[How To] Write a Call-to-Action that Converts – With Case Studies

By , September 3rd, 2012 in Conversion | 60 comments

Spend 50% of your time on the page headline and the rest on what your CTA says…

The copy you use in your call-to-action (CTA) is just as important as the shape, size, and color of the button.

Even minor changes can have significant impact on your conversion rate.

This guide, packed with case studies, examples, and simple optimization principles, will teach you exactly how to write calls-to-action that convert.

For some extra inspiration, check out “When CTA’s Attack: 10 Real-World Call To Action Examples“.

What you need to understand about CTAs

Your call-to-action represents the tipping point between bounce and conversion. When you ask someone to do something online, they have to go through your call-to-action in order to do it – regardless of whether you’re asking them to download a PDF, fill out a form, buy a product, or even just click through to another page.

calls-to-action-that-convert-tipping-point

Shape and color are important visual cues that help attract prospects’ attention to the placement of the button.

But in that last critical moment, when the prospect has to make up her mind, the copy itself is what she’s going to interact with.

Minor change on the page = Major impacts on conversion rates

Tweaking a bit of button copy is a minor change on the page as a whole. However, it has major impact on the decision-making process of your potential customers and thereby also your conversions rate.

Here’s an example from a case study where changing one word in the call-to-action on a B2B site generated a 38.26% lift in conversions.

The client has a portal through which businesses can find offices for rent. The site features thousands of offices that potential customers can browse through. Once a prospect finds a relevant office, they have to click to the main call-to-action (located on all pages) in order to get more information on the lease sent via email.

This means that clicking the CTA is a mission critical conversion goal, and every extra click potentially means money in the bank.

It’s all about value and relevance

In the case study above, we saw how one word had major impact on conversions. The question is “Why would such a small tweak have such an influence?”

The answer lies in the messaging. “Order” emphasizes what you have to do – not what you’re going to receive. Whereas “Get” emphasizes what you’re going to receive – rather than what you have to do to get it. In other words, the treatment copy conveys value.

But conveying value isn’t always enough. To get the full effect, your button copy should also to be relevant to the specific conversion scenario the prospect finds herself in, when she has to click the button.

In order to illustrate this point, let’s look at a case study, where a call-to-action that conveyed only value, performed significantly worse than a button that conveyed both value and relevance.

calls-to-action-that-convert-value-relevance

The client here is a popular essay site. Their landing pages feature a preview of an essay, and the goal is to get potential customers to click though to the signup page

Despite the fact that “Get Instant Access Now” conveys value (It could have said “Buy access”), it is super generic compared to “Read Full Essay Now”.

This call-to-action is located across 120.000+ landing pages, so getting it right is paramount to the overall conversion rate of the site.

calls-to-action-that-convert-relevance-effect

Here’s another case study that shows how adding relevance to a call-to-action can have a dramatic effect on conversions – in this case a 68% lift.

The client has asked to be anonymous, but I can tell you that it’s a major chain of gyms in Scandinavia. The example here is taken from a PPC landing page, where the goal is to get potential customers to click through to the checkout flow where they can select a gym and sign up for a membership.

The control version is already pretty good because it conveys value and focuses on what you’re going to get – not what you have to do to get it. Nevertheless, it is very generic, “Get membership” could pretty much apply to any situation that has something to do with a membership.

I did a little research and found out that the location is a very important factor, when deciding on a membership. So, in this case I could make the call-to-action more relevant to the specific conversion scenario and increase conversions by adding “Find gym” (Step 1 in the checkout flow features a complete list of gym locations).

Case study findings: 4 years of research distilled into one simple optimization principle

The case studies in this article are only a few out of multitude of button tests I’ve conducted over the last 4 years. However, they are very representative of the results I see again and again.

The overall findings I’ve made can be distilled into one simple optimization principle:

Value + Relevance = More Conversions

It’s really that simple; the more value and relevance you can convey via your call-to-action copy, the more conversions you are likely to get. It is, of course, important not to disappoint your potential clients by making outrageous claims you can’t support. So keep your copy relevant and focused on the benefit of clicking – but don’t over-exaggerate.

What you should do now

Review your website and look for calls-to-action where the button copy is either a generic order like “DOWNLOAD” and “SUBMIT” or something negative like “BUY NOW” that emphasizes what you have to do instead of what you’re going to get.

Once you’ve located a call-to-action that you want to optimize, ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. What is my prospect’s motivation for clicking this button?
  2. What is my prospect going to get, when he/she clicks this button?

The answers to those 2 questions are going to be the basis for the new button copy. You’ll of course have to spend time tweaking and refining it, before it’s ready for testing, but asking these questions is a great way to get started.

Let’s use the gym-membership call-to-action as an example:

  1. The prospects’ motivation is to get a membership in a local gym.
  2. When they click the button, they’ll get the opportunity to find a gym and buy their membership.

Button copy: “Find gym and get membership”

Some inspiration to get you started on your next CTA

Here are a few examples of generic calls-to-action to avoid, and a few ideas for alternative copy:

calls-to-action-that-convert-inspiration

Time to start optimizing!

So, now you have the complete guide to writing a calls-to-action that converts, it’s time to start optimizing. But remember – always be testing! It’s the only way to make sure that you are in fact getting positive lifts from the changes you make.

– Michael Aagaard


This is a guest post, all opinions are those of the author.

Michael Lykke Aagaard is a self-employed, self-confessed split test junkie and copywriting fanatic who’s obsessed with finding out what really works in online marketing. He’s Danish and hails from the fair city of Copenhagen. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+ or check out his newly launched international blog ContentVerve.com.

Comments

  1. Matt says:

    Great article. Recently our company, who shall remain nameless, published a guide on optimising landing pages. Despite the lack of any statistical testing I was horrified to read one of the main tips was to use a soft CTA on a submit form such as ‘continue’ which I told them was completely useless as it was misleading, implied no value and didn’t give the user any sense of what they would be receiving. I challenged this concept with our marketing dept to be told ‘our panel of experts have checked it and believe they are right’. Nice to see 4 years of proper testing outweighing ‘expert opinion’, more importantly, I was right!

    • Hi Matt – thank you for the kind words!

      Great story!

      The main thing I’ve learned from years of testing is that it’s very, very difficult to predict what people will react to, and how the reaction will be. If you don’t test what you’re doing, you’re really crossing your fingers and hoping that you made the right guess ;-)

      I think the real issue in you’re case is not so who is right – it’s the fact that the expert weren’t willing to put their recommendation to the test…

      - Michael

  2. Semanticlp says:

    I always split test with my landing pages call to action button and it really converts well.

  3. InfraGolf says:

    Really great article. I had a similar experience a few weeks back when we changed a CTA from “Get a Quote” to “Request a Quote”. Here again relevancy is paramount. The user will not click the CTA if they do not want you to give them a free quote, they just want to take control and ask for one when they want to. So “Request a Quote” did make a surge in our conversion rate in that case.

    • Thank you very much, I’m glad you liked it!

      You’re definitely on the right track here! It’s all about finding out what works on your specific landing page and target audience. I would probably have put my money on “Get a Quote” – but that just stresses the importance of testing ;-)

      - Michael

  4. Alex says:

    Call to action can work for one site and fail for another. Too many variables. I think CrazyEgg and similar tools are best friends to define what works best for you.

  5. Hi Alex – Thanks for the comment.

    The optimal CTA copy will vary wildly from landing page to landing page. And – as mentioned in the post and in the comments – the point is to find out what works in your specific case on your potential customers. The only way to find that out is to test your CTAs in real life.

    For this purpose, I think split testing tools like VWO, or platforms like Unbounce that have built in A/B testing, are the best choice. Crazy Egg is a great tool and click maps are very helpful in mapping user behavior, but it does not allow you to split test to different variants up against each other in real time. Moreover, Crazy Egg does not have software for determining sample size, statistical confidence, standard error, etc. These elements aren’t “sexy”, however, they are critical to finding out for certain what works best for you and your site.

    - Michael

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  9. Yoav Burger says:

    Great post, Michael. Lots of tweaking and testing but the end results show an improvement. Great case studies to demonstrate the concepts. Many marketers could benefit from your research, so I am including your post in ‘Best of the Web’ http://bit.ly/j3bestweb, Facebook http://buff.ly/TVwkOC and Google+ http://buff.ly/TVwjdx. thank you Michael.

  10. Thanks Yoav – I’m glad you liked the post!

    - Michael

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  42. Landy says:

    Great and useful article.

    I would like to gain more insight as to why it is not common practice to state the monetary value of an offer within call-to-actions, versus the percentage saved on an offer. For example in your ‘Add to cart – Save 25%’ case study, why not state the monetary value of the offer in dollar terms as apposed to % value?

    My initial thinking is that for big ticket items, CTA where there is discount or saving as part of value, might present more value to a prospective if the actual monetary value of the discount/savings is already converted for the prospective. As an illustration, ‘Add to cart – Save $500′

    I might be wrong here… Have you ever had occasion to test this scenario?

    • Hi Landy – Testing buttons with the actual dollar value of the saving is a great idea! I haven’t done much testing on it though, but I’d love to hear about your results. The example above with the “save 25%” was just meant as inspiration.

      I think it depends on the situation what will work best. In some cases, 25% might be a very small amount measured in $. In such a case, 25% might have more impact – and vice versa.

      - Michael

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  47. Brian P says:

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