What is a call to action? It's a link, button, or wording on your website intended to help your visitor do something on your site. Some of the most common are to "Buy Now" or "Sign Up."
The point of almost every website is to get - or allow - the visitor to take action. It might be to click on another link and "Read more" or pick up the phone and call your local plumber.
Even so-called "business card" websites want you to get in touch with the business. Examples are:
- Call your local electrician.
- Come visit your local boutique.
- Send an email to an artist you'd like more information about.
How to think about calls to action
So, suppose you, as a small business owner, want your visitor to do something as a result of visiting your website.
How do you communicate that to your visitor?
How do you make it a good experience for them?
How do you invite them into a deeper relationship with you?
Asking all these questions is an excellent start to thinking about your website's calls to action (CTAs). These calls to action are buttons or links (or sometimes just wording) on your website. And they offer your visitor a way to engage with your site and your business.
Calls to action are part of your brand
As you think about the calls to action on your website, consider that you are offering your visitor insight into your brand.
I consider a business' brand to be its logo, colors, and vibe - AND every experience its website visitor, customer, or client has with it.
You're shaping their perception of your business with every engagement with your audience.
For some businesses, getting people to click that button and buy the thing or sign up for the email list is their mission. They'll use manipulative language or tactics to accomplish their goal.
I like to invite my visitors to engage with me in a way that feels like they also get worthwhile value from the interaction. I want them to feel like they win whenever they engage with my business or website.
How to Use
Calls to action should be used strategically to invite your visitor to interact with you.
The Home page often contains multiple important links because there are usually several sections about the rest of the website.
However, the first call to action on the Home page should be within the first screen or two of the site, even on mobile. This CTA should be the most important thing you want the user to do on the page.
Other calls to action on the Home page may include an option for people who need more time to be ready to act using your main CTA. If your first CTA is "buy now," your alternate might be "get on the email list" or "browse the collection." If your primary CTA is "get on the email list," - then the alternate might be "read the About page" or "check out this blog post." The alternates should be a lower level of commitment. (Read more about levels of commitment in part 2, Calls to action that help your audience trust you.)
Header and Footer
People have different philosophies on calls to action in the header or the footer. Sometimes, a call to action - "buy now," "donate now," "shop now" in the top right of the page is appropriate. It depends on your brand. Some people show this CTA as a button rather than as a link in the main navigation,
Also, I like to design footers to have all the important links but none of the pressure.
Calls to action seem silly to talk about on a sales page because that's the whole purpose.
However, besides a simple "Buy Now" button for your product or service, consider other calls to action that may help people who want more or aren't ready to buy yet.
For people who would like to buy the thing but also would be interested in more, you might add other options. This might look like "You may also like" buttons with recommendations for other products or "Shop the bundle" or Shop the outfit" to let people conveniently purchase related items.
For people who aren't ready yet, you could have a blog post they could read, an email newsletter signup, or a free offer they might be interested in.
Suppose you don't allow people to purchase directly from your website. In that case, you can still prepare people to take action by clearly describing the process of working with you and directing people to the next step they should take.
I get it - you don't want to come across as salesy. And I agree, it's not the right place for it on your About page.
However, you can invite someone to take a small step with you at the bottom of your About page. This might be to read a blog post or sign up for an email newsletter. I fully support NOT adding a direct "Buy Now" message there, but you can keep moving the relationship forward.
Possible calls to action at the bottom of blog posts might be to read other related blog posts, the next in the series, or to sign up for an email newsletter.
Other CTAs might be to follow you on social or send you a DM or an email. Again, this is a great place to ask someone who has spent some time reading your thoughts to continue to engage with you.
If the blog post is about a specific product, this could also be a great place to add a link to that product. Just be intentional about it.
Broken record time: keep thinking about that person and what you can do to grow your relationship with them in a way that serves both parties.
Other internal links
Linking from products to blog posts, blog posts to products they describe, one page to another - there are many ways to connect some parts of your website to others. In general, it's a good idea to do this in ways that make sense for the user.
Making sure that no pages are "orphans" without a way to get to other parts of the site is critical. These links may not qualify as calls to action for some, but they all affect your relationship with your user, and as such, I count them.
Your readers will identify your calls to action easier if they have a consistent look on your website.
Some websites have a main button design and a minor button design. Do whatever works for your brand, just make sure you consider how easy it is to find the buttons on your site. Many different styles and colors can confuse people trying to figure out where to click.
Contrast for easy readability
I've seen my share of light gray text on white buttons, tiny, thin text, or garish combinations that make my eyes hurt to look at them.
Make sure you have dark text on light buttons and light text on dark buttons. If your brand colors are mid-tones, consider using a lighter or darker shade for your background or text to make more contrast.
However, I don't recommend using white text on a black background - that can be TOO much contrast and hard to read as well.
Simplicity wins. Subtle micro animations might be appropriate to draw the user's attention for some sites - I rarely say "never." But I object to buttons flying around like I object to other parts of a website flying around.
Use great graphics and leave the animation to the movies, is my general rule of thumb.
It is usually a distraction, sometimes an accessibility issue.
Sometimes a subtle shadow - called a box-shadow - can make a button pop slightly from the background and give your page a sense of depth. Some platforms will have this design feature available, but not all, so check to see what you have.
Consider your supporting content
Also, calls to action need to fit within the framework of your offer.
Suppose you have a "Buy Now" button. In that case, the customer should (usually) already know what to expect when they click the button - what the cost will be, how the product or service will be delivered, what the next step is, and any other pertinent information.
Consider how many clicks it takes to get to your call to action, and then to complete the action - the purchase, sign-up, etc.
The caveat is on the Home page - sometimes you have a "Buy Now" button at the top of the page, without the visitor knowing much about your offer.
However, the function of that button is to allow people who already know they want it to get to it quickly - and to let people who don't know anything about it know that it is important.
Focus on your visitor
For all of these guidelines, the goal is to guide your visitor through your site, helping them understand what it will be like to work with you.
Calls to action can help guide your visitors on their journey when you intentionally integrate them with your content.
Thoughtfully designed and placed calls to action can make it easy to work with you. They can help users engage with your content and business.
Great calls to action help you build great relationships with your audience.