As a small business owner, one of your top priorities is bringing new customers to your business. You can have a beautiful business website, eye-catching ads, and expertly curated social media accounts, but the key to truly effective business marketing is providing your potential customers with a clear and actionable next step. That’s where the call to action comes in.
The call to action (CTA) is an invaluable tool for business owners hoping to convince potential customers to take a desired action—whether that means purchasing a product, downloading a white paper, signing up for a free trial, getting a coupon, or any number of other possibilities.
Whether it appears as a line in a sales pitch or a button on an app, a call to action is your opportunity to move your audience to the next step in the sales funnel using clear, concise language.
Sound straightforward? For the most part, it is. But plenty of small business owners still struggle to craft effective CTAs. Fortunately, we’re here to walk you through just what makes for a great call to action, whether you’re trying to convert a customer or simply build brand awareness. Keep reading to find out more. (And yes, that was a CTA.)
Call to Action Definition
A call to action is a brief statement that urges someone to take further action with your business. This can take many forms, such as a pop-up when someone lands on your website’s homepage, the “swipe up” feature on an Instagram story to direct someone to a specific product, or a line at the end of an advertisement that provides your business’s phone number and the directive to “Call today!”
In other words, a call to action helps guide potential customers in the direction you want them to go. The end goal may be to buy the product or service your business offers, but there are many steps along the way that you can direct them to as well, including signing up for emails, downloading a resource, speaking with a sales rep, and more. Each of these actions will provide your business with useful information that can ultimately lead to a sale.
Besides being an effective lead generation strategy, though, CTAs can also be beneficial to the customer. Someone who’s unfamiliar with your business may not be sure what next steps to take, and a well-placed call to action removes the guesswork and provides a positive user experience.
This call to action prompts visitors to enter their email in exchange for a discount. Image source: Gap.
Call to Action Examples
Whether you’ve realized it or not, you’ve likely interacted with many CTAs throughout your lifetime. Some common examples include:
- Call now to take advantage of this offer.
- Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates.
- Visit our website to learn more.
- Sign up now and save 20%.
When to Use a Call to Action
As we mentioned, CTAs are good for more than making a sale—although you should always keep that end in mind when developing your call to action strategy. Essentially, a call to action can be used anytime you want to drive a potential customer to take the next step.
If you want to direct someone to a related article after they reach the end of the first one, your CTA may be a link with the text “Read more.” If you’re promoting a product or special offer, your call to action will direct users to the part of your website where they can make a purchase. Think of it as a flashing neon sign telling customers you’re open for business (Note: We don’t recommend actually making your CTA button flashing or neon. The goal is to be eye-catching, not obnoxious.)
CTAs can also be a great way to build out your email list or expand your social following. Beyond the familiar “share” button, you can use a call to action to promote a piece of content, coupon, or something else in exchange for information like your user’s email address.
How to Create an Effective Call to Action
Now that you know what calls to action are and why your business should use them, let’s get into some tips for creating effective CTAs. Keep in mind that while CTAs can benefit your business, they have to be done right.
Use Persuasive Language
Wherever your call to action lives, the underlying goal is simple: Get the user to take the desired action. In most cases, your CTA will appear at the end of a piece of content, TV ad, or sales pitch, allowing the preceding information to do some of the heavy lifting for you.
In all cases, it should be clear to the reader what will happen next when they click (or otherwise follow) your CTA. Your language should be persuasive and leave nothing to the imagination. Use strong verbs like “shop,” “subscribe,” or “download,” and lead off your call to action with them. A few examples:
- Shop our winter sale.
- Subscribe to our newsletter.
- Download the podcast.
This call to action uses a strong verb to drive customers to shop. Image source: Amazon.
The last thing you want is for a user to ignore your call to action, but having them click through only to bounce seconds later doesn’t do you much good either. Prevent any potential for confusion by explicitly stating the “action” part of your call to action right at the get-go.
Finesse Your Tone
Getting the basic facts across is only one piece of the call to action puzzle. You don’t just want to communicate something to your reader—you want to engage them, excite them, and get them to follow through on your CTA.
That’s not always the easiest task when you’re working with a limited character count, but a bit of creative verbiage (and a well-placed exclamation point) can go a long way. Let’s workshop those examples from above:
- Shop our winter sale > Warm up with our winter half-off sale.
- Subscribe to our newsletter > Get the latest with our weekly newsletter.
- Download the podcast > Tune in to the first episode!
Alternately, you can use the text immediately preceding your CTA to set up the action using colorful, exciting language, and then pare down the call to action itself to just a single well-placed word or two:
- Start shopping.
- Subscribe now.
- Download here.
This call to action button features just one word, but the preceding text provides additional information to convince readers to provide their email. Image source: 614NOW.
Test Different Options
As you can tell, there are lots of different options for where to place a call to action and when, what words to use, and how to design it. Especially as you’re starting out and figuring out what resonates best with your audience, you’ll want to experiment with different variations of your call to action to see what works—and what doesn’t. Do an A/B test and see which version of your CTA results in the best click-through rate.
Try out different designs, placements, and types of phrasing. Experiment with your tone, voice, and the length of text, or try framing a particular promotion in two different ways: “50% Off” vs. “Limited-time sale,” for example.
One rule of thumb: When conducting an A/B test, choose one specific variable to focus on at a time. Don’t try out two versions using entirely different colors, language, and positioning on the page. Your CTAs should be identical except for one of those things—otherwise, you’ll never know which element ended up driving better click-through.
While the basic goal of a CTA remains the same from one platform to the next, the execution will probably vary. Desktops and tablets can accommodate longer blocks of text (although you should still aim to keep your copy concise), while mobile CTAs should be as pared down and to-the-point as possible.
You should also consider the user behaviors of people reading on a desktop or tablet compared to someone looking at their phone. Mobile users are more likely to be ready to make a purchase, while desktop/tablet users are typically in the research phase and not quite ready to make a decision. Consider creating CTAs that only appear on mobile devices, with their own language and destination. Your desktop call to action might drive toward an informational page, for instance, while your mobile version cues up an actual phone call.
Finally, it’s worth giving some thought to how the design dovetails with how people use their smartphones. Pay attention to the “thumb zone” and make sure your CTA button is easy to reach—not hiding way off in the corner of the screen.
Choose the Right Destination
Once you’ve convinced someone to click on your call to action, what happens next? You’ll want to point your user toward a page that correlates to a specific stage in the acquisition funnel, and (like the CTA itself) leaves no confusion about what they’re supposed to do.
For example, if the purpose of your call to action is to convince customers to download a white paper, don’t direct them to your general content landing page and expect them to fend for themselves. Make sure it takes them to the specific piece of content teased in the CTA copy, so they’re not left clicking around and, most likely, bouncing in frustration. In this case, however, it’s fine to link your user to a lead generation form they need to fill out before downloading the white paper.
Still not sure what to do? Think back to your customer journey and consider what stage your call to action represents. Would someone who clicks on it be prepared to make a purchase, or are they still in the process of evaluating your business—or even just learning what it is? In the latter two cases, you might consider pointing your user toward a customer success story, FAQ page, or product demo video.
The Bottom Line
Whatever type of small business you operate, a well-crafted call to action is a proven method for capturing potential customers’ interest, whether your copy appears in a banner ad or at the end of a blog post.
Once you’ve created your calls to action, be sure to track their performance so you can continue to improve your CTA strategy and drive more customers to your business.
Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines.
Sally has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English and history from Columbia University. Email: email@example.com.