The 7 Deadly Sins of Bad Calls to Action

Calls to action are hyper-critical to the conversion process, and incredibly easy to get wrong. Are you making any of these 7 common mistakes on your website? If so, you could be quashing your conversions and pulling money out of your own pocket!

1. Submit? No Thanks.

The language of your call to action is absolutely critical. This may very well be the last text a lead reads before deciding whether or not to contact you, try that demo or give you their hard-earned cash. The language of your call to action has a direct impact on someone’s willingness to click and move forward. It’s not enough to have a functional stand-in; you need unambiguous text that’s tied back to a benefit the customer is hoping to receive. Text like “submit” definitely confirms that the lead is about to take an action, but it’s also vague, impersonal and frankly, a little bit domineering. Instead of sticking to the clichés of “Click here”, “Buy Now”, “Try a Demo” and so on, you can get a little more creative with your text to showcase a benefit to the customer. One tip I love from CopyHackers’ Joanna Wiebe is to write call to action text in the first person. A first-person perspective appeals directly to the reader, as though it was being spoken internally instead of from your business. As Joanna points out, nobody wants to “Submit” or “Register to Learn More”. Think of your call to action as a call to value; an invitation to get something awesome, not a command to obey.

2. Blending in and Tuning Out

This one should go without saying – but if nobody can find your call to action, it’s probably not going to perform so well. Here’s an example of a hidden/non-existent CTA – the home page from Longscycle: See that Blow-Out deal? Where on earth would you click to check it out? The image? There’s no button, not invitation to check it out… it’s just.. there. To navigate to the product page, you have to click the text, which isn’t even dressed up like a link. On pages intended to drive an action, hiding your CTA in an ocean of clutter is a death wish for conversions. – but it’s easier to do than you think. Some general rules:
  • Use contrasting colors to make your CTA obvious, and don’t be afraid to choose a tone that’s not in your company color scheme.
  • In most cases, your CTA should be big and obvious in order to draw attention to itself.
  • Avoid using grey or muted colors for call to action buttons. Internet users have developed heuristics that tell us these links are dead or unclickable.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, CTAs don’t need to be above the fold – but they do need to be present at the moment the customer wants to convert.
  • Hyperlinks should come in a contrasting color – but be careful about deviating from the tried and tested blue shade we’ve all come to know and understand.
Now for a good example: Check out Positionly’s CTA. They’ve given prominence to “Get Started Now” by making it leap from the background with a big, green button. They’ve also kept their weight in check, keeping the “Discover More” readily visible but not distracting from the task at hand – getting people to give their product a whirl.

3. What’s Behind Curtain #3?

Remember those old game shows where prizes were hid behind curtains? Contestants never knew what they were going to get – sometimes a new car, and sometimes a whole lot of nothing. Veiling your calls to action in ambiguous language leaves leads wondering what on earth they’re going to get themselves into if they keep on clicking. The language you use needs to leave absolutely no doubt about what’s coming next. For example, instead of using “Next”, which tells the user nothing about what’s coming, make the call to action a description of the next step (e.g. “Add Your Contact Info”). “Click here” offers absolutely no information or indication as to what lies in wait on the other side. In cases where the CTA is not a continuation in a chain, you need to spell out exactly what you want your lead to do and why it benefits them. Tell them what’s coming so there’s no anxiety in wondering what’s hiding behind the curtain. You can even use text below your CTA or your button to deal with lingering anxieties. For example, below, “Start My Free Trial”, you might share that no credit card information will be required and no sales calls will be made without request, addressing fears that might keep someone from moving forward.

4. Funnel? What Funnel!

As your customers move throughout the sales funnel, their need states change – and their level of willingness to commit does, too. So why doesn’t your call to action change? If you want your CTA to be effective, it needs to reflect the point in the funnel your lead is currently sitting at. Ask for too much to early, and you’ll lose the prospect. Ask for too little too late, and your offer will be way too passive. Woah! At this point, the lead is likely brand new to Joss & Main. They’re perfect strangers, and yet, the CTA is commanding them to “JOIN NOW”? Talk about intimidating. Here’s another one I dug up. The site is for a group of divorce mediators who also offer services like prenuptial agreements, divorce coaching and employer assistance: The same CTA is in the sidebar on every page of the website, but it’s unspecific and a little bit pushy. A lead might simply want to call for more information before they sign on for a consultation (high commitment) that they may or may not actually need. As you write your website copy, consider the stage of the funnel the person viewing that page or product is likely to be at, and tailor your ask to match.

5. Watch Your Weight.

There are two lessons here: The first is to limit the number of calls to action on a page. Presenting too many options or possible ways of moving forward will lead to customer paralysis. Should they try your free demo, or check out your special pricing? Or, should they ignore both and check out your comparison engine to see how you stack up against the competition? Decisions, decisions… and science shows us they just might choose to make no decision at all. People love to SEE variety, but too much variety actually inhibits people from making a purchase decision. Make the path clear and get out of your own way. The second lesson is that while multiple calls to action are sometimes and inevitability (or a necessary – like on a pricing page with different tiers), the way you “weight” them makes an enormous difference in helping people take action. You want to make the decision hierarchy clear; usually (though not always) there is one course of action that is either most appropriate, most lucrative or most in-line with what the consumer needs. How do you accomplish that? There are several ways you can add weight to the most important CTA:
  • Bolding
  • Contrast: Breaking the norm or venturing outside the color pallet to highlight one option most prominently
  • Placement: Put the most critical CTA front-and-center and relegate the others to areas where they won’t interfere
  • Size: Make one CTA larger than the others to draw the eye and add emphasis
  • Pointers: Arrows and other visual cues that point to the best option will direct the viewer to give that option the most attention.

6. Don’t Pull the Trigger!

Your call to action is a critical chokepoint: The cards are down, the facts are laid out. It’s decision making time – and making decisions can be a scary experience. The lead hesitates – is this really what they want? Are they ready to commit? Emotions abound. Objections surface. Fears whisper in the back of their mind. If ever there was a time to add some reassurance, this would be it. Bring on the social proof and click triggers. Social proof comes in many different flavors: Reviews, testimonials, star-ratings, customer-generated content and more. If you choose to use these, they must be context-appropriate. It’s not enough to just add a glowing review; that review should offer up proof that someone else has taken the exact same action as the lead is about to and gotten the exact same result the lead is hoping for. “Click Triggers” (another phrase I’m borrowing from Joanna Wiebe) can sometimes be social proof, but also include other important items: Data points, guarantees, payment options and messages about low pricing, privacy or security. Like social proof, these need to be context-appropriate and tied back to the most prominent objections or anxieties your lead faces at the time of the click. For example, a testimonial might be a nice boost, but if the lead is primarily worried about whether or not their credit card details will be required to continue, it does you no good. Choose your click triggers carefully, and test differing options to identify the sets that are most convincing.

7. Always Make an Entrance.

If the content that comes ahead of your CTA is a dud, even the world’s best CTA is going to fall flat. If you want your CTA to do the heavy lifting it needs to, the content surrounding needs to:
  • Make a compelling case for the benefit to the consumer. By the time the consumer hits yours CTA, they should have a rock solid sense of who you are – but more importantly, how you can help address their specific needs. The CTA needs to reinforce that they’re about to take a step towards achieving a solution.
  • Address objections. Every consumer brings objections with them as they enter the funnel. They’re looking for a reason not to buy and watching for red flags that tell them to look elsewhere. Your content needs to tackle these one by one so that they’re primed and ready to click through.
  • Align in tone & voice. This goes for both your preceding copy and your CTA: The voice and tone needs to match up. Friendly and fun brand? Make your CTAs the same. Sensible and direct? Don’t beat around the bush.
  • Shirk hype for genuine excitement. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and don’t play off of cheap tropes to get a lead excited for an outcome that ultimately won’t be theirs.
  • Create a sense of urgency. It’s our natural inclination to want to sit back and evaluate. That’s bad news, because the longer a buyer sits and rationally analyzes the situation, the more the ever-so-important role of emotions in purchase behavior has a chance to subside. Your content needs to prime the lead to act NOW, without sounding like a used car salesman.