Don’t let the simplicity of the humble website call-to-action (CTA) button fool you. It has great power. When a CTA is built to its best advantage, CTA marketing can initiate, strengthen, and foster customer relationships — and, really, isn’t that the point of marketing?
Given its marketing mojo, you may be wondering what makes for an effective CTA. If you search online, you'll find lots of examples of great CTAs that you can't help but click. Sure, they look great, but what makes them work? Let's take a look.
What is a CTA in Marketing?
First things first. As the name suggests, a call-to-action delivers concise, actionable direction to an audience — like “Download Now” or “Find Out More.” Essentially, a CTA is a vehicle to get visitors from one piece of content to the next for mutual benefit: visitors are better informed and marketers increase conversion opportunities.
More Than Meets the Eye
It seems pretty cut and dried, but the value of CTA functionality runs deeper than being a great tool for guiding visitors along a particular path predetermined by the marketer.
Marketers have a real opportunity to orchestrate relationship-building conversion strategies based on the content and offers set before visitors. By transparently describing what the user can expect when they click and placing the CTA where it makes sense to the user. More on that later.
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In addition, inbound marketing has really opened marketers’ eyes to CTA dynamics by attaching analytics capabilities. Robust marketing automation tools like HubSpot have CTA tools within their platform. HubSpot’s tool embeds code to measure individual CTA performance metrics and also improves marketing efficiencies. There’s always the challenge of keeping content fresh and searchable, and HubSpot's CTA tool allows you to change hundreds of CTA instances in a couple of clicks instead of having to touch each piece individually. The pathways to conversion — your content — are perpetually managed with minimal time investment. Win-win.
The Big Four: Elements of An Effective CTA
CTA functionality is increasingly sophisticated, but it’s only part of the effectiveness equation. After all, visitors can’t see all the magic happening behind the scenes. But they can give the CTA meaning by reacting to what a CTA looks like, where it’s placed, and what it says.
There are four foundational elements to a successful call-to-action (CTA):
Blogs and websites present different CTA web design opportunities, but sizing is the commonality. Designing the CTA to fit the designated space — often across the entire width of a blog and to the columnar width of a web page — helps visitors effortlessly find it. Simple, relevant visuals further attract the eye and a short, clickable headline or button spurs action. Unbounce does a fine job at maximizing CTA design with the hero area on their home page. Bonus, this CTA is dynamic and changes to address three different pain points of their users:
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CTA button space naturally limits message length. Strategically choose a few clear and compelling words to inform visitors of exactly what to do and expect, as demonstrated in one of our highest performing graphic CTAs:
A word of caution. Messages that include highly persuasive words — you, guarantee, results, free, new, etc. — suggest value and encourage clicks, but they should never be forceful or misleading regardless of buyer journey stage.
There’s also growing evidence that the CTA itself can be a relationship-building touchstone. Smart CTAs — tailored to an individual visitor based on location, browser, language, lead/customer status, etc. — outperform more basic versions by a whopping 202%1. Why? The content offers, like the CTA message, are personalized to the visitor’s level of topic knowledge and interest.
In terms of conversion, the content offer contributes to CTA messaging success. If the asset is particularly interesting to visitors, they'll likely click through without needing much of a CTA nudge.
Your asset mix is critical: content-rich assets like eBooks and whitepapers balanced with a variety of shorter and more visually-rich content such as video and infographics. Including interactive tools like templates, calculators, and choose-your-own-adventures has a dual benefit — it’s helpful to visitors and it also really differentiates your content from your competitors.
According to a HubSpot CTA study, it’s estimated that only about 6% of leads come in through blog post CTAs2. This is largely attributable to visitors not reading the entire blog (and, therefore, not reaching the CTA button at the bottom) and their increasing willingness to ignore CTAs — a fate similar to that of banner ads.
Changing the CTA to text-only and relocating it to the middle of a post, known as an anchor text CTA, resulted in a 90% jump in lead conversions2 for HubSpot! That’s a strong case for anchor text-based CTA placement, like so:
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Relegating CTAs to the bottom of the page is risky, but there are options beyond anchor text CTAs. For example, providing more than one chance to click the CTA throughout a post or web page encourages clicks.
We've also found great success in prominently featuring a CTA on the home page above the fold, and placing multiple CTAs elsewhere on the home page or other prominent website areas. It give visitors a wealth of options and confidence in your thought leadership:
Believing you have the right design, message, and placement is one thing. Knowing it is another.
A/B testing compares two versions of a CTA to see which one performs better based on real-time data and statistics. This straightforward process then informs your marketing choices in promoting high-performing CTAs and/or optimizing less successful versions.
When creating your A/B test versions, it's important to only change one detail so you can accurately determine what influenced the results. It may seem insignificant, but details matter. CTA button colors and shapes, for example, can sway decision-making as can how the copy is crafted:
Testing isn’t a one-and-done process. Continuously optimizing CTAs based on learnings and historical data can make a real impact. Mailer Lite certainly got to the heart of the matter with this fact-based, amusing CTA:
When developed with these elements in mind, CTAs are a small but highly impactful tool in optimizing inbound marketing search and conversion rates.
Speaking of CTAs, check out this one for a nifty infographic on lead generation and nurturing. You know what to do. (Click. That's what you do.)