6 of the biggest mistakes we make with CTAs (and 1 powerful solution)
Updated: Oct 17
The closing statement in your blog post. A line in your sales email. Or a button on your landing page. A call to action (CTA) is an instruction to your reader so they have a clear next step to take and aren't left hanging. It’s an opportunity to engage, change their thinking and convert them. Without achieving an outcome, was your writing worth the effort?
At A Thousand Monkeys we talk a lot about how critical each line of your copy is for the effectiveness of your marketing. But no matter how optimised, sparkling or engaging every word is, it’s not a guarantee anyone will go further than just enjoying the words on your page if you haven’t mastered the art and science of creating killer calls to action.
Those tiny little bits of copy have to jump out to your readers, convince them of the value of your offer, and get them clicking. Which is why it's crucial that we don't make silly mistakes that could seriously harm your CTA click-through rates.
Luckily, this blog post can serve as your reference next time you create a new CTA or modify an existing one to fix your conversion-killing faux pas.
So, let’s get turning your readers into leads, leads into customers, and customers into promoters by looking at the six biggest mistakes we make with CTAs – and one powerful solution.
1. Single words
Subscribe. Download. Shop. Join. Click.
Does it entice you to act if you see calls to action that contain only these words? If you stumble across one, there’s a high chance you probably wouldn’t click on it.
While none of these are terrible, they can come across as forceful and impersonal. Single-word calls to action fall flat when they fail to highlight the benefits of your offer. Why should a potential customer buy, sell, or join?
Like Zillow, adding a few supporting words around the call to action can give the necessary context for your audience so you win more conversions.
Another great tactic to help you overcome this is to make your copy complete this sentence:
“I want to ________________”
That little trick is how we move away from generic, single-worded calls to action and get wording like ‘find out how to ride a bike’ and ‘make sense of my finances fast’. Or as Revolut say, ‘open an account in minutes’.
2. Too impersonal
Switching your CTAs to first person – with the copy surrounding it being second person – is a great way to make it all about your reader.
For example, the word ‘you’ within the copy leading up to the CTA can shift the tone of writing so that it’s more conversational and engaging. And using ‘me’ and ‘my’ in the call-to-action wording helps the potential customer feel as if you’re directing the message at them instead of thousands of people at the same time.
Unbounce.com found that changing ‘get your free 30-day trial’ to ‘get my free 30-day trial’ increased click-through rate by 90%.
And Hubspot recently reported a 202% conversion rate from readers to leads using personalised wording. So, adding any touches that speak directly to the audience is a no-brainer.
Here’s a great example from Crazyegg:
3. Too many calls to action
Sometimes you need to use more calls to action depending on the length of what you’ve written. The longer the copy, the more times you’ll need to repeat a call to action. If your reader gets halfway through reading your copy and is ready to convert, make sure they have the opportunity – don’t make them wait until the end.
The issue comes when too many CTAs are used for different purposes in the same piece of copy – sending your reader into action overload. This can quickly turn into in-action.
To be effective, you need to embrace single-minded copy. Be clear about what you want to achieve from your writing and try not to create too many choices.
See how Evernote’s secondary ‘sign in’ call to action doesn’t compete with the primary CTA button here:
4. A lack of urgency
Humans are always looking out for a good opportunity and adding a tone of urgency to your CTA will tap into this. You need to pass the message on that your potential customer could lose out if they take too long.
Take the classic example of a limited-sales product or capped number of available event tickets that could run out fast because too many people are chasing it.
Urgency in your CTA will drive up interactions and give you a better chance of converting viable leads into customers.
The following example is from Everlane's Black Friday popup. They sure know how to grab their website visitors' attention, including a countdown timer around the call-to-action button to trigger FOMO.
Whereas Loom remind customers that their trial is about to end, highlighting what they will lose if they don't upgrade their plan right before the call to action.
5. Not using social proof
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes, so is social proof when you're trying to convey a concept within a constrained CTA character limit.
Social proof adds legitimacy and authority, and can really showcase the value of the course, event, or service you’re offering. They also show that other people have trusted you, benefited from your offer, or enjoyed your content. And your readers are more likely to follow a crowd.
Using numbers is one way to catch the eye of your reader. Instead of saying ‘join thousands of happy customers’, get specific and try Hubspot’s blog subscription CTA approach, ‘join 57,702 others and subscribe now!’
6. Unanswered anxieties
People are sceptical and can feel worried about making a decision.
‘Get your free trial!’ That’ll be enough to entice them you think to yourself. But will it? You can probably name a time when you’ve signed up for a free trial only to be charged when you forget about it.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes before asking them to hit any link or button – is there any possible barrier or unanswered question they could have?
They might like the look of your course, find your pricing reasonable, or have a need for your services. But it doesn’t mean they will sign up or purchase straight away.
For example, if your CTA involves asking students to ‘apply now’ on an advert for a new course you’re offering, it puts more pressure on and could turn students away. But a ‘find out more’ alternative would allow them time to explore the option more before a decision is made.
And if your offer involves departing from money, your reader may have questions like: Can I pay via PayPal? Will you offer a refund if I change my mind?
Answer their fears.
Dropbox clearly state, ‘no credit card needed’. Immediately that’s dispelled some of the audience’s concern around having to enter loads of personal and payment details.
Or follow Grammarly’s example from their homepage, ‘download Grammarly. It’s free.’
And now for the powerful solution? Add in the benefits!
It's easy to narrow down your offer. You're promoting a new business school prospectus, an e-book about writing, or a free trial of your software. What's not easy is identifying the benefit of that offer, or what we call the ‘so what?’
If you can't explain to your reader how your offer is going to help them, why would they click through to redeem it?
In the example below, instead of simply directing visitors to download the free e-book about calls-to-action, the copy in bold orange font explains why the e-book content is valuable. Readers will learn how to direct better traffic to their offers and generate more leads for their business.
Are CTA phrases really this important? Yes! Readers that never click, never become subscribers, sign ups, and customers. Overall, calls to action that convey exclusivity, time sensitivity, social proof and benefits often perform better than those that do not.