21 Call to Action Examples and 3 Rules for Effective CTAs

by 45 07/24/2013

I started this article looking for 101 call to action examples.

My plan was to review the all-time great copywriting controls and find the calls to action that made them so effective.

After all, they were written by the historical greats.

But I hadn’t read more than a handful of mailings when I discovered something interesting. All the CTAs were essentially the same.

Well, that was a bust!

Or was it?

I found some interesting parallels between traditional direct mail calls to action and the digital calls to action being written today. And I found three criteria for effective CTAs that work no matter what format you’re using.

Let’s take a look…

First, some traditional calls to action

Reviewing traditional direct mail promotions, I found three things that nearly all calls to action accomplish. See if you can find them in this line-up of old CTAs. (I’ll tell you my findings below.)

Sales and Marketing Management Magazine

So if you were waiting for the perfect time to seize this opportunity, the time is now. Send for your free issue today.

Outside Magazine

Discover the exciting world of outside. Subscribe today.

Success Magazine

Get a taste of SUCCESS! Send me the form at the top of this letter and I’ll send you the next issue of SUCCESS absolutely free.

Harpers Magazine

May I send you a free copy?

There is no obligation attached to my offer…

Please let me know if you’ll accept my offer by January 31.

House & Garden

So indulge—in so much excitement, for so little! Please take advantage of our “Summer White Sale” and save on a subscription to HG today.

Those were the more creative ones. But the majority read like this:

Do mail your acceptance to me today.

So act right now. The postage is paid and you’ve got nothing to lose but a great garden to gain!

SEND NO MONEY NOW! But please mail your card today!

So if you’re looking for knowledge, a rewarding adventure, and the advantage a future perspective can offer, mail the enclosed card today!

See the pattern?

The CTA is your final instruction to your reader, so (duh!) there won’t be 101 variations.

In direct mail, you have to tell people to “mail the enclosed card.” In digital marketing, we ask for a click.

No matter how creative we get, it still boils down to this one request.

But if you look closely at the examples above, there are three things that nearly all the CTAs include:

  1. A no-obligation statement that removes or reduces risk. In many cases, they’re asking for a free trial rather than a purchase. In other words, try us, you’ll like us. This gives people the confidence to buy.
  2. All of them contain some version of “Mail your acceptance card.” This is simple usability. You have to tell people what to do next. Today it would read, “Click the button below.”
  3. Encouragement to respond right away. That’s standard direct response. Don’t give people an option to wait and think about it.

Let me show you a few more examples

Transferring traditional techniques to digital formats

Some digital CTAs perfectly mirror the old mailings. Take this one from Stansberry Research’s Retirement Millionaire promotion.

cta from retirement millionaire promo

The pattern is there:

  • Try it, you’ll like it: “Try” is in all caps.
  • There’s no obligation, which is the modern version of “send no money now.”
  • He wants a response “right away.”
  • Click on the “subscribe now” link to fill out a form.

Now let’s look at some other formats for CTAs…

The “why not” argument

Sometimes there isn’t a strong reason to take action. But there’s no reason not to, either. Here’s how W Magazine used this logic in an old direct mail piece:

This offer may not last long. So order W now—and see what you think of your free issue. After all, with so much to gain—and with absolutely nothing to lose—shouldn’t you at least take a look?

And here it is in a recent 1-2-3 Shrink promotion:

cta from 1-2-3 shrink promo

Your CTA needs to make you want to click, and let’s face it, there isn’t always a compelling reason to try something. Price can get people’s attention, but it’s not good for business, so a common alternative is to ask, “why not?”

Making it all about the benefits

This old Audubon promotion didn’t just offer a subscription. It offered “all the benefits of membership.”

To begin receiving AUDUBON at once and to enjoy all the other benefits of membership in the National Audubon Society, simply return the enclosed form.

If you can offer membership in an exclusive group, this may be a useful approach. But what if you aren’t offering a club, per se?

Focus on the benefits of responding, like this “Off the Grid” promotion from Sovereign Investor:

cta from off the grid promo

Who doesn’t want to protect their wealth, build a fortress around themselves, and live a richer, more satisfying life?

Leading with a strong CTA

Here’s the headline in an old Earthwatch promotion:

Got some free time? A week? A month? A summer?

Come volunteer for a conservation project in the wilds, an environmental project in the tropics, an archeological dig abroad.

Or if you’re busy now, cheer us on from the sidelines.

Adventure? Save the world? Wow! It even has a built-in call to action, the “come volunteer” statement. Today, I’d recommend following this headline with an order button.

The call to action for this promotion is good, but not nearly as compelling.

Remember, the CTA must tell people what to do next. Which means it can’t always have the same excitement level as your headline or lead. Here’s how Earthwatch did it:

If our organization sounds like something that you too would take pleasure in being a part of—whether by participating actively, or cheering us on from the sidelines—I urge you to send in the order form at your earliest convenience…so your adventures can begin with the very next issue of EARTHWATCH.

Can the lead ever work as your CTA? In the Earthwatch promotion, it could have. But back then, you had to provide instructions for how to respond.

Today, people are comfortable with responding to digital offers, so you don’t need to provide the instructions that made their CTAs clunky. You can simply provide a link or button—and people know what to do.

Here’s a digital promotion that pulls off this technique quite well.

It was introduced in an Early to Rise email like this:

excerpt from Early to Rise email

Click the link, and you land here. There’s nothing on the page but the CTA.

cta from power habits of multimillionaires

Selling the trial

Because people are so comfortable with digital formats, your CTA can almost be implied. (Implied, but not forgotten!)

Prevention promotions typically ask for a Try rather than a Buy. It sounds less obligatory, so buyers offer less resistance.

And Prevention is so sure you’ll like their products, they give generous trial periods. Here’s one from Prevention’s Dance It Off! promotion. Notice that the actual CTA is in a graphic:

cta from dance it off promo

Of course, software and similar products rely on the trial too. Here’s Crazy Egg’s call to action:

cta from crazy egg

This approach emphasizes the no-obligation element of strong CTAs. And it works.

Two CTAs that don’t work

I mentioned above that you can leverage people’s comfort with digital marketing, which allows you to streamline your calls to action. But you still need to be clear.

Weak or no CTA

One of the most common (and worst) mistakes in direct response is to assume people know what to do, and forget the call to action.

From my perspective, that’s what this promotion does:

rich dad promo has weak cta

This is just a portion of the page—there are floating elements that didn’t allow me to grab it all—but this screenshot has the majority of the information.

Where’s the call to action?

“Pick your city” is all I can see. That’s not compelling, risk-reducing, or benefits-oriented. In fact, if you read the fine print, the author of the book won’t be at the event.

There’s little here to compel anyone to respond.

The other extreme: too strong of a CTA

I can’t tell you what’s on the page because the pop-up acts as a pay-wall, so to speak, blocking entrance until you share your email:

pop-up cta

Here, I’m stuck if I don’t respond.

“Join Now” or don’t view the page.

This call to action is a little too high-pressure for my taste. What saves it is the “Why we ask for email” link at the bottom of the form, the promise of 70% off, and the no-hassles language below the button.

But I still don’t want to be forced into compliance, so no thanks.

You want a strong CTA, sure, but not too strong.

The winner: A benefits-oriented, personal CTA

TheStreet’s Quant Ratings promotion showed up in my inbox, and it’s the clear winner among the promotions I reviewed.

Look at the call to action:

The Street cta

 

This CTA does a lot of things right.

  • It implies no work on your part. It’s completely benefits-oriented and personal, asking you to put TheStreet to work… for you.
  • There isn’t a vague, uninspiring “click here” command. The link is embedded in the benefit statement. And that statement is phrased as a command, so I can’t miss it.
  • There is also a button—in a bright, can’t-miss red—that offers an incentive for clicking: “Save $150.” (You’ll need to test the color that works for your promotion, but here, red does well.)
  • Urgency is subtly included in the CTA with “don’t wait another minute.” So it urges you to respond now without resorting to hype.

Does it fulfill the three criteria for effective calls to action? You bet:

  • It offers a trial membership.
  • The link and button provide implicit instructions (without going so far as to omit the CTA). It’s clear that you’re supposed to click on the link or the button.
  • You’re asked to respond now: “Don’t wait another minute.”

Not only does this call to action use the same techniques that worked in direct mail, it improves on them, because there’s no bulky paragraph telling you where to find the response device and how to submit it.

With digital, you can build the response into the promotion for a seamless user experience.

Your turn

Have you got some favorite techniques for an effective call to action? Or do you struggle with telling people how to respond? Let us know in the comments below.

About 

Kathryn Aragon is editor of The Daily Egg and publisher of the C4 Report. She is committed to helping businesses communicate, connect, convert... and capture their market. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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45 COMMENTS

Phil Bogan

Thanks for a great article. You really did your homework, and delivered a really useful
tutorial.

Thanks for all you do,
Phil Bogan

July 24, 2013 Reply

Mary Green

Hi Kathryn
Most of the articles I see like this are all about how different every call to action is, and they dissect every nook and cranny. I do get some tips there, but I like your points here as well. This post makes calls to action seem easy (they are for me usually) 3 simple steps to a great CTA. I hope a lot of people read this and get the take away.

July 24, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Thanks, Mary. When I researched this article, I found more similarities than differences in the best CTAs. It totally changed the direction of the article, bit it was a cool “discovery” for me as a writer.

    July 24, 2013 Reply

Sadha Kaif

Thank you Kathryn for working had and bringing to us such great examples…Really nice article

July 25, 2013 Reply

Alexander Holl

Good article. It is always good to get lots of interesting examples! Thanks Kate

July 27, 2013 Reply

Marek

Great article with usefull examples. Thank you

July 28, 2013 Reply

Will Webb

Thanks for sharing these examples. They’re very informative and helpful. Creating CTA’s is a never ending battle and I’ve found it’s always best to split test examples. With the data at hand, it makes it easier to determine what is working and what isn’t.

August 1, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    That’s a great point, Will. No matter what everyone else is doing or what the current best-practice is, you still have to test to know what’s best for your brand. Thanks for sharing.

    September 12, 2013 Reply

Brad Edwards

Hard to imagine a guy like Robert Kiyosaki would forget about such an important marketing element, but there it is. It would have been better if a strong call-to-action linked to another page with the the “pick your city” portion on it.

October 31, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    So true, Brad. That just goes to show you how easy it is to forget an important element like the CTA. Great suggestion, by the way. That would be a terrific fix.

    October 31, 2013 Reply

Jake

Thanks for posting this article! Really educated me a lot! I’ve been making these CTAs for a long while now but never really understood it’s power! Thanks!

November 4, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Your welcome, Jake. Funny how we can do something without realizing what goes into it. Glad it helped.

    November 4, 2013 Reply

Riyaz

Thanks a lot for such a great post about CTA, Actually I am a trainer and my next topic is CTA that is why I was looking for some awesome article and finally I got it. Thanks again

December 14, 2013 Reply

Linda

Great site thank you. I realised my call to actions are quite weak so you have inspired me today to make clear and stronger call to action! Many thanks!

January 16, 2014 Reply

Gobinda Roy

Hi Kathryn ,

Thanks for this great article . I am a small business owner and have my website running without any Call to Action button for last 1 year . Now I am looking for upgrading my website , so I was searching infomrtaion for call to action tips . Then I come across your blog post and this is very enriching , now I can engage my web deisgner for effective deign .

Thank you !

Gobinda

January 24, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    That’s awesome, Gobinda! Good luck with your new website. Let us know how it goes.

    January 24, 2014 Reply

    Cristescu Bogdan

    I am in the same point, I want to upgrade my business! This article save my brain from reading a verry atractive book called 101 Examples of Effective Calls-to-Action. Reading your tutorial, I understand much better what CTA means!

    April 23, 2014 Reply

      Kathryn Aragon

      That’s awesome, Cristescu! I’m glad to have helped. Let us know if you need anything else.

      April 23, 2014 Reply

GeorgeC3

Like Golbinda my site has had no call to action or real landing page.

Getting organised… like your sample CTAs and landing page comments ‘imagine’ is my new focus

Thanks G

February 1, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Sometimes all it takes is being aware. Good luck optimizing your site!

    February 1, 2014 Reply

Brian Douglas

Great article. I especially enjoyed the last example, showing how to effectively use two differently CTAs together. Very nice.

February 4, 2014 Reply

Sameer Hoda

Hi, your blog has helped me a lot in researching on this topic. It sure makes a lot of sense. Please keep updating this page, since I intend to visit it much more often now. Thank you!

April 19, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Glad you found it helpful, Sameer.

    April 19, 2014 Reply

    neil

    Sameer, glad you found it helpful. Thanks for the feedback :)

    April 19, 2014 Reply


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