We all know the importance, or at least the relevance, of call to actions (CTAs) in all of our marketing efforts (and if you don’t, you’re about to learn about it).

Think for a moment about how many newsletters you’re signed up for, how many subscriptions you’ve started or how many downloads you’ve clicked on. Chances are, if you hadn’t been drawn in by their copy or CTA design, you would have engaged with far fewer of them. But they caught your attention, and gave you a compelling (likely low pressure) reason to act.

A poorly written call to action, on the other hand, negates all the hard work put into your visual identity and design supporting your copy. You could have lead your customer all the way through the funnel, and with one wrong turn, halted their excitement and ended the engagement entirely.

There’s a deep level of strategy and psychology that goes into choosing the right design and language to make your call to action impactful, and that’s exactly what we’ll be exploring here. We’ll review a variety of common CTA’s and compare multiple options presenting the same piece of information, and decipher why one works better than the other.

All this information, of course, will be subjective and different for your specific audience. If you’re ever unsure of what direction to go in, this is a perfect situation to A/B test your choices and see what performs best. When it comes to subtle nuances in your call to action style and voice, it never hurts to test something and see how it does.

Let’s Cover the Basics:

Your call to action is what encourages your audience to respond to your marketing initiative. And ultimately, it’s what drives them to support your overall objective. As mentioned earlier, this is going to differ depending on your audience and of course how you want to interact with them, but some of the most common CTA’s include:

  • Subscribe Now.

  • Try For Free.

  • Get Started.

  • Learn More.

While these are all very generic and commonly used, sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Learn more, for instance, has become so common place as a link to more information that it does its job very well when used for that purpose.

When you’re presenting a bit more than a simple subscription note or a learn more link, it helps to get granular and think of the subtle details your CTA is hinting at.

Before we start jumping into comparing the pro’s and con’s of different CTA options, it’s important to note that the majority of strong call to actions will have these common characteristics:

  • They present a low-risk offer.
  • They come with a sense of urgency.

The low-risk side of your CTA is an important one, as it allows viewers to act without feeling like they’re now stuck with the decisions they made. “Try for Free” “14 Day Trial” or “Sign up Now, Cancel Anytime” all help alleviate concerns that the action the customer is about to take will be one they’re stuck with if they regret their decision or change their mind later on, giving them confidence to make a decision. “Sign up Now” “Space is Limited” or “Only 15 remaining” all point at a sense of urgency – that time is running out, and that the viewer needs to react quickly if they’re going to secure this offer.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s begin reviewing some options for common Call to Actions, and see why one choice may be better than the others.

Call To Actions Should Present Themselves as Low-Risk, and With a Sense of Urgency.

Download Now vs. Yes, I want ‘X’

This is an interesting example because one is rather common (we’ve all seen a download button before) and one presents the same call to action in a very different style.

Why ‘Yes, I want ‘X’ works:
This phrasing is powerful because it’s an affirmative CTA, meaning when the consumer reads it, they inherently read it as if it’s in their own voice, and it gets planted subconsciously as if it was their own original thought, giving them a more compelling and convincing reason to act.

Offer Ends Soon! Vs You’re Running Out of Time!

Arguably both of these call-to-actions work well depending on the subject at hand for two key reasons. Beyond offering a clear sense of urgency, they also introduce of feeling of scarcity – both of which are deep routed psychological principles that work effectively when not overdone.

While the first example does both of these things well, one could argue that there’s a greater sense of both of these traits with the latter – making your reader more likely to stop what they’re doing and take notice. Ending soon could mean a lot of things, but running out of time is a feeling everyone can relate to.

Why this works:
The level of urgency presented with this call to action makes it especially important for your audience to act immediately. It’s not uncommon for a consumer to talk themselves out of accepting an offer when they are given additional time to think about their options, so giving them a compelling reason to act in the moment, when done sparingly, typically yields much better results.

Get ‘X’ Now vs. Activate ‘X’ Today!

Now we’re getting pretty subtle into the nuances. Both of these CTA’s provide a sense of urgency. Two subtle things, though, are happening in the ‘Activate ‘X’ Today’ phrasing that aren’t presented in the former.

Why ‘Activate ‘X’ Today!’ Works:
This call to action is more compelling primarily because of the word activate, which brings along with it two counterparts.
It provides a stronger sense of action. Activating something sounds a lot more interesting than getting it.
Activating also carries with it the sense that this can also be ‘deactivated’, making it more effective at presenting itself as a low-risk action to take.

Scarcity is another helpful tool in creating compelling Call to Actions - making the customer feel like they're receiving something exclusive by acting now.

Sign up Today vs Reserve Your Spot Now

This is a good example for a call to action offering your audience to attend a webinar, training or event. The first is clearly a recognizable and more common approach, while the latter is a more creative interpretation of the same offer.

Why ‘Reserve Your Spot Now’ works:
What this is doing is offering an additional layer of exclusivity with the offer – it subtly communicates that limited space is available, while making your audience feel as if they’re getting into something not everyone will have access to by acting on the CTA.

While this isn't a fully encompassing review of every possible CTA, this should give you a helpful starting place to determine what adjustments you can make to your CTA's to make them more effective. As mentioned earlier, any time you're in doubt, A/B testing your updated CTA's is a safe and trusted approach to seeing how your audience responds to the new language.