A call to action is a signpost on the path toward a goal. Like a mile marker nudging a runner along during a marathon, or an arrow pointing a hiker to the summit.
Calls to action let your visitors know where they are, and what they should do next. There are a million different ways to use CTAs to inspire certain behaviors. Heck, you could probably find 10 different CTAs on this page. Download. Subscribe. Learn more. Share.
Websites are always trying to get your attention and, after that, get your action. Here’s a call to action example from Amazon. At a glance, it looks like Amazon just wants you to sign up for Amazon Prime. And that’s true – this call to action is indeed designed to generate Prime signups. But there is lots going on in this CTA.
Look at the Without Prime column:
- The headline is black, cramped, and boring
- The prices are in red and look like a warning
- Instead of using a button, which makes people think “click,” they just use text
- The text reminds you that you’ll be “without fast, free shipping”
Now let’s look at the Prime column:
- The headline is soft blue and has a smiley face
- Instead of red numbers, which say “STOP!”, they use green numbers, which say “GO!”
- That yellow button jumps off the page
- The text in the button talks about “benefits”
So much goes into a good call to action. This post will look at nine things to keep in mind as you build CTAs for your store, along with call to action examples of each. Shall we?
What is a call to action?
Calls to action, or CTAs, are used by websites and apps to trigger certain behaviors. Calls to action come in various formats – including buttons, images, and text – and encourage people to take certain actions. They commonly implore visitors to browse products, sign up for newsletters, and share content on social media.
- 1. Not All Calls to Action Are About Sales (Not Now, Anyway)
- 2. Calls to Action Can Appear Just About Anywhere
- 3. Supporting Text Gives Extra Juice to CTAs
- 4. CTAs Don’t Have to Be Boring Buttons
- 5. Stand-out Calls to Action Can Guide Visitors Where You Want Them
- 6. Being Tricky With Calls to Action Is Lame
- 7. It’s Fine to Use CTAs More Than Once
- 8. Be Careful With Calls to Action That Require Apps
- 9. Use CTAs as Navigation Tools
- Call to Action Conclusions
- Want to learn more?
1. Not All Calls to Action Are About Sales (Not Now, Anyway)
In ecommerce, the ultimate goal is sales. That’s why so many ecommerce CTAs tell us to buy or shop or add something to our basket. But there are plenty of CTAs that have nothing to do with generating sales. Or at least they have nothing to do with generating sales right now. Instead, lots of calls to action that are designed to generate leads, inform shoppers, and encourage sharing.
Let’s look at some call to action examples that encourage users to take all sorts of actions besides making a purchase.
The social proof CTA
All of these clickable buttons from Casper display different types of customer reviews. The buttons are essentially the company’s selling points – the 100-night trial, the incredible comfort, etc. – and each one shows visitors just how much customers loved their Casper experience. Calls to action like this bring shoppers closer to a sale even though “add to basket” is nowhere in sight.
Pipcorn, which makes popcorn snacks, has video calls to action that also act as social proof. Each short video features a Pipcorn fan explaining their favorite “mini moment” and, of course, explaining what they love about Pipcorn.
The sharing call to action
There are numerous calls to action in these two images from HubSpot, and none of them has anything to do with sales. These CTAs are designed to make it easy to share HubSpot’s content on social media, email, or anywhere else (the last icon is “copy”).
The mailing list CTA
In these three images, we see a discount, then a free download, then an offer to answer questions. In each one, the CTA is designed to get an email address. That email address can be used to send marketing materials and additional offers to nurture future sales. Unlike CTAs that say “Buy now!” these CTAs essentially say, “Let us email you so you might buy later.”
2. Calls to Action Can Appear Just About Anywhere
There are no rules for where you place your CTAs. Here we see that Foodora, a food delivery service, wants visitors to enter their address to confirm that delivery is possible. Foodora knows that if a hungry person selects food, gets out their credit card, and starts fantasizing about dinner, they won’t be happy to learn that they live too far away. That’s why there’s a big call to action telling you to Check now if delivery is possible.
Even if you scroll down, you can’t shake the Enter your street address text field and button: It follows you down the page.
We’re big fans of CTAs with dynamic placement, as well. For example, if you want to sign up for our newsletter, you can do it at the top of every blog post.
If you scroll down, you’re still going to have a CTA giving you a chance to enter your email address.
HubSpot also does a good job of getting their CTAs in front of visitors, no matter where those visitors might be on the page. This image shows how a HubSpot page responds when you scroll down a bit: The top two calls to action (Subscribe and Get started) stay pinned to the top, and the sharing CTAs stay pinned to the bottom.
One final example of great call to action placement. This heart lets you add an item to your wish list. Not only is the design catchy – a heart is better than a rectangle that says Add to wishlist – but it also doesn’t intrude on the product image itself. It’s always there, but never in the way.
3. Supporting Text Gives Extra Juice to CTAs
A call to action can only say so much. Most CTAs are roughly the size of a button, so there isn’t always space to brag about features or deals. These next call to action examples prove that you can make your CTAs more clickable with some supporting text.
The actual call to action here contains two words – SHOP NOW. But those two words have lots of help. Starting at the top: In the main navigation, the word CLEARANCE is in a different color, immediately catching shoppers’ eyes. Just below that, there is a note about free shipping. Below that, the word CLEARANCE again. Then a fat number, then another note about free shipping. SHOP NOW is not the focal point. At all. Instead, SHOP NOW is just the vehicle to take advantage of all the cool stuff on the rest of the page.
Here are some CTA examples from car manufacturer Tesla. First, Tesla lets visitors know that if you want to Shop now, you can get a car in less than 14 days. Meanwhile, custom-built vehicles (Build your own) are available in one to two months. Text is used to set expectations, explain options, and guide the visitor exactly where they want to go.
Next up is a CTA example from Audible, the audio book outlet. The call to action itself is enticing and informative, with words like “free” and “trial” reassuring the visitor that there really isn’t any downside here. And on top of that, there is a ringing endorsement about how this is the “perfect first listen.” Interestingly, this quote comes from an Audible employee named Alex. But hey, doesn’t matter. The end result is a CTA supported by convincing text.
This next call to action, which encourages visitors to shop for high-end passport wallets, has cheeky copy about how there are no passport stamps included with the product. Notes like that might offer the final little push toward a purchase that Shop now never could.
More harmony here between the CTA and surrounding text. New and discover absolutely support each other: Discovering new things is way better than shopping or browsing for new things. Little turns of phrase like that can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your CTAs.
4. CTAs Don’t Have to Be Boring Buttons
Websites all across the web are doing interesting things with CTA design. After all, there’s no rule that says CTAs have to be colored rectangles.
Here, for instance, is a newsletter signup, and the word Subscribe is nowhere to be found.
This CTA design from Boss is embedded among dozens of products. It absolutely captures the visitor’s attention: You expect to see another article of clothing, and instead you get an invitation to look at a new collection.
In this page promoting its social advertising capabilities, MailChimp uses faux advertisements as CTAs. Click on the Google ad, and you go to a page explaining MailChimp/Google integration. Click on the Instagram ad, and you go to a page explaining MailChimp/Instagram integration.
Never a slouch when it comes to design, Apple cooked up a beautiful call to action for the iPhone X. Can’t decide where to click? Doesn’t matter. The entire thing is linked, so you can click anywhere on the screen with this new-age CTA.
Here are a few more beautiful call to action examples. There are standard CTA elements like Shop now, but in each of these, the entire screen is a clickable call to action.
5. Stand-out Calls to Action Can Guide Visitors Where You Want Them
If there are certain products you want to push or certain deals that you want shoppers to be aware of, you can adapt your calls to action to nudge people exactly where you want them to go.
Calvin Klein does exactly that with this Sale call to action. They’re happy for you to click on Women or Underwear, but the CTA encouraging visitors to check out the sale stands out. And of course shoppers love a sale, so it’s a win-win: CK shows you items that are ready to move, and the shopper immediately learns about the best deals.
The software company Zendesk uses this tactic to funnel people to its “Support” product. When you hover over the Products tab on the Zendesk website, lots of options pop up. But one option pops up bigger than the rest – Support. The size and placement of this call to action show that Zendesk wants you to check it out.
Here is another call to action, from Nike, that immediately catches the eye. You can Shop now, which would make any ecommerce store happy. The other option, though, is Customize and buy. The subtle inclusion of a color wheel catches our attention and reinforces the idea that you can get creative with your customized shoe design.
6. Being Tricky With Calls to Action Is Lame
Every now and then you’ll find calls to action that are a bit misleading. These are no fun.
Instead of utilizing the strategy we just discussed – creating eye-catching CTAs to direct visitors toward best deals and services – these CTAs do the opposite. They use colors and placement to guide users toward items that they specifically don’t want, often to prevent the customer from churning.
To cancel your subscription at this website, you have to answer a couple questions. No big deal. But the last step is submitting the cancellation – and then things get tricky. There are two buttons, and everything about them is counterintuitive. For starters, they are inverted: Generally when two buttons are side-by-side, the button that means “proceed” will be on the right. Here, Submit Cancel is on the left. In addition, the Back button is colored, which instinctively draws the user’s attention.
Here’s another example of deceptive CTAs, once again relating to a subscription cancellation. When you signal your intention to quit, you go to this page. You get one last sales pitch to renew your subscription:
After you scroll through the sales pitch, you can go ahead and confirm the cancellation:
After you click Yes, it’s all over. Or so you thought. Instead, clicking Yes simply takes you to another page:
You are forced to scroll some more, and eventually submit answers to questions. And then, you have to cancel again.
At this point, you have answered the same question – Are you sure you want to cancel? – two times. You have also navigated across multiple pages, and if you dropped out of the process at any point, the cancellation wouldn’t go through.
This kind of thing has all sorts of downside. The best case scenario is that the churning subscriber – who is presumably already less than 100% satisfied with the service – succeeds with their cancellation. The worst case is that the CTAs confuse the user enough that the cancelation doesn’t go through. That would mean (a) they have to go through the cancellation steps again, or (b) they are surprised next month when they are billed for a service they thought was canceled.
7. It’s Fine to Use CTAs More Than Once
With calls to action, sometimes you have to repeat yourself. And that’s fine. If your CTAs are tastefully designed and create value for shoppers – for example, leading them to the best deals or newest offers – then they won’t mind seeing them more than once. Or more than twice. Or more than… well, let’s just take a look at a few call to action examples that utilize the say-it-more-than-once strategy.
This page gives users every chance to shop. The placement of these calls to action ensures that, on desktop or mobile, the visitor is always in close proximity to a button that’ll help them shop.
Let’s check back in with Audible, whose homepage is littered with calls to actions. Each and every CTA button on this page has the word “free,” which is surely no accident. Audible also uses “try” three times, and “trial” once. It’s like a one-page “free trial” drip campaign.
8. Be Careful With Calls to Action That Require Apps
In the beginning, CTAs were mostly intra-site. In other words, the “action” in “call to action” kept the visitor within the website they were already on – visit a page, go to checkout, add something to a basket.
Then we saw an explosion of social CTAs. In addition to browsing products or making purchases, calls to action started encouraging users to post images on Pinterest, share articles on Twitter, etc.
The next evolution: using calls to action to let people share stuff on apps. Here, for example, are some of the new icons that you’ll find on the web – WhatsApp and Slack are the first two. WhatsApp is a mobile messaging app that also has a desktop version; Slack is a desktop and mobile workplace collaboration tool.
CTAs that encourage sharing are awesome. But the thing is, when you incorporate apps like WhatsApp and Slack into your calls to action, it requires integration with technology that is not simply off-site, but also off-browser. And even in 2018, these integrations are not always smooth.
Here is what you might see when you click on the Slack CTA. Nobody wants to click on a call to action and then see a note that you need to contact your administrator.
Same thing can happen with WhatsApp. Instead of sharing an article via WhatsApp, you might be asked to sign up for WhatsApp – even if you’re logged in to the desktop app.
Calls to action are great navigation tools: You benefit because you can guide your visitors exactly where you want them to go, and your visitors benefit because they have a clean experience navigating your site.
Here are two call to action examples from Hugo Boss that are designed to help visitors navigate the massive selection of categories and subcategories available.
This call to action takes it a step further – men and women, yes, but also boys and girl.
On sites with endless options, CTAs like this can save your shoppers time and effort as they look for products. And we want to do anything we can to reduce the time it takes them to get to checkout.
Call to Action Conclusions
Alright, so there are nine CTA rules to keep in mind as you build your store. Let’s recap what we know.
1. Not all CTAs are about sales (not now, anyway)
CTAs can serve lots of purposes, from increasing social engagement to encouraging newsletter signups.
2. CTAs can appear just about anywhere
Calls to action are worthless if no one can see them. Pin them to your top navigation or have them appear when visitors scroll.
3. Supporting text can really give life to calls to action
A call to action might just be two words – Shop now – but those two words can be more effective with text that supports the CTA.
4. CTAs don’t have to be boring buttons
Bored with buttons? There is no rule against making an entire section of your website a clickable call to action.
5. Stand-out CTAs can guide visitors where you want them
If you have certain products or offers that you want your visitors to see, use colorful, attention-grabbing calls to action to get them there.
6. Being tricky with calls to action is lame
While you can use call to actions to deliver value to your customers some use call to actions to trick them. Which isn’t cool.
7. Sometimes asking once won’t work
Don’t be shy with your CTAs. People scroll, they get distracted, they might not be paying attention 100 percent of the time. Design your call to actions to help people. Then, nobody will mind seeing them more than once.
8. Be careful with calls to action that require an app
Incorporating social media and email into your CTAs can really help boost engagement. Just be careful when you take that next step and put CTAs featuring apps like WhatsApp and Slack on your site. The tech isn’t always flawless.
9. Use CTAs as navigation tools
You can use CTAs to funnel your traffic where they want to go.