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Click here: How to design a killer call-to-action

Get free donuts! Designing and optimising a powerful CTA is an important consideration.

Designing and optimising a powerful CTA is an important consideration. All content is created for a reason after all; it must inspire a response from its audience for it to work as it should. Never forget though: CTAs serve content – not the other way around.

Get free donuts!

It’d be nice if all call-to-actions were quite so deliciously click-worthy. Crafting your own – whether it’s to drive sign-ups to a newsletter, prompt someone to add an item to their cart, or just get someone to ‘Do this thing, now!’ – doesn’t exactly sound like a Herculean task. It is, however, a delicate art.

Covering both design and copywriting aspects, here’s what to think about when creating a CTA that packs the most punch.

First up, a caveat

A call-to-action is sort of like a miniature trampoline, springing users from one level of their content journey to another. What it looks like varies wildly, however. Inevitably (and sort of obviously), how it’s designed will always depend on what you’re trying to get your customer to do. The medium you’re using, the channel you’re on, and myriad other factors besides will also come into play.

Though it’d be much easier for us marketers if we knew that ‘people will always click on red circles’ or ‘rounded corners on rectangles will see click-through rate jump 400%’, believing as much would be folly. As we’ve talked about before, user-centric design has very few of these ‘technical’ golden rules around it – after all, this would be presuming that audiences everywhere all like the same thing, and all act the same irrespective of context. For some brands, the hard sell with garish colours will work; for others, a more subtle, tantalising style is best.

Another thing to keep in mind: don’t blame your poor CTA button for bad conversion rates if the content itself is in a shambles. While they’re definitely important to get right, if your CTA isn’t surrounded by or doesn’t lead to valuable, relevant, useful content – well. It’s not going to be worth a damn thing.

4 design considerations

Still, there are some general best practices. Here’s what to consider design-wise when creating a call-to-action that will give you the best click-through chance.

Honour the visual hierarchy

An obvious one: make it obvious. Users’ eyes tend to skim and float over web pages, and in a crowded, distracting page environment, a CTA can get overlooked. When this happens, you may have lost yourself a lead.

To ensure this disastrous event doesn’t happen, plot your CTA so it’s surrounded by a nice cushiony buffer of white space. Make it easy to find, or impossible to miss. Some brands will do this by having a ‘Subscribe’ button as a side-widget, which follows users as they scroll up and down (but only in a peripheral, non-interruptive way). Others make use of behavioural targeting wisdom, coding for an ‘exit intent pop-up’ to appear when a user’s mouse drifts towards the browser’s exit button. Having a few of the same CTAs dotted about the page can also have its merits – so long as it’s selectively strewn, not ambushing your audience from all sides.

Above or below the fold?

A hangover metaphor from the era of broadsheet newspapers, ‘above the fold’ elements are those which appear on a web page immediately as it loads, without a user needing to scroll down to find it. Though having a CTA on this visible top level will increase its reach, there’s no guarantee it’ll increase its effectiveness. As tests have repeatedly shown, audiences making considered decisions or big purchases are more likely to respond to CTAs at the end of a page, after they’ve had the time to read through the content and been convinced that their click action is worthwhile.

Any earlier than this, and they may feel ‘rushed’ into a decision – prodded and poked, and as a result, irritated. And irritated audiences aren’t going to be the ones getting you signups or sales.

Colour for distinctiveness

Tangerine? Sulphurous yellow? Emu egg green? We can’t, in good conscience, advise any particular hue for or against (not least because your branding will likely be a palette constraint). Sure, most users may recoil from a call-to-action tinted ‘aged avocado’ – but it’s colour contrast here that marketers should be more focused on rather than colour alone.

It ties back to our first point: making sure your CTA stands out.

Don’t overwhelm with multiple CTAs

Give a person more than one option, and they start humming and hawing and dithering about. Rather than having to perform the fatiguing, brain-taxing task of deciding which action is best, they’re more likely to turn tail and take no action at all. Psychologists call this phenomenon ‘choice overload’ – it’s why the salad bar at buffet restaurants makes your average diner anxious, finding themselves back at the table with a plateful of dinner rolls when they had such good intentions to eat greens.

The most appealing CTAs, then, stand alone. Free from competition, their ‘call’ rings out the clearer, and they can speak to their audiences in a more calm and direct tone.

4 copywriting considerations

‘Just do it’. These three little words are the widely hailed the pinnacle of 20th century copywriting. Short, clean and powerful, they’ve been converting people into Nike customers since Dan Wieden first penned them in 1988. (Never mind that they were inspired by the last words of a murderer.)

By making their tagline a call-to-action, the then-fledgling sports brand made a smart move. They understood the power of great language: how a single, exquisitely calibrated phrase can shift perception and inspire action.

To be like Nike (sort of), here’s a breakdown of copywriting to elevate your CTA’s potential:

Keep it simple

More economic CTAs will work better than waffly ones. For instance, ‘Watch video’ will be more effective on a button than ‘Follow this link to our website where you’ll get to watch this amazing video segment!’

Keep it upbeat

‘Upbeat’ here means your CTAs are two things: action-orientated and positive. They’re a promise that in return for doing this action, you’re going to be rewarded – some way, somehow. ‘Win this’, ‘Get that’, ‘Power up this strategy’ – you get the idea.

Make it personal

Conversational and personalised copy is a great way of cutting through the stuffy formality separating audiences from businesses. For example, rather than saying ‘Visit our office’, why not say ‘Let’s grab coffee’? This down-to-earth tone helps make your brand appear more human – and as a result, more approachable.

Think creative

CTAs may be just a small part of your content strategy, but they still offer an opportunity to show your creative colours.

Creativity always comes with a licence however. Imagination is amazing, but ensuring that you’re speaking your client’s language and in your brand’s own tone should always be the greater priorities here.

Test, refine, test (repeat)

As a critical element of UX design, optimising your CTA is going to need ongoing testing. Gmail tested 50 different shades of blue on their own CTA colour before they settled on the one which saw the highest conversions. (Apparently it’s #3369E8.)

By optimising your CTA through A/B testing, your content is getting the justice and your audience is getting the opportunities that both of them deserve.

3 CTAs by brands who know what they’re doing

Convince and Convert

Convince and Convert gets its business out of, well, convincing and converting customers. It makes sense that they’ve got their enewsletter signup CTA down pat. Theirs is an exit-intent pop-up (see above), so this massive CTA screen only appears when a user gives a behavioural signal they’re about to head elsewhere. The text is unmissable, the copy is conversational, and the challenge is powerful. The ‘No thanks’ wording also is smart – structuring politeness into the offer rejection, so that users still maintain a positive relationship with the brand.

call to action - convince and convert


For most organisations, acquiring leads is a lot more difficult than retaining them. When it comes to subscribers, you’ve worked so hard to woo these wonderful people, it can be heartbreaking when they turn to walk away. Design a good unsubscribe page, and you’ve got a chance they’ll think twice about dumping you forever.

Groupon’s work here is sublime. If you’re leaving them, the company reasons, then it must be Derrick’s fault – Derrick being the employee supposedly behind the company’s daily emails. He let you down, the site humorously (and sort of diabolically) implies. For that, he must be punished.

call to action - groupon

The user is sent to a video of Derrick getting shouted at by his irate boss. As hot coffee is hurled at him, the poor guy tumbles off his lonely office chair, landing out of frame. “That was pretty mean… I hope you’re happy,” the call-to-action reads as the video rolls to a close – followed by: “Want to make it up to Derrick? Resubscribe!”

Social Triggers

Intriguingly, this CTA by Social Triggers also stars Derek. A slight difference in spelling here, and probably not the same guy.

The possible conversion magic of the name ‘Derek’ aside, what makes this CTA most powerful is its tantalising pull and its cheeky use of copy. That 5k figure, the alluring pledge, that big red button, that humongous ‘FREE’. Working together, they hit all the right stops.

call to action - derek

You can’t Catch Them All with CTAs. But you can convert some.

Gareth Allsopp (Creative Director) contributed A+ insights to this article.

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