Do you spend ages fine-tuning your website, adding enthusiastic pop-ups and a call to action button but get no conversions? It’s not just you. While it might feel like you’re the only business out there that cannot seem to get people to hit the subscribe, share or like buttons, there are plenty of others with the same problem.
Even the best marketing plans can fail because people aren’t designed to move along the customer journey in the way you foresee. The truth is, they might get distracted along the way, or one small element of your content or website design could turn them off – which leaves you with no clicks and your head in your hands, wondering if life will ever get easier.
Guess what? There is hope for your business.
Yes, you read that right. Whether your website visitors are abandoning their shopping cart or failing to subscribe to your email list, harnessing the might call to action could turn your business around.
So, in this post, we’ll look at the psychology behind CTA buttons, how to create an irresistible call to action that your readers cannot ignore, and some examples of how companies are using the CTA to build a better future for their business.
What Is a Call to Action (CTA) Button?
A CTA or call to action button is a prompt that should compel visitors to your website to take a specific action. Its idea is to give your audience a straightforward way to access your products or services, thus simplifying the buyer journey.
Famous examples of CTA’s include Sign Up, or Visit Website and Buy Now – but in recent years, the traditional call to action is being replaced by quirkier, bolder statements in an attempt for websites to gain a larger following.
Calls to action are essential because they act as a roadmap for your website visitors. Just as retail stores have salespeople to move a customer into making a purchase, you should think of your CTA button as a little person who’s in charge of making sure your audience wants to learn more about your brand.
The Psychology of Call to Action Buttons
While online shopping is incredibly convenient, and many consumers take advantage of speedy delivery times and shop the latest trends without leaving the comfort of their home, the lack of human interaction can be a problem.
When most people visit a website, they want to have a clear set of instructions to get to their desired end result.
For example, popular clothing stores often have their new products on display, and dedicated sections for dresses, shoes, tees, etc. There’s a dressing room and a till to purchase, which streamlines the entire shopping process.
Websites don’t have this functionality, but adding CTA’s can give each browser a clear picture of where they need to be. Whether it’s a button to notify a shopper when an item is back in stock or a purchase button, the call to action is the best way to signpost potential customers to where they need to be.
Let’s explore the psychology of CTA buttons in more detail.
Anticipate & Reward
Whether you’re waiting for that text message from someone, the jump scene in a movie or test results, there’s one common emotion for all of these scenarios: anticipation. It could be tinged with nerves or excitement, but anticipation is all about waiting for something to happen.
Human nature dictates that most people feel a sense of anticipation when they perform an action because it’s in our DNA to weigh up whether something is worth doing or not.
With the internet, that feeling of anticipation begins when someone clicks on a page. Common questions they might ask themselves include:
- Will this page solve my problem?
- Will I find what I’m looking for?
- How will this page benefit me?
If you can’t give your visitors a clear answer to those questions, they won’t stick around. The call to action button is so powerful for not only creating the right sense of anticipation but ensuring your visitors get a positive payoff.
How to Create Positive Anticipation
The most important thing to remember with your CTA’s is that a positive result is essential. If you’ve ever watched the end of a TV series you loved, only to discover the ending is a complete letdown (yes, we’re talking to you, Lost creators), you’ll know how frustrating it can be
So, you need to make sure you’re offering something unique. Let’s use Free Prints as an example. The company allows people to submit their digital prints via the app, and Free Prints will turn them into photos in various sizes.
The main benefit of downloading the app is getting cheap photos by paying only for the delivery. As you can see from the image below, Free Prints makes sure the offer is irresistible to readers by emphasising that each person can get up to 500 free prints.
Who wouldn’t want to click on those download buttons with an offer like that? Free Prints delivers on its promise, which is why it’s such a powerful CTA.
Top Takeaway: Create anticipation, but don’t be unrealistic.
Loss aversion is one of our favourite tools because it works so well. In its simplest form, loss aversion makes people fear the prospect of losing out, so they’ll take action to avoid it.
Peer pressure is a classic example of loss aversion because young people have a distinct need to fit in and will do anything to avoid it. If a group of friends smokes cigarettes, that person is more likely to join in, even though they know the dangers, because the young mind puts immediate acceptance over long-term health consequences.
If you’d like to take inspiration for your loss aversion tactics, retail coupons are one of the most powerful representations of great marketing. As you can see from this coupon on FreeStuff, even a discount of just £5.00 can become an irresistible offer with the right wording.
The message behind the entire coupon is don’t miss out, so people are more likely to feel a sense of urgency to take up the offer.
Have you ever tried to sign-up for a software package and noticed how the company places a particular emphasis on the annual plan being the better option?
Of course, for the seller getting a year’s worth of money out of one person is more beneficial than a monthly payment that people can cancel at any time – but how do these companies achieve this?
Well, first, there’s the money-saving incentive of purchasing an annual plan, which usually works out cheaper than paying for a monthly subscription, but the real selling point is the call to action.
Anchoring draws readers’ attention to the pricier package, but great marketers display the information, so the offer seems irresistible.
This example from the Mangools website shows how great anchoring works.
Not once, but twice, your attention is drawn to the annual offer being the better plan, which gives the company more security with each customer because they’re subscribed to the platform for a year instead of a rolling monthly contract.
Sunk Cost Bias
Are you the type of person that makes a point to finish your meal when you go to a restaurant? You’re not alone. You paid for that meal, so you want to get your money’s worth, right?
The fact is, people like to finish things because we’re programmed to seek out a reward for our work. You perform well at work, you get recognition, a promotion or a bonus. If your employer doesn’t reward you, you’ll likely choose to move to a company that will.
Marketers use this as a call to action, especially for product sign ups or content.
We tell people what they can expect if they continue to take the actions we’d like them to take and emphasise that there will be a significant reward at the end of the journey.
Applying Endowment Effect
The endowment effect is when people overvalue something simply because they own it. It can be beneficial for marketers because one of the ultimate goals is to make a product or service have significant meaning to our audience.
One of the best examples of endowment effect in action is LinkedIn and their premium offers. If you have an account, you’ll know that the company regularly runs a promotion that entitles someone to sample a premium account for a month.
By the time the month draws to an end, you don’t want to go back to the free account, so you’re more likely to purchase a subscription.
The 1991 experiment by Richard Thaler shows how powerful the endowment effect can be when it’s in action. So, if you can apply the method to enhance your CTA’s, you’ll have a distinct advantage over your competitors.
Serial Position Effect
Have you ever been to a training session or work meeting and know the group facilitator is about to ask everyone to introduce themselves? If you’re like most people, you won’t want to go first because you know deep down that being the first to speak sets the tone for everyone else in the room.
Similarly, people don’t like being last because others will remember them more, making them feel like they have to make some sort of great statement or they’ll let the entire group down.
This effect is a well-known theory in marketing because while the example above shows the negative impact of the serial position effect, there are plenty of positives when you know how to use it.
Primary Effect: Everyone assigns a higher value to the first information they receive, which is why it’s essential to make sure your audience sees your best reviews first.
Recency Effect: People tend to remember the last piece of information they receive, even if it’s negative. For example, you could deliver a big presentation and receive positive comments as you go through each point. But one negative word afterwards will outweigh all of those positives because it sticks in your mind.
You’ll notice this technique all the time on websites trying to get you to opt into something. The three-pillar effect is most valuable because you can let people know what they’ll get but simplify the entire process.
Shopify does this perfectly. They highlight the two fun elements of using their website on either side of the more intricate, less fun action a user needs to perform.
Give, and You Shall Receive
We live in a society that is entirely dominated by this idea. Parents tell their children they’ll get a treat if they clean their room, employers reward the hardest working employees with praise and recognition, and marketers use it to generate consumer loyalty.
The idea is simple; you offer someone something of value, and they’ll immediately feel they need to repay the favour. In fact, content marketing is one of the best examples of give, and you shall receive in action.
The Shift From Product to Person
Years ago, people used to sell products. There was no bulls**t, and top advertising agencies would showcase each product’s benefit and explain what made their clients the best. This advert from Sony clearly shows the benefit of purchasing a new TV, but the apparent value is in the product and brand, and that’s what the person is buying. So what changed?
Well, as technology became more advanced, consumers became more informed. Even in its earlier days of dial-up tones, the internet was still a hub of information for people, which meant companies couldn’t get away with being faceless brands anymore.
Content marketing is about creating relationships with consumers and showing them you have a lot to give – which has to be more than a product or service.
Using Give & Receive in Your CTA’s
Perhaps the best example of give and you shall receive in action is the use of landing pages with a free download. It could be an eBook, a list of action words people can use in their content marketing or a free template – it doesn’t matter as long as your download is helpful.
Your target audience will only need to give their email address to get the free download, so in their minds, they’re getting more than they’re giving.
Of course, once you have a point of contact, you can use it for email marketing, increasing conversion rates and connecting with your audience on a deeper level.
Things to Remember About Call to Action Psychology
You can use so many techniques to get more people to click on your call to action, but you should remember to make sure you’re not overselling your business.
If people are disappointed when they click that button, you’ll need to either make sure you offer something special or tone down your promises to something more realistic.
Before we move on to look at some excellent call to action examples, here are some key takeaways:
- Build up excitement, but make sure there’s a worthy reward.
- Don’t be afraid to think out of the box. People love originality.
- Always make sure you have something of value to offer your visitors.
- Use serial position effect to generate more interest.
- Take time to think about your wording and use action phrases to elevate your CTAs.
So, now you know how to use psychology to compel your visitors to take action, it’s time to see some incredible CTAs.
The Best Call to Action Examples
What makes the perfect call to action? The truth is, there’s no simple answer because it depends on the action you want a user to take, the reward in place and the general tone and message of your brand.
For example, HSBC is one of the worlds most well-known banks, and many businesses use it for transactions. The company needs to come across as trustworthy, which means their call to action buttons need to be compelling but stay in line with the bank’s professional reputation.
Using the text ‘Grab an awesome interest rate’ doesn’t convey a serious message, so HSBC focuses on CTA buttons that give people an idea of what they need to do to access the banking services.
Text like ‘How to Apply’ and ‘Get a Quick Quote’ are much more effective.
With that in mind, let’s look at some call to action examples that just make sense.
Every eCommerce business has one goal; to sell a lot of products. It isn’t easy to come up with compelling calls to action, but companies that sell to consumers know how essential they are.
Whether it’s to keep people browsing the site or maximising customer engagement during special offer promotions, a few small words could make or break your sales.
Here are some of our favourite eCommerce CTAs.
Made famous for its traditional clothing (and Will & Grace), Banana Republic is a pro at keeping customers on the company website. When you add something to your cart, clothes that match your purchases show in a pop-up, with the button text saying ‘Keep Shopping’.
It might seem simple, but it’s highly effective because the mixture of other products and the prompt to keep shopping entices customers to stay on the site.
Get Limited Time Offer
Those four little words are so powerful. They play on loss aversion psychology and are impossible to resist. Manscaped is one company that knows how to get its customers to take action because by adding the limited time text, people automatically won’t want to miss an opportunity.
Get 20% Off
Whether it’s 20%, 10% or 5%, most people will immediately want to take advantage of a discount. Online clothes shops are experts at using this technique to make more sales, with stores such as Forever 21, New Look, and Matalan regularly updating their website to display new discount CTA buttons.
Service-Based Call to Action Examples
Service-based businesses can struggle more than companies that sell goods and products to customers because there are more obstacles to jump over when reaching that final sale point.
Whether it’s promoting a dating agency, selling software or advertising your services to customers, you can drive forward more conversions if you focus on creating a compelling CTA.
Dropbox is known for its minimalist approach, and you can see examples of it through the companies website and email marketing communication. So it would make sense that the simple call to action message of ‘Sign Up For Free’ works so well.
One of our favourite CTA message and button combinations comes from the streaming giant Netflix. It’s a simple yet powerful message which conveys the benefits of subscribing to Netflix but lets people know they can cancel at any time.
Panthera is a brand that really cares about big cats, so it’s only natural that they want to attract people who are equally enthusiastic about lions, tigers and cheetahs to sign up for their newsletter. The CTA example of ‘Join the Pride Now’ immediately appeals to big cat enthusiasts.
Perhaps our favourite CTA button is from Huemor, which plays on basic human psychology to generate significant click through rates. Take a look at the image below, and you’ll see exactly what we mean.
Would you be able to resist clicking on that button? We certainly couldn’t!
What You Can Learn From Each Call to Action Example
As you can see from the small list of examples above, each speaks directly to the audience, but doesn’t step out of line. What we mean by this is, each message you send your target audience must be relevant to your brand.
There’s no point trying to portray yourself as something you’re not, so before even sitting down to create your call to actions buttons, take some time instead to think about who you are, what you do and the message you want to send.
It can be a good idea to step back, and take a look at your brand from a new perspective. Doing this helps you in all areas of marketing, including creating landing page copy with CTA’s, email newsletters and downloads.
The most popular brands know who they are, and manage to portray it through effective call to action buttons. Don’t lose sight of that, and you’ll be on track to make an impact with the people that really matter to your brand.
Creating Effective CTAs: Where to Start?
So now you know about the psychology behind an effective CTA and have seen some examples of brands that know how to amplify their call to action message, it’s time to get started on defining your message.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a small business or a large company, you can use a simple CTA to get more people to click on your content and build a brand from the ground up.
With that in mind, here’s the step by step process to create a winning CTA.
A CTA button must be direct. There’s no point dancing around what you’d like someone to do, because it won’t get you very far at all. You’ve heard of people saying that nice guys always come last, which is also true for your call to action buttons.
For example, imagine if you want someone to go to your shop and purchase a new product, you should use inviting copy to spark enthusiasm, but keep the button text simple and command based.
A simple ‘Shop Now’ or ‘Get My Discount’ works well, because your CTA must be direct. Leave the creative writing to your newsletter, landing page or ads and you’ll see better results.
Convey the Benefit
This method works well for downloads or enticing someone to start a free trial, because if someone takes your desired action they expect to get a positive result. Benefit driven calls to action have a sense of urgency,and take full advantage of the loss aversion theory.
Neil Patel is a classic example of benefit based CTA buttons, and he manages to make his lead magnets irresistible.
As you can see from this example, he includes a simple yet enticing call to action, while conveying the benefits of using his free traffic analyser through copywriting above the button.
When it comes to creating a call to action, the copy is only one piece of the puzzle. Your button design is central to drawing your audiences attention to the button and getting them to click.
Great design is about understanding colour psychology, and being able to mix shades to ensure your button stands out, but still matches the rest of the page.
Here are some brilliant design principles for your call to action button.
The Von Restorff Effect
The Von Restorff Effect (or isolation effect) says that when multiple objects are present, the one that stands out will be different. Imagine seeing a row of women five walking together. Four are blonde, but one has red hair – you’d notice the red head most, wouldn’t you?
That’s because she immediately stands out due to the contrast effect. So how does this apply to your CTA button?
All you need to do is use colour for the background of your button, and make sure it stands out from the surrounding text. Alternatively, you can change the colour of your button text, to meet one of your brand colours.
Use Colour Psychology
Colour psychology is one of the most useful things you can learn, because it elevates your call to actions and helps you to create a stronger brand. Every colour represents an emotion, and you can develop higher trust levels and more increase conversion rates by choosing the right colours.
For example, blue embodies trust, while red sparks passion and urgency. Green is also effective, because people automatically associate it with moving forward, while orange and purple can both smybolise creativity.
It’s good to know which colours work for your brand, because you can use them to develop enticing calls to action.
To help you decide on your CTA button colours, we’ve put together this helpful infographic.
The Bottom Line
Now you know why call to action buttons are so important, you can put everything you’ve learned from this guide into action. It’s actually quite amazing how one button can make such an impact, but remember the best practices, we mentioned in this post, and you’ll find the success you need.
- Define who you are, and make sure your call to action button is in line with your brand.
- Use psychological principles to create your CTA copy.
- Keep the button text actionable and urgent.
- Choose colours that represent your brand well and convey the right emotional response.
Most importantly, don’t give up! If your buttons aren’t converting properly, then look at your competitors, and see what they’re doing.
Is there a real sense of urgency? Do your buttons align with your brand? What would you think if you were an audience member looking at the exact same button text and colour?
Whether it’s your home page, a landing page, social media posts or adverts, you can win with CTA’s. If you’d like some help, we’re always around.
Take a look at our copywriting services and please feel free to request a free writing sample. Good luck!