The Importance of a Call To Action in Advertising

Updated: May 04, 2023 | Nick Ainge Roy | 3 mins. read

A call to action, or CTA, is one of the most common terms in digital marketing. A CTA refers to any prompt that leads visitors to perform an action, whether that be downloading a brochure, calling a dealership, or signing up for a newsletter.

Without a CTA, even the most well-designed digital marketing campaigns will fail to deliver results, and knowing how to craft an effective CTA is a skill of its own. In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about writing strong calls to action and explore some examples of what makes a CTA good or bad, so you can convert more customers.

The Who, What, When, Where & Why of a CTA

Although the term ‘call to action’ has become much more widely used and understood with the rise of digital marketing, almost all marketing contains a call to action. Some of the most famous examples are in cigarette ads of the 1950s and 60s, like the Lucky Strike ad below, which urges the target audience to ‘Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet’.

  • WHO is a CTA intended for? A CTA will always have a target audience, and this is anyone that you want to take an action -usually a lead or prospective customer.

  • WHAT should my CTA say? There’s no one thing that a CTA should say as they vary depending on who you’re speaking to and where they’re encountering your messaging. A simple CTA might say ‘Buy it online now’ or ‘Order yours today’ but as you will soon see, that is not the only way to write a call to action.

  • WHEN do I use a CTA? A CTA should always come at the end of your messaging, as you want it be the last thing the audience reads in order to spur them into taking action.

  • WHERE do I use a CTA? In the heyday of print advertising (like the Lucky Strike ad above) a CTA served as a general instruction, rather than something the reader could actually do in the moment. But in today’s digital world, CTAs are much more direct and usually take the form of a CTA button or a link at the bottom of a post or ad. This is the best place to put your CTA, for the same reasons outlined in the previous point.

  • WHY should I use a CTA? Because nothing happens without action, and if you don’t give people a reason to click, they won’t click. While good marketing might naturally lead the audience to take an action, a CTA instructs them to do so before their attention is lost.

Understanding What Makes A Good CTA

  • As with anything in marketing, a good CTA starts with a good strategy – and the first step is to get clear on your goal. Are you trying to build a database through email signups, or are you looking to drive sales, or build brand awareness? Having a clearly defined goal is half the work of creating a good CTA.

    Having a definitive goal doesn’t just benefit you, though, it also tells your customers what action you want them to take. Effective communication is the key to a successful call to action: customers need to know what you want them to do and why they should complete said action. Urging a customer just to ‘Click Here’ provides no information and offers no benefit to them, so there is no motivation for them to perform the action you want. If you’re struggling to come up with a good CTA or finding that your current ones aren’t succeeding, you can use the MIC acronym to test their effectiveness.
    • Motivating. Are you giving your customers a reason to click? Discounts are one of the most common and effective motivations there is – ‘Order now for 10% off’ – because they offer a clear benefit to customers.

    • Informing. Does your CTA tell customers what will happen? ‘Click Here’ is not only vague, but it’s also one of the oldest scams on the Internet. ‘Shop Now’, ‘Download A Brochure’, and ‘Book A Viewing’ are all explicit actions that tell the customer what to expect.

    • Concise. Don’t ramble. A good CTA is short, and sweet and creates a sense of urgency in the customer that leads them to the desired action.

Creating An Emotional Connection

  • The best CTAs succeed because they create an emotional response in customers, often by addressing a pain point. A classic sales mantra is ‘Identify a problem and sell the solution’ and this same approach can be used in your call to action.

    For instance, an insurer might use a phrase like ‘Pay less for your insurance’ or ‘Get better coverage’ to target prospects that feel as if they’re paying too much or getting too little with their current policy. With just a few words, they’ve identified a pain point – either the cost or lack of coverage – and offered their solution: pay less, get more.
    • Targeting Negative Emotions. Another option is to motivate customers by targeting negative emotions like shock or fear. Sticking with our insurance example, possible calls to action could include ‘Protect your investment’ or ‘Be prepared for a rainy day’. These CTAs target the fear of an accident or a weather event as motivation for purchasing an insurance policy.

    • Exploiting A Customer’s FOMO. Exploiting a customer’s fear of missing out (FOMO) is one of the easiest ways to create urgency and prompt an action. It is a simple but highly effective strategy that is used everywhere from infomercials to email marketing campaigns because it gets results.

      CTAs can target this emotion by creating a sense of scarcity, either of time or product. Some tried-and-trusted examples include things like ‘Get it while stocks last’ or ‘Limited time offer – get yours before it’s too late’. If your intention is to drive sales, these are some of the best CTAs you can use.

Strong Call To Action Examples

A call to action can have many different forms, so we’ve decided to share some of our favourites, along with what makes them so effective.

What makes this call to action work is its use of social proof – in this case, the fact that they’ve sold out 5 times – to build trust and create a sense of urgency in the target audience. Additionally, it instructs the audience to find out why the product is so popular, and lets them know what to expect with a simple ‘Shop Now’ button.

This call to action employs the same technique but substitutes the number of sales for the number of 5 star reviews, communicating to the target audience that the service is app is highly-rated by its users.

For a call to action that is good but not great, refer to above example from Stack Exchange. The strengths of this call to action are that it is preceded by a lot of valuable information, and is highly visible, with a bright orange button – although the button itself could be bigger to better grab the reader’s attention.

Where it falls down though is in the prompt. Not only is ‘Learn more’ generic, but it lacks urgency and fails to communicate what the desired action is. If the aim is to give the reader more information, something like ‘Read Our FAQs’ would be much stronger, or even just ‘Learn more About Us’.

Alternatively, if the aim is to get users to sign up to Stack Exchange, a CTA such as ‘Join our community’ is much more compelling and informative, and appeals to one of the strengths of the platform: community.

So What Makes A Bad CTA?

  • Although it may take time to transform your CTAs from good to great, it is easy to avoid writing bad CTAs as long as you keep a few things in mind.

    • Don’t Be Vague. Customers won’t perform an action if they don’t know what’s going on, it’s as simple as that. If you want them to sign up to your newsletter, say ‘Sign up to our newsletter’; if you want them to shop your products, say ‘Shop online’. Nobody is ever going to click a button that says ‘Click here’ if they don’t know what will happen next.

    • Give Them A Reason To Click. It’s all very well to tell someone what will happen if they click the button, but it doesn’t give them much of a reason to do so. ‘Sign up to our newsletter to receive exclusive offers’ promises a tangible benefit to the customer, as does ‘Shop now and enjoy 10% off your order’.

      Remember, simple motivations are often the best. You want to create a direct line between the desired action and the benefit it brings to your customer, so don’t get caught up in trying to reinvent the wheel.

    • Get To The Point. People have limited attention spans, so don’t waste time elaborating on the offer or politely asking them to take a moment of their time. A call to action is a request, but it is also a command: do this now. The faster you can get to the point, the more customers you are likely to convert.

Examples of Weak CTAs

Below are a few examples of bad calls to action that we spotted with a cursory scroll through Facebook. While these aren’t the worst of the worst, they have all made a few common mistakes that are undoubtedly hurting their click-through-rate.

This ad on Facebook fails to offer any clear value to the audience and has far too much going on.

This photo actually only shows half of the ad as it was too long to get a full screenshot, and therein lies the issue. With any online advertising, but especially with Facebook, you want to grab the audience’s attention immediately with a clear benefit. Instead, this ad waffles on for several paragraphs without telling you anything about the service – for someone trying to sell a Facebook Ads bootcamp, that’s a big no-no.

Moreover, the wordy CTA text underneath the image fails once again to offer any value to the audience and is actually cut off because it is too long. A much stronger CTA would have been this:

Say Goodbye to Overpriced Ad Agencies: Stop losing money & gain more clicks with my Facebook Ads Bootcamp.

This is instantly more impactful and offers a clear solution to a problem (overpriced ad agencies) with a direct benefit to the audience (saving money & increasing click-through rate) that piques their interest and makes them more likely to ‘Learn more’.

If You're Ever Worried, Remember the MIC

There aren’t 20 things that go into making a bad CTA. If your CTAs aren’t converting or you feel that they’re not as good as they should be, ask yourself if they meet the MIC points we mentioned earlier.

A good CTA will be motivating, informative, and concise. If yours are lacking any of these three components, go back and fix what is missing. As time goes on, writing clear, effective, and engaging CTAs will become second nature, but until then, always make sure they’re hitting these three points.

If You Need Help Getting Customers to Click, We Can Help

Sometimes it’s easier to leave the marketing to the experts so that you can focus on growing your business. At Retain Media, we specialise in lead generation across the digital landscape and are experienced in designing and implementing SEO, social and PPC campaigns that convert.

If you’re looking for a digital marketing partner that knows your industry and understands how to get customers to click, get in touch with one of our team today to find out how we can help.

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