The call to action: Writing tips smart marketers know

A man holding a megaphone with the words don't ignore your call to action.

Joanna Wiebe, conversion copy expert from Copy Hackers says, “Visitors who don’t click don’t convert.”

Ain’t that the truth?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘call to action’ (CTA) mentioned when smart marketers talk about effective marketing. A call to action is a suggested action that guides people towards an outcome.

You may want to evoke different actions: get someone on your email list, get someone to buy something or investigate your offer, get someone to share your content on social media or register for an event. Maybe you just want them to have a good, hard think about what you’ve said.

Whatever the action you need to direct your reader to do something after they’ve read your words.

Without a call to action, your marketing campaign is simply a promotional broadcast.

What follows is a guide that shows you how to turn your yawn-worthy call to action into one that has your reader feeling awesome about taking the next step.

All calls to action can be broadly lumped into two categories:

  • Button call to action: very short copy, 1-2 words long.
  • In-copy call to action: a sentence of copy within or at the bottom of a page, or above or below a button.

Because your button calls to action are so short, you can use them with in-copy CTAs to double the impact. You’ll see some examples below that do just that.

Make your call to action an action

Strong verbs are essential when we’re talking about call to actions. Subscribe. Donate. Download. Email. Call. Buy. Compare.

Help your call to action stand out a little by substituting some well-used phrases like “download”, “submit” or “enter” for alternatives such as “get”, “try”, “start” and “reserve”.

Add some urgency

Use commanding words to imply there is a risk attached to waiting too long. A reason will also up the power level of urgency. You could use “Buy Now” but “Buy Now – Limited Offer” has a much greater sense of urgency around it. What if they miss out?

Call to action button - TNW offer
Source: The Next Web conference

Advertise the value of taking the next step

Even when you’re offering a complete solution, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll close the deal.

Remind them of how they will benefit by taking the next step.

Call to action button - Capsule CRM
Source: Capsule CRM

Offering an extra incentive can help push your reader over the line; it could be a free report, a consultation, or a free magnet! The key is to explain the payoff.

Call to action button - Investor offer
Source: “Off the Grid” promotion from Sovereign Investor

Reduce the risk around saying yes

If you are inviting your reader to become involved with you in some way, they may be worried that it will take a long time, or you’ll ask for too much information.

You can push those fears aside by including some more details in your call action. “Download and Get Started Today. Sign up in just 60 seconds”.

Call to action button - Social Sprout
Source: Social Sprout.

Or add some social proof! 8 million people can’t be wrong! Surely!

Call to action button - MailChimp
Source: MailChimp

Use the local lingo

Think about the trigger words your reader might think of and use the same language.

If you are targeting a global audience, make sure your language is adapted to local terminology. Will your readers check out to a shopping basket, or a shopping cart?

Call to action buttons


Make your call to action clearly visible

Make buttons looks like buttons and don’t be afraid to make your call to action BIG. Make it contrast to the rest of your page and give it some breathing room so that your audience’s eyes are drawn right in.

This applies to all kinds of marketing – from your website, blog, and email marketing right through to your brochure and promotional flyer.

Make sure your call to action is always within view

Imagine someone reading your marketing. It could be online, or some printed material. At any point they could decide to take action and it’s crucial that they don’t have to hunt around for that action.

Repeat your call to action on every page and make sure your contact details are just as easy to find.

On landing pages, have a call to action for each page someone scrolls.

Too many calls to action? No such thing!

Keep the choices simple

It’s okay to have a few calls to action but more choice will lead to choice paralysis.

If you have multiple options, separate them visually. Your primary call action should have prime position on your page as the most important action you want your reader to take. You can back this up with secondary calls to action but use a different colour, or font, or position your secondary actions in a different part of the page.

Check out these simple choices from Xero.

Call to action button - XERO
Source: XERO

If you have multiple actions people could take, like logins, follow Buffer’s example and make each one visually unique.

Call to action button - Buffer
Source: Buffer

Put your reader in the midst of the action

Joanna Wiebe shared this great rule of thumb when writing button calls to action and that’s to complete this sentence:

I want to ________________

When you make your reader the star of the call to action they begin to imagine themselves in the dreamscape you’ve (hopefully) painted in your copy.

Call to action button -
Call to action button - FriendlyBuy
Source: FriendlyBuy

In-copy calls to action

You won’t always have a button. An in-copy call to action is usually placed at the bottom of a page, letter or brochure. You can also add some punch to your button by adding a line above or below the button itself.

Wherever the copy is, the same rules apply!

Remind them of the benefit or saying yes, or the pain that led them to this moment – then tell them what to do in simple, clear language.

Here are some examples of some in-copy calls to action.

If you’re ready to save some serious money on car insurance, call us on 1800 CAR BUZZ. Get an instant, obligation-free quote in less than 30 seconds.

Don’t wait another minute to get our customer call-back system working for you. Save $150 when you mention this letter.

Join today and enjoy our 100% money-back guarantee for 60 days!

Call to action checklist

If you’re still reading you might be feeling a little overwhelmed with all the considerations of a good call to action. But never fear.

I’ve summarised the key points into this simple call to action checklist:

  1. What do you want the reader to do? Make it clear.
  2. What do they get when they subscribe? Give them an awesome reason to say yes.
  3. What is the most important action you want them to take? Make this the primary focus.
  4. Are you using clear, active language with a strong verb? Verbs = action!
  5. How do you reduce the risk of saying yes? Add an offer or social proof, explain the process or what happens next.
  6. Is there any urgency? Add a reason to say yes NOW.
  7. Is the call to action clearly visible on each page? Don’t make people hunt around when they are ready to say yes.

Have you seen a great call to action that got you jumpy to say yes? Let me know.

Otherwise, I charge you to review your own calls to action and see which ones are due for an overhaul.


12 Responses

  1. Awesome inspiration as always Belinda. Will keep this article close as I review and write Calls To Action in future.

  2. Thanks Mel! I always find having lots of examples really helps when getting to the writing stage.

    I also wanted to clarify the difference between the in copy call to action and button text as they are written quite differently!

    I’m really glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping in Martin.

      If you’re trying to make a sale, your call to action is going to be salesy. That’s just that truth of it. If you want someone to make a purchase you say, Buy Now or Add to Cart.

      It’s the clear action you want them to take.

      What can make a call to action feel pushy is the copy (and design and marketing flow) around it. You want to make sure readers understand ins and outs of the decision they’re making and why they should trust you.

      I feel pushed when that hasn’t been done properly.

      At the recent Authority conference in Denver ( I heard Dan Pink talk about information disparity. When a customer doesn’t feel like they’ve got enough information to make the right decision, they begin to feel anxious. And that’s the start of a NO DEAL!

      So the call to action is simply the pointy end of a pushy sales process.

      P.S. Yes I have. A year of growing! 😉

      Thanks again for stopping by and asking a great question.

      1. Belinda: Thanks for your eloquent reply!

        We have to talk soon again! I need to learn more about implementing a call to action for my podcast show, and I am sure my listeners would interested to hear about this topic.

        All the Best,


        P.S. Did you know that Australia is now belonging to Europe?! 😉 It is participating in the Eurovision music contest…

        1. My question back to your Martin is: What is the action you’d like to inspire?

          Is it get people to listen, leave a review, or take another action after they listen? Perhaps we can brainstorm one here!

  3. These points are fantastic! thank you! I am currently going through my website to optimise these very things and I came across this blog, perfect timing 🙂

  4. Hi Belinda.
    I belong to a Blog Building Membership Site. It’s a active community. With a extremely active 24 hour chat.
    It’s funny though, so many Bloggers are almost afraid to ask anything from their readers. No matter how informative their post is.

    I just wanted you to know that I am going to share this article with the community. In an effort to get them to put at the very least a small “like this post” Call to Action on each post.

    1. Cheers Craig. I appreciate that!

      The call to action really is important. Just passively sitting back and hoping people will comment, share, download or heavens forbid BUY will never get you anywhere. Good things don’t always come to those to wait…. you have to make it happen. And sometimes it’s as easy as asking!

      Thanks for stopping in.

      1. Sorry, I’ve been busy the last few days.
        Just realized I didn’t add a link to the tweet. Boy did I ever have a hard time finding that post again…

  5. Awesome advices Belinda! As always:) Here at we always advertise the value of taking the next step, as you pointed out. It works even better if you give something, small gift, free e-book, coupon. At least that’s wht we noticed.

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