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Helen Chen Helen Chen is a recent Boston University graduate with a degree in psychology and a minor in philosophy. Helen aims to integrate psychology into marketing to foster more cognizant consumers, as well as marketers. In her free time, you can find her catching up on politics, appreciating art, or drinking tea.
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Bart De Pelsmaeker Bart is a digital marketing veteran and the founder of Readz, a platform used by brands of all sizes to create superior content experiences. His writing has been featured in Sparksheet, Business2Community, Skyword and other martech publications. He speaks regularly about tech and marketing, most recently at the World e-Reading Congress, American Business Media, and the Integrated Marketing Summit. Connect with Bart on Twitter @BartDP.
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Todays marketers know that writing great content is only half the battle. The other part - the really hard part - is getting readers to take action. Which is why calls to action are so important. While every page element plays a unique part, the call to action makes that physical response possible. Calls to action, unlike any other elements, can turn prospects into viable leads in the click of a button.

Your call-to-action is when the rubber hits the road. So you better get it right! So what do you have to do to get it right? Here are several influence and persuasion tactics to test.
Imply urgency
Emphasize "free"
“Free” captures attention in a powerful way. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely conducted a study in which he gave people the option to choose between two special offers: A $10 Amazon gift certificate for free, and a $20 gift card available for $7. Strangely enough, more people chose the $10 gift card even though the other option provided more value. All because of the word "free." In another study published by VWO, AP automation services company Corcentric tested how the word affected the click-through rate of their CTAs: ‘Get A Demo’ vs ‘Free Demo.’
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The version with ‘Free’ increased click-through rate by 99.42 percent. So how can you use this tactic? Here's a consideration: Offer up something for free, like a free demo, ebook, shipping, or trial to grab visitor attention. This gives them a risk-free opportunity to try your service before fully committing, and makes them more open to converting down the road. Here's another: If you run a blog and are trying to get more readers to signup or subscribe, throw the word free in there (as long as it's really free)!
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MailChimp does this, too, and takes the extra step to offer an additional link that reads, ‘Need convincing?’ for folks who aren't motivated so much by 'free.'
Use first-person pronouns
Changing the possessive determiner from ‘You’ to ‘My’ can also be very effective. For one company, it increased click-through rate by 90 percent. This is a great example of how some of the simplest, smallest changes can result in the biggest lifts. The reasoning behind this likely has to do with personalization. By using the words ‘Me’ ‘My’ and ‘I,’ site visitors can form a connection with your brand, product or service. Moreover, emotion is a huge driver in decision making. Using first-person pronouns make visitors feel that there's a personal benefit to clicking your offer.
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Joanna Wiebe from Copyblogger tested this concept with one of her own clients. She found that first-person pronouns (‘I’ and ‘my’) beat out second-person pronouns (‘you' and ‘your’) by 24 percent. Bottom line, take the time connect and engage with your customers. There are more methods than just pronouns.
Balance CTA text
Your CTAs should include awesome action words, but not the same ones every time. Don’t be a mall salesperson - you know, the people next to the mall kiosks, who throw out the same line to every shopper passing by. This type of marketing reeks of desperation and only drives people away. You have to strike a balance between unique and creative, and simple and direct. Using the same line over and over will quickly lose its effectiveness. Also avoid using vague language like ‘next’ or ‘continue.’ These words are highly overused, so much so that they start to blend in with everything else. Words like these also imply a delay in gratification, which we already established should be avoided at all costs. Instead, take the time to actually get to know your customers. Learn their interests, what they love, what they hate, how they talk, and how they want to be talked to. Then use this knowledge to formulate the best phrasing for and around your CTAs. Consumers want to feel special, so think up copy geared exclusively to them. Here’s a great example:
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Use scarcity
When customers and prospects can see that a product or offer is time-limited or has a limited amount, they desire it more. By using scarcity, you signal an anxiety-driven response and increase the likelihood the visitor will take action. In a 1975 study, researchers analyzed how people valued identical cookies placed inside two identical glass jars. One jar had 10 cookies while the had just two. The study found that although the cookies (and the jars containing them) were exactly the same, the participants valued the cookies in the near-empty jar more highly. There are a few ways to use scarcity around your CTAs.
  • Stock scarcity - "Only 3 items left!"
  • Competitive scarcity - "12 buyers currently looking at this item"
  • Limited-time scarcity - "15 minutes left to complete your purchase!"
Encourage exploration
An important part in convincing the consumer that they’re making an educated decision in supporting your business is giving them the room to explore. According to HubSpot, a fundamental need that your consumers have is finding out more information about a product or service. There are many ways to do this: You can offer a free trial, demo, or detailed tech guide addressing all possible questions around your product. Exploration (i.e., evaluation) is a key stage in the buyer’s journey you can't afford to ignore. If you don’t offer the information your visitors are looking for, they're going to discount you altogether. Think about it this way: The more the consumer learns about your brand and its services, the better the chances that they will convert.
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Look at how Treehouse (above) appeals to visitors at different stages of the buyer’s journey. There's one CTA for folks ready to begin and another for those who aren’t quite there yet. Here's another effective example:
This call to action is likely to those who need more details before making a final decision.
Focus on the benefits
Make your CTA stand out by sweetening the deal with some added benefits. A classic example of this is the ‘Buy one, get one free’ deal. However, that’s only really effective for products in infomercials and other low-cost items. For pricier products and services - the ones you're likely selling - there are other ways to do this that won’t break the bank. It can be as little as letting the consumer know what exactly their signing up for. For instance, Content Verve tested the efficacy of two CTA buttons: ‘Create my account’ and ‘Create my account & get started.’ They found that by including that one simple benefit, ‘& get started,’ conversion rates increased by 31 percent.
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Because most consumers are skimming, you’ve really got to emphasize the benefits. The benefits are what grabs attention. Again, this doesn’t have to be something big – even something as simple as ‘& start your 14-day trial’ can do the trick.
Provide an alternative option
Keeping instant gratification in mind, you want your CTA to get to the point, even if the point is to learn more. One study found that when publishing a content-based newsletter, using the CTA ‘read more’ decreased click-through rates by 1.8 percent. Avoid this by offering visitors a separate option; "Share this," "Read now," and "See full article" are some alternatives. Remember the earlier example from Treehouse? The company provided two CTAs: one offering a free trial and one to 'see how it works.' People love options. Just be sure not to give too many. Contently, for instance, combats the ‘learn more’ button with ‘talk to us’ and ‘watch demo’ buttons. This gives the consumer room for choice. He/she can read more, contact the sales/service team, or watch a video. They're all options to ‘learn more,’ just in different ways, and with smart copy. These give visitors a sense of freedom and flexibility to learn as they please if reading isn’t really their thing.
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Design is also crucial for successful calls to action. A good CTA button is easy to identify, pops out from the rest of the page, and draws the consumer in. Neil Patel makes some CTA design suggestions, such as utilizing contrasting colors, rectangular or rounded buttons, complimentary borders, and lots of surrounding white space.
Even though the above example is just a hiatus page as Life Tree Creative revamps its site, the design maintains a uniform, cool green color palette with a bright and noticeable CTA. The white text and border surrounding the CTA really make it pop, and because of the ample white space, there is nothing else on the page competing for visitors' attention. In terms of CTA button color, studies have found that changing a CTA button to an unfavorable color can significantly decrease conversion rates. One A/B test used both green and red buttons to determine which color converted better on a client’s web page and found that the red button performed 21 percent better than the green one.
The lesson being? Test your CTAs! Do not guess or assume. You will be sorry.
Consider CTA placement
The idea that placing a call to action above the fold (i.e., the portion of a web page you see before having to scroll) will have a positive an effect on click-through rate is a flawed one. It can be true sometimes, but it really depends on the service you're offering. The more complex your service, the lower your CTA should be on the page. That's because complex services require more information for the consumer to understand it. Similarly, the simpler the product or service, the higher your CTA should go (giving users rapid access to convert). Makes sense.
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But, again, testing this placement is the only real way to know for sure.
Conclusion
Now that you’ve read these tips for higher converting CTAs, it’s time to put them into practice. Remember to maintain a friendly dialogue with your audience and to continue testing and revising so that you can be sure the choices you’ve made are the right ones. What CTA suggestions do you have? What practices work best for you?
The word "now" is extremely effective at provoking action and creating a sense of urgency. We like this word because it satisfies our need for instant gratification. Online, wait time is drastically diminished, making instant gratification practically expected. And, yes, we've become much more impatient because of it. In fact, one study found that 79 percent of us don’t even fully read anymore; we skim. For this reason, it is critical that you use powerful, attention-grabbing words in your marketing, and especially around your CTAs. "Now" is one of these words. In an article on instant gratification in tech, Jason Hreha notes how we're drawn to apps that satisfy this concept. Apps like Tinder and BloomThat. Clearly, we are enticed by speed and put off by delay. Researcher Michael Aagaard set out to test this phenomenon. In an A/B study, he analyzed whether changing the word "Order" to "Get" influenced sales for two versions of the same website (one in English, the other Danish). The study concluded that "Order" implied a lengthy process, while "Get" implied immediacy. By changing this one word, the English website had a 14.8 percent increase in conversions, and the Danish one saw a 38.26 percent increase. The lesson here is, think carefully about the words you use and test, test, test them.
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Stock scarcity. Image from VWO
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Limited-time scarcity. Image from vmware
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Call To Action: Get Higher Conversions With These Influence Tactics
By Bart De Pelsmaeker & Helen Chen
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