I’m not a “let me tell you what to do” kind of person.
So writing effective calls to action – we call them CTAs – doesn’t exactly come naturally for me. But that’s usually how it is, right? When we have to work to learn something, we ultimately understand and remember it better.
A CTA is that sentence or phrase, at the bottom of an ad or the end of a commercial, that provides the next step to readers or viewers. For most ad formats, it’s the moment of truth: Will readers make the click? Will they visit the website? Will they request a quote? Will they book a hotel room? Essentially, a CTA asks for a response.
(Hint: If you’re reading right now, I’ve already used one on you.)
This blog post is for the copywriters out there who, like me, have a natural tendency to ask politely – with the addition of lots of nice adjectives and qualifiers. Here’s the truth: There’s science out there about what makes CTAs effective, and it works.
Get more action from your viewers and readers by following these five tips:
1. MAKE IT A COMMAND.
I’ll admit, for quite a while I believed a thoughtful question would lead readers to the same place as a direct command. After all, they both get readers thinking, right?
The reality is a command provides the specificity and urgency to make the click then and there, and the human brain is wired to respond to that.
I’ll use my brain as an example.
CTA: Are you ready to make family memories?
Me: Hmm, I’d love to make some memories, I should possibly start thinking about planning a vacation…
CTA: “XX” is the place to make family memories.
Me: Yeah, it looks nice!
CTA: Make family memories here.
It’s powerful, it’s definite and it demands a response. And you’ll get one, if your commands also meet these next four criteria.
2. KEEP IT SHORT.
This one applies to copy across the board, but carries especial importance with CTAs. What you’re asking has to make sense – simple, uncluttered, easy to understand.
CTA: Learn about the hiking trails of SLO County by taking advantage of our free downloadable map.
Me: That sounds like a lot of effort…
CTA: Download your free map.
3. MEET A NEED.
Another principle that should apply to all copy. Write for your audience – not for yourself.
The entire ad, down to the CTA, should be offering something that alleviates a pain point of your audience. That’s why you’re serving it to a specific segment of your audience, after all. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect your product or service with their specific need.
Think of the CTA as the second part of this sentence from the perspective of your reader: “I want to…”
CTA: Check out our whitepaper on tourism marketing.
Me: I know you want me to read your stuff, but I’m kinda short on time.
CTA: Bring midweek travelers to your destination.
4. BE SPECIFIC.
Based on the number of times I’ve both seen “Learn More” and been tempted to use it myself (okay, and actually used it myself), I would guess that sentence ranks quite highly on the “list of most commonly used CTAs.” The problem? It’s way too general.
Even though “learning more” might technically address a pain point or a desire of your audience, they probably aren’t cognizant of why. The connection isn’t obvious, and readers are too busy to make it themselves.
Specific offers create higher responses.
CTA: Support the children we serve.
Me: It’s something to think about, but there are so many good causes in SLO County…
CTA: Purchase a specialized wheelchair for “name.”
5. PUT IT IN THE RIGHT SPOT.
The CTA is powerful, but it doesn’t stand alone. (Usually.) The job of every other word in the ad is to prepare the reader to embrace the next step you’ll be asking her or him to take.
The placement of the CTA is critical. Both visually and in order of copy, it’s got to enter the scene when the reader or viewer is ready. The job of every sentence is to urge the reader to keep reading, until it’s time for the moment of truth.
Even in a Facebook ad, where body copy is limited to 90 characters, you have the chance to insert a strong hook, a thoughtful question or a relatable statement that will lead into the CTA.
CTA: We’re a full-service marketing agency in San Luis Obispo with in-house design services. Bring new life to your brand.
Me: I feel like I missed something…
CTA: Embarrassed to put those outdated business cards on your desk? Bring new life to your brand.
There you have it – my top five tips. Measure your next CTA against these criteria, and you’ll be looking at a powerful sentence on your screen.
But perhaps you’re ready to keep learning. Let’s see if this works…