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How to Write a Great Call to Action

Charles Samuel

If you’ve ever watched children’s television, chances are you’ve seen a call to action or two. Anytime Dora the Explorer takes a break from exploring to request viewers rub their hands together to help her start a fire? That’s a call to action.

In Dora’s case, the “CTA” is easy enough to break down into its parts. There’s a request (to rub your hands together) and there’s a promise (you’ll help her start a fire).

More important, the promise of the CTA ties to something bigger at stake. For Dora, the fire helps her move along her journey. In content marketing parlance, calls to action work the same way. Brands promise customers something valuable to move them forward along their own information journeys. In turn, those customer actions power entire sales funnels.

Writing effective and powerful calls to action doesn’t just look at the present—it considers the bigger picture.

The anatomy of a good call to action

While the science and finer details of conversion rate optimization can get complex, we can break down a good call to action into three best practices:

  1. Start with a goal. What actions do you want your audience to take? Maybe it’s lead generation. Maybe it’s event registration. It could be just reading another article or watching another video. Craft your CTA’s messaging to drive the appropriate response.
  2. Be extremely clear. Your audience should know what they’ll get for completing an action. But they should also know if they’re the right fit for what you’re offering. Be clear with the CTA copy so you drive meaningful results from the right audience segments.
  3. Keep it simple. The rumors are true: Goldfish have longer attention spans than human beings. On top of that, humans also have to wade through oceans of pesky digital noise. Simplify your CTA copy to reduce friction and ultimately increase conversions.

“Rub your hands together to help me start a fire” accomplishes this perfectly. Not only is there a goal, but the message is clear and about as simple as it gets.

When thinking about your own CTA strategy, start with these three components. But make some room in your arsenal because we need to talk about leveling up to the big leagues.


4 tips to improve your call-to-action strategy

Whether it’s a call-to-action button, a hyperlink, or some other visual interstitial, remember that a CTA is essentially an interruption for your audience. You’re asking for their attention in exchange for some sort of value.

To drive results worth writing home about, make these strategic interruptions compelling. Here’s how.

1. Make it look clickable. Unless your audience actually likes to frantically click across their screen like it’s a disorienting game of Whac-A-Mole, make the action obvious. Is the link a different style or color than the text around it? Is there contrast between the button’s text color and its background? Your CTA should look like a CTA.

2. Invoke positive emotions. A call to action that reads “Get Started” feels distinctly engaging: Clicking here means you can be off on your new adventure in seconds. On the other hand—almost ironically—a CTA that reads “Click Here” doesn’t feel too click-worthy. It’s subtle, but the words you use can either inspire or say nothing at all. Always choose the former.

3. Use copy to build anticipation. A CTA is only as effective as the copy that supports it. For digital marketers, it doesn’t matter how good your gated asset or promotional download is if the copy around your call to action falls flat. Leverage FOMO (fear of missing out) and explain what’s in it for your audience if they decide to click through to your offer.

In fact …

4. Use technology to make your copy dynamic. Today’s marketing automation platforms (or MAPs) aren’t your father’s marketing automation platforms. Use modern MAPs to hyper-personalize ad creative and landing pages—to engage with specific segments with targeted messaging that resonates with them. And look beyond just first-name personalization. Location, industry, job title, and a host of other psychographic data is at your disposal to elevate your calls to action.

That last point’s got some especially impressive numbers to back it up. According to HubSpot, personalized CTAs drive 202% more conversions than generic versions. Even if your marketing technology lacks this level of sophistication, you can still customize CTA variations with a good audience segmentation strategy.

Great examples of calls to action are in places you least expect. Purple, the mattress brand, often produces creative videos to flank their simple ad copy. Here’s one:

In this example, the CTA appears to be nothing more than an uninspiring “Learn More.” But where the copy lacked, the video shined bright. In the ad, a woman carefully builds a house of cards on one side of the bed while her partner suddenly leaps into frame, crash-landing onto the other side of the bed. The house of cards stayed tall on the motion-isolating Purple mattress.

It’s one example of a great CTA because the copy, the visual, and the evoked emotions build up inspiration that moves people to take an action.

Nothing’s more important than the journey

So, we’ve covered the basics of what makes an effective call to action. We’ve also gone over a few tips to increase your CTA’s emotional wallop.

There’s one more thing we alluded to earlier (when we went rogue with the Dora the Explorer sidebar): Remember the journey. The call to action is just one of many actions you want your customer to take with you.

This process is most evident on a movie set. The director yelling “Action!” over the hushed room has become caricatured as what Hollywood is all about. But it’s hardly the most important word or phrase the director says on set.

There’s also “Rolling!”—to warn the cast and crew that cameras and sound are rolling. There’s “Quiet on set!”—to silence everybody before the shot begins. There’s “Standby!” and “Cut!”

On a movie set, “Action!” is only as effective as all the other requests made to move the production forward. For content marketers, a single call to action is also just a single moment in time in a complex customer journey. This is where being goal oriented comes into play—make your audience do one thing as part of the larger series of actions you want them to take on their journey.

Have them sign up for the newsletter. Learn more about your new product line. Download the white paper. Every call to action should be about your audience—moving them from one place to another.

Dora and Hollywood directors shouldn’t be the only ones making sense of journeys. Good brand marketers do, too.

What comes next

As marketing continues to evolve, the end goal remains the same: You need your content consumers to take action. This is where CTAs come into play.

Like your broader content marketing efforts, remember that your calls to action should be for humans. Keep in mind where you’re taking them on their journeys while being clear and compelling with the copy and creative you choose.

Break this down to the most important components:

  • Make your CTAs look and feel clickable
  • Invoke positive emotions
  • Build anticipation
  • Use technology smarter with copy

CTAs should be everywhere your content is.

If you’re looking to jump-start your CTA strategy, we can help. Contact us to explore ways to connect with your audience and get them to take action with your content marketing.

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