The Science Behind Better CTAs

Written by: Patrick Kilgore on 8/23/16 9:54 AM


When an act of marketing draws attention to your business, that feels like a win. But if a prospect stops there, then your marketing isn’t truly doing its job.

Good marketing is all about guiding a prospect along their journey to the next phase of interaction. Someone who visits your website once and never returns doesn’t provide lasting value. You want the visitor to click on another link, sign up for your email list, download your eBook, or go ahead and take a step toward purchase.

Calls to action (CTAs) act as the glue that attach each individual marketing activity to the next, ensuring touchpoints don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re what connect marketing tactics to larger campaigns and ensure prospects set off on a full customer buying journey.

In other words, CTAs have a very important job to do. Often, they have to do it within a few words – or sometimes just one.

A lot of research has surrounded the subject of CTAs and what makes people likely to take the action you want them to from a psychological perspective. Here are a few of the main findings from that research.

Buttons or Text?

A lot of what you’ll find written on CTAs defaults to assuming that buttons are the way to go. They’re bigger. They’re visually distinct from the rest of the text. And they’re colorful, so as to draw the eye. The notion that buttons work better just feels intuitively right.

But this serves as an oversimplification. On a mobile device, for example, text links can be very difficult to click. Depending on zoom states, they can be rendered nearly useless. In this example, a large colorful button shines as the most logical place to interact with a message. On a desktop, however, that isn’t always the case. Many prospects have become immune to the look of HTML emails and landing pages, and look past buttons completely. Depending on the message, text links may prove just as effective.  

In short, what works best will depend on where the CTA is going and how people interact with that particular ad or content. When trying to decide between buttons and links, consider the context and don’t trust your assumptions. Do some testing to see how people actually behave.

Color Matters

The way people perceive color is subjective, which makes determining the best hue for a CTA difficult. The research that looks at how people perceive color across different cultures, demographics, and experiences frustratingly finds few clear trends and assumptions.

The same is true of research attempting to figure out the best color for a CTA button. Several blogs have been quick to claim success for a certain color after doing some testing. But when other websites try to replicate the same test on their site they come out with different results.

The one thing that does appear consistent in the CTA color research people write about is that contrast matters. You don’t want your CTA to blend in. Make sure your CTA uses a different color palette than the overall design of your page, and try out a few colors and designs to see what works best.

Find the Best Placement

The best placement for a CTA is where people are most likely to see it. That’s a basic statement, but one that matters.

If your CTA is small or placed somewhere on the page where people don’t naturally look, then they won’t notice it to begin with, much less click to engage.

At the risk of sounding redundant, the right place for a CTA depends entirely on context. If your CTA is fairly simple, then putting it above the fold where people see it right away without having to scroll can be better. If it’s more complex and you need to make a case before people are likely take action, then moving it to the bottom of the page can lead to increased conversions.

Think about what visitors navigating to your page want to do and let that guide the page design. Where the CTA works best will depend on the overall goals of the page and how people are most likely to behave when they get there.

Find the Best Language

As a consumer, we don’t feel like the words on a button or link are likely to make or break our decision to click on it. But testing shows they do.

You might think simple, short copy works better, but in some cases being more descriptive pays off. Longer text clarifies what a person gets by clicking and provides the opportunity to throw in a word like “free” that many people instinctively respond to.

Generic CTAs don’t tell people why they should click. Even if the words that come before the CTA seem like they should do that job (and they should certainly do their part!) the CTA should continue it.  

Avoid Clutter

We’ve established that one of the most important aspects of a CTA is that it should grab attention. When you have too much happening on your page, your visitors will be less likely to notice the main thing you want them to see.

Many experts recommend sticking with one CTA per page, at least for landing pages, but others have done research that found having multiple CTAs can increase engagement. As with pretty much everything else we’ve covered, a lot depends on your audience and the goal of the page, email, or asset the CTA will be a part of.

Even so, have a clear idea of the main action you most want people to take to ensure the page is designed to minimize distraction from the primary message and CTA you want your prospects to take away.

Ensure Relevance

People don’t like receiving irrelevant information from brands. Part of the problem is that customers don’t trust brands to provide relevance. If they’re used to emails and content from you that don’t provide them what they need, they start expecting your offers to be worthless before even giving them a shot.

That’s why customer journey mapping makes such a big difference. The companies doing it say they have higher revenue, better customer satisfaction and higher retention rates because of it. When you know the paths that lead to your goals being met, it makes it much easier to provide prospects with the CTA that points them toward the best, most relevant next move

Your CTA can have the perfect look, the best possible wording, and optimal positioning, but if it points your leads toward something they don’t need or care about, then you’ll lose them anyway. As long as you use your marketing analytics to know where they are in their journey and what information they need most, you can ensure your CTAs are consistently relevant.

Conclusion: Use Empathy and Test

You won’t find easy answers when it comes to the science of CTAs. Two main techniques will consistently steer you in the right direction though:

  • Think like your audience. Consider what they’ll be thinking about as they land on your page or open your email. What are their priorities? Where will they look? What do they want to get out of it? So much of what makes for a good CTA is dependent on context, so approach everything you do with thoughts of what it will mean to your leads and how they’ll interact with it.
  • Empathy is an important part of the equation, but none of us understand ourselves or our actions as well as we think. Testing can help you confirm if your assumptions about how people will behave are accurate or not, so you can constantly tweak your marketing efforts toward what works.

 The best CTA is whatever CTA works for you and your audience. To learn what that is, try some different approaches out and pay attention to what your data tells you.

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Topics: Hive9