How to Create a Call to Action that Really Works

Gina Edwards Gina Edwards May 3, 2018

call to action

Just do it.

Whether this simple slogan makes you think of Nike’s branding or Shia LaBeouf’s intense motivational video, there is one core element in both that is worth learning: a call to action (CTA).

While “call to action” sounds like something reserved for a political protest, it is actually an incredibly important element in driving sales for your business. Written well, a CTA can make the difference between a mildly interested observer and a paying client.

For online business owners, figuring out the right recipe for CTAs is a must.

By first understanding different types of CTAs and their role in your content, and learning strategies for writing effective ones, you can see a huge difference in your clickthrough rates, subscriber lists, and ultimately, conversions.

All CTAs Are Not Created Equal: Hard CTAs Vs. Soft CTAs

First, let’s take a look at what a CTA even is in the first place. It might seem fairly obvious, but a CTA is anything that asks people to do something — be it click, download, share, tweet, or the like.

Depending on the platform you’re using to communicate with your audience, from landing pages, to blog posts, to email newsletters, your CTAs will vary. They will also change depending on what stage of the buying process the reader is in. If you’ve ever built a sales funnel, you know that different points along the way call for different actions.

Early on, you may be using a lead magnet to get someone to subscribe. Subsequently, you might want them to attend a webinar or other online event. From there, you may offer a sign-up for a consultation or other personalized sessions. Toward the end, you could be pushing a bit more heavily in the direction of making the purchase for the consulting services you provide.

For this reason, you will soon realize that CTAs will look different depending on where a potential customer is in the sales process.

Enter, soft CTAs and hard CTAs. These can also be referred to as “main” and “muted” CTAs.

The big difference here is that a soft CTA is a little less pushy — it might ask a reader or user to visit a page, enter an email address, or share a link. Soft CTAs aren’t usually getting anyone to buy anything immediately, but instead are guiding them further along in the sales funnel from awareness to interest or decision.

In contrast, hard CTAs are what can make the sale. They are direct, and usually ask the person to buy. No punches pulled — if a person clicks on a hard CTA, they know that they will probably be taken to a page where they can make the purchase.

Both types of CTAs can work very well at achieving their respective goals, as long as the reader has been appropriately nurtured through the sales funnel process. Generally speaking, soft CTAs should always come first, as hard CTAs are unlikely to be successful at the outset.

Think about this notion in terms of growing a relationship rather than selling something. In this day and age — especially in the online space — it’s a long game. Trust must be established, value provided, and multiple touch points developed, that eventually lead to the offer.

Best Ways to Craft CTAs

Now that we’ve differentiated between the different types of CTAs that you might use, let’s take a look at some tried-and-true strategies for crafting CTAs that really work. Or, in other words, copywriting strategies that really get people to take the desired action.

While some of these strategies apply to both soft and hard CTAs, generally they are more applicable to hard CTAs.

Start With Verbs

The best way to make people take action? Use action verbs. Don’t clutter up your CTA with extra filler. It should be short, precise, and to the point.

Start the CTA with the exact action you want the person to take. Some common action verbs in CTAs include:

  • Download
  • Subscribe
  • Order
  • Check out
  • Sign up
  • Share
  • Click
  • Tweet
  • Opt in
  • Join
  • Get
  • Try
  • Start
  • Discover
  • Learn
  • Find
  • Save
  • Buy
  • Grow
  • Build
  • Stop

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but should give you some ideas to get started.

Create a Sense of Urgency/Scarcity

In the internet age, you want to get people to act quickly, and most importantly, to act now. If people believe that they have a lot of time to make a decision, they will click away, and unfortunately, there’s a solid chance they may never come back.

For this reason, your hard CTA should communicate some sense of urgency or scarcity, be it in the form of a limited sign-up list, short-term sale, or the like.

People should feel as though they need to take whatever action you are proposing now, before time or supplies run out. Words or phrases like “now,””limited supply,””run out,” and “flash” can all evoke this sense that action must be taken quickly.

Provoke Emotions

Similar to the above point, you should aim to elicit some kind of emotional response from your reader when crafting your CTAs. They should include language that excites, motivates, encourages, or otherwise moves people, on an emotional level, to take action.

Tap into these emotions by thinking about the pain solved or pleasure caused by your business.

Are you providing relief? Enhancing enjoyment? Entertaining? Making something easier?

In the end, these emotions are really what your business is selling. For this reason, they should be integrated closely into your CTAs.

call to action

In this soft CTA from Privy that invites readers to a webinar, they use several evocative words related to emotions: love, dread, risk, and overwhelmed. They are speaking to the feelings that come up for many people when working on their email list.

call to action

In contrast, this hard CTA from the Boston Globe gets straight to the point, but still provokes emotions through its presentation: making people feel the urgency of saving money through the color scheme, and use of “miss out”, “today” and “now.”

Make It Easy to Say Yes

People are savvier now than ever before. They can smell trickery or a scam from miles away. For this reason, you want to demonstrate in your CTA that taking said action doesn’t pose any risk to the person doing so.

If it’s a download, emphasize that it is free.

If it’s an email signup, remind them that you won’t send them spam.

If it’s a purchase, mention a money-back guarantee.

Sometimes, these reassurances can be placed within the CTA itself, or nearby it. Whatever way you go about it, make sure the list of reasons why people could say no is very limited by eliminating any potential barriers that might make people hesitate. A great way to do this for email capturing can be to add a pop-up or header at the top of your website so people can just punch in their address and be on their way without overthinking it.

Use a Tool or Follow the Leaders

If you aren’t used to the sales world, or question the strength of your CTA writing skills, you may want to consider using some online tools or basing your CTAs off of those used by the big names in the business.

One such online resource is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer — a tool that allows you to write in a headline, and gives you a rating for how strong it is. If you are just getting started crafting CTAs, this site could be a great resource for building up your savvy and seeing how punchy your writing is.

Alternatively, a great way to get inspired to write your own CTAs is looking at those on other sites, perhaps ones that have convinced you to take action. Peruse other websites and take note of the different CTAs in their blog posts, website copy, and the like to get some ideas for ways that you could craft yours.


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Go Forth and Write Effective CTAs

In a time when online entrepreneurs are spread dangerously thin across various aspects of their business, most people wouldn’t think that a few, simple words could make the difference between a conversion and a bounce  but that is the power of a well-written CTA.

When it comes to writing a call to action for your business, learn what you are doing. Determine if you need a soft or hard CTA for your content depending on the users’ location in your sales funnel, and then get to work crafting it.

Since CTAs are all about action, choose strong verbs that send a clear message for desired action by provoking a sense of urgency, and leveraging emotions. No matter where your potential customer is in the sales funnel, make your CTA clear and easy to say yes to. Should you find yourself floundering, sniff around for some help via online tools or inspiration from fellow online entrepreneurs.

Whatever you do, though, don’t waste any more time.

Just do it.

Photo  Credit: SergeyNivens

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