly what it is they’ll get by signing up for your newsletter, or highlight all the important properties that distinguish your product from the competition.
This goes along with the “visibility” property, but it carries enough weight on its own that it deserves an independent mention. Your call-to-action needs to stand out from the rest of your page. If you have too many distractions circling around your page, people won’t have the opportunity to click your call-to-action. Use contrasting colors, like orange against blue, to make your callout stand out, or make use of minimalistic white space in the majority of your page design. Eliminate distractions.
Clarity is important, but only if you’re being concise. Most CTAs do not afford you the room to fully and thoroughly explain every aspect of your business and product. Instead, you get only a few sentences. Finding a way to communicate your value and intentions in only a few words is a challenge, but a necessary one if you want to succeed. Remember, you can always include a link to more information for those who need more before making a decision.
Though it might seem strange on the surface, including a directional indication toward your CTA can actually increase your conversions. For example, if you include an arrow pointing to the “submit” button of your email list signup, you’ll see an increased conversion rate. Using human images with eyes focused on a CTA can have a similar effect.
It isn’t enough to make your CTA visible and direct people to it. Even if they find value in your offer and like everything you’re saying, they still might abandon you if the completion process is long, annoying, or otherwise inconvenient. Make your conversion process easier by reducing it to fewer steps, asking for fewer fields to fill out, and making it easy to understand exactly what’s required.
In your wording and presentation, your call-to-action needs to demonstrate some level of urgency. For example, simply including the word “now” somewhere in your copy instantly elevates the immediacy of your request. You can also do this by implementing various marketing tricks—such as including a countdown timer for a special deal, or advertising a discount for a “limited time only.” Just be aware that too many of these can seem gimmicky, so keep it balanced.
Finally, a bit of reassurance in a CTA can go a long way. If you’re asking for an email address, assure your users that you won’t use it for anything they didn’t sign up for. If you’re selling a product, mention your money-back guarantee. Make people feel comfortable converting.
Overbearing calls-to-action are getting to be a problem in the online world, especially for gimmicky products like weight loss pills and other less-than-clinically-approved health supplements. They’re bogged down with sexy pictures, flashing arrows, exclamation points, and all kinds of other gimmicks designed to get people to click. In a sense, they’re following all the advice I have listed—except to the extreme. People are turned away by this type of format, so try to keep your call-to-action modest. Include these tricks and tactics, but only do so to an extent that doesn’t alienate your visitors.
Finally, keep in mind that imposing a single call-to-action on your visitors can make people feel uncomfortable, and might persuade them to leave instead of signing up. Instead of forcing a black-or-white decision, present your visitors with multiple options. For example, you can have “add to cart” or “add to wishlist” to keep your customer interested in a product he/she doesn’t want to buy immediately. Or, you could have a “download our free ebook” button against a “signup for our email newsletter” button. Either way, you win.
If you can develop a call-to-action with these seven features, you should have no problem getting the conversions—and therefore the revenue—that your business needs in order to thrive. Just remember that building your conversions is a process that takes patience, attention, and ongoing tinkering. It’s never as simple as turning on a switch. Once you optimize for conversions, you will then want to ensure you fully maximize your traffic with quality content and a good link building campaign. A good conversion rate is ideal, but bringing more people into the top of the funnel and converting them, only then is your website completely optimized.
Depending on the nature of your business and what you need in a conversion, not all of these CTA options are going to work for you. You’ll probably find at least one or two that simply aren’t applicable for your model or appropriate for your user base. But even if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you should have a good idea about what makes a good, subtle call-to-action. Put those concepts to good use on your own internal pages, and watch as your conversion rates start to climb.