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21 Call to Action Examples and 3 Rules for Effective CTAs

by Kathryn Aragon

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.

retirement millionaire

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:

jenny

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:

off the grid

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:

power habits of multimillionaires email intro

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

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:

Dance it off

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

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

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:

Joss and Main login

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

CTAs may have changed over the years, but the goal hasn’t changed: Put the right message in front of the right people at the right time. It’s critical that you learn to do this well. And, of course, there’s no better way to learn than to be testing your CTAs.

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.

75 Comments

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Kathryn Aragon

Kathryn Aragon is the former editor of The Daily Egg. She’s a content strategist and consultant on mission to help content marketers get measurable results from their content. Learn more at KathrynAragon.com. Follow her on Twitter.

75 COMMENTS

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  1. John Mckee says:
    July 4, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    With so many different test options, how do you prioritize test changes? Headline first, then bullet points?

    Do you run completely separate / distinct tests then tweak winners? If I have the opportunity to run 5 tests on my most visited page, what would be the order that you would test for?

  2. Anonymous says:
    June 18, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Hi Kathryn, As a front end developer I got some valuable tips to implement on my clients websites. Thanks for sharing such as great CTA ideas.

  3. Anonymous says:
    May 17, 2016 at 2:50 am

    Simply desire to say your article is as astounding.
    The clarity on your put up is simply great and i could suppose you’re knowledgeable on this subject.
    Fine along with your permission let me to snatch your
    feed to keep updated with forthcoming post.
    Thank you a million and please continue the gratifying work.

  4. Adam says:
    May 4, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I don’t think any of these CTA examples is as powerful as that bottom left blue window that showed up when I reached the end of the page.

    You gave us an advise to build our trust, then reinforced the CTA. Great work guys!

  5. Anonymous says:
    April 8, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    I believe what you posted made a great deral of sense.
    However, think on this, what if you were to create a
    awesome post title? I ain’t suggesting your content is not good, however suppose yoou added something that makes people want more?
    I mean 21 Call to Action Examples and 3 Rules forr Effective CTAs is a little vanilla.
    You could look at Yahoo’s home page and see how they write post headlines to get viewers to click.

    You might try adding a video or a picture or two
    to grab people excited about everything’ve written. In my opinion, it might bring your
    posts a little bit more interesting.

  6. nikhiljoseph says:
    March 23, 2016 at 2:18 am

    Great Article. As i am into the business i knew the problem what we face. I started recording all the customers calls on a software called Apptivo. It helped to act effectively by asking my employee to write notes on the call made, to write notes on follow-up action. Saved my time.

  7. Rick Lucas says:
    February 17, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Ok. I have been working on improving our conversion rate for a couple different services. Will these techniques work for service companies such as HVAC or contractors? Any feedback would be appreciated.

  8. Shawn Kuruganti says:
    February 17, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Great Post,
    Now I just need to find some folks to send some emails to that aren’t just people who have already signed up for our service. Here is a question about call to action: we get several sign-ups for trials that don’t end up using our software once they have signed up. Are there any good examples of CTA for SaaS businesses to get their audience using it more? Once someone starts using our program they usually convert unless there is a feature they need that we don’t provide. The biggest hole in our bucket is the gap from sign-up to usage.

    Any thoughts?

  9. J.S. says:
    January 12, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    I HATE too strong of a CTA that won’t go away, like your gray one that just showed up now on the right. But even worse are the ones that block a site’s content and try to force you to sign up before reading. I’m gone, gone, gone like a sad, sad, song.

    They destract or block what the reader is over, the content. I hate this new trend, it’s infested almost every website and blog. I only bookmark and link back to the ones that don’t do this. It neads to die, now.

    (Sorry about the typos, could you delete my first message please? Thank you.)

  10. August 28, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks, Anant. At the end of a blog post, my favorite CTA is to ask people to share their experience or opinion about the topic you just shares. Of course, you also want a static CTA to subscribe so they can get more great content.

  11. Anant Patel says:
    August 19, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Hi Kathryn,

    Great collections call to actions buttons. I am looking for call to action button for my blog. So can you please help me how to create best call to action button for blogging sites?

  12. Ramon says:
    July 13, 2015 at 7:26 am

    Nice post. Very clear, but in our opinion (wishingwell.es/ i.e.) we use it the most clear as possible. Simple is a must. Simple is much. Clearity in the conversion helps the ROI, al clearity in CTA’s improves the conversion, so…

    • July 13, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Thanks, Ramon. I agree. Clarity is the first rule of writing, and it’s especially important in CTAs.

  13. May 18, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks Kathryn 🙂

  14. Nidhi says:
    May 6, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Wow cool tips for the CTAs

  15. Stepan says:
    April 13, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Usefull article with great examples. THX a lot:)

  16. Louis says:
    March 28, 2015 at 2:44 am

    I’m about to launch a landing page for my information product but I’m having difficulties crafting the perfect call to action. Your post has been useful and I appreciate your effort. But I still need help in creating mine. Thank You

    • March 28, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      I’d spend more energy on getting the offer right. Once the offer is right, your call to action is easier. You can make it fun, like “gimme,” or do a traditional “Yes! I’m ready!” Hope that helps.

  17. Jacob Smith says:
    February 21, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Great post, I love your examples as well. A lot of things I had trouble with make sense now.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • February 22, 2015 at 8:40 am

      You’re welcome, Jacob. I’m glad it made sense of things. 🙂

  18. Dan says:
    January 27, 2015 at 1:27 pm
  19. Phil says:
    January 22, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Thanks for the nice article, Kathryn. Just wondering whether the rules are sort of persisting or a fashion thing. If everyone is doing it the same way, won’t readers get fed up with it and resist the CTA?

    • January 23, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Phil, that’s a great question. I think these rules transcend fashion. They are the basic foundation for your CTAs. You can get creative with your offer, your funnel, etc., and stand out from the crowd. But with the CTA, you still want to drive immediate action and remove risk.

  20. Makayla :) says:
    October 22, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    im writing an essay for why i should be chosen to do the national wreath laying in dc and im stuck on a call to action could anybody help me???

    • October 22, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      Hi Makayla. That’s tricky because a true CTA feels self-serving. Try something along the lines of, “Please choose me, and I’ll…” [Fill in the big benefit to them if you are chosen]

  21. NAS says:
    September 17, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Great Article. There are some points that you have showed us not to do with CTA. That’s nice. Thanks for the post more active by leaving replies.

    • September 17, 2014 at 10:34 am

      I’m glad you found it useful, NAS.

    • Neil Patel says:
      September 18, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      NAS, glad you liked it. Looking forward to hearing much more from you.

  22. Mark says:
    September 10, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    thank you so much for this. I love the part about “Selling the trial”.

    • September 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm

      Glad you liked it, Mark. Thanks for the kind words.

    • Neil Patel says:
      September 11, 2014 at 9:27 am

      Mark, thanks for the feedback. We look forward to hearing more from you !

  23. August 29, 2014 at 3:40 am

    What a great web blog . I like this blog because of its design and interface. It is user friendly and it is nice to visit the blog.

    • August 29, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Thanks! Glad you’re finding it useful.

  24. TJ says:
    August 26, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks for the great article Kathryn. I’ve learned a good amount from it. One thing I’ve been curious about are generic call to actions vs call to actions specifying the exact service the website provides.

    For example, many websites use generic call to actions, such as “get started”, “sign up”, “free trial”, “sign up for a free trial.” Even large companies that (I assume) optimize their homepages to the max use these generics. If I were to visit these sites and take the time to read their headline, perhaps I’ll know what I’m being asked to sign up for. To register for. But if I just glanced the page, I might have no idea what they meant by “sign up”? Sign up for what?

    Now, compare that to something that crazy egg does. On the homepage, it doesn’t say sign up, or free trial, or get started. It specifically says “show me my heatmap”. It’s a call to action that specifies precisely what I’ll be getting whatever is on the other side of the call to action.

    Another example is safelite repair. When I go to their homepage, there’s no “get started”, or “call us” call to action. It very simply says “fix my glass” which, like crazy egg, specifies exactly the service the site provides. No guessing games. When I went to their homepage, I didn’t even bother to read the headline. My eye just went straight to the button, which motivated me to double-back and read the headline (which did read like terrible techobabble).

    With both sites, if the only element on the homepage was the call to action button, I’d still know what the websites were about. With the generic call to action websites, I’d have no idea.

    If the call to action text was the only element on all websites, I wonder what percent of people could decipher what they were selling?

    To drive my point home, take into account A/B test companies optimizely and vwo. If you were to remove everything on their pages except their call to actions, you’d have no idea what they were selling.

    So, my question is does this matter? Should the call to action be specific to the service, or can a generic call to action get by as long as the headline sufficiently explains what the website/service is about? Is a generic call to action actually better due to it being vague and more open-ended?

    Thanks.

    • August 26, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      TJ, what a great question! Specific will always beat generic. And if you have nothing on the page but a headline and a button, it had better be specific–for exactly the reasons you specify. People don’t respond if they’re confused. But it’s sometimes hard to create a specific CTA that’s short enough to fit on a button. That’s where you have to get smart or, if you can’t think of something that’s specific and short, go a hair more generic. I do think the headline, body copy and CTA need to work together. Sometimes, you can put copy around the button to make a slightly more generic CTA make sense. But I tend to make that decision for each specific page.

  25. CS Guru says:
    August 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Nice comparisons Kathryn.

    Lately website CTA strategies have included hand drawn arrows pointing to the button. This has hugely benefitted the websites and increased their registrations. This is because visitors find it easier to connect to a hand drawn arrow image as compared with normal buttons.

    • August 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Nice addition. I’ve heard that arrows make a difference. But aside from that, I just like how they look.

  26. anil says:
    May 17, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Big thanks it due to this info. When i work a web site supplying vimeo online video duplicating. It contains a number of movies nevertheless it takes a long time to help weight. We have checked out this with Pingdom device and also the test out demonstrated that my web site takes 58 mere seconds to help weight. I know 58 mere seconds will be further high nevertheless what exactly might i, my partner and i didn’t learn how to reduce this. Information provided suggestions actually useful as well as let me put into practice this. thanks

  27. Sameer Hoda says:
    April 19, 2014 at 6:14 am

    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 at 10:07 am

      Glad you found it helpful, Sameer.

    • neil says:
      April 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm

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

  28. February 4, 2014 at 11:11 am

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

    • February 4, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks, Brian. Always appreciate the feedback.

  29. GeorgeC3 says:
    February 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

    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 at 12:38 pm

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

  30. Gobinda Roy says:
    January 24, 2014 at 10:15 am

    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 at 10:44 am

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

    • April 23, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      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 at 4:16 pm

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

  31. Linda says:
    January 16, 2014 at 5:49 am

    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!

  32. Riyaz says:
    December 14, 2013 at 4:25 am

    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 at 8:38 am

      Glad it helps, Riyaz. Good luck with your training.

  33. Jake says:
    November 4, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    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 at 10:46 pm

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

  34. Brad Edwards says:
    October 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    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 at 5:25 pm

      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.

  35. Will Webb says:
    August 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    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.

    • September 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

      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.

  36. Marek says:
    July 28, 2013 at 3:57 am

    Great article with usefull examples. Thank you

  37. July 27, 2013 at 6:27 am

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

    • July 27, 2013 at 9:47 am

      Your welcome, Alexander! Glad you stopped by.

  38. Sadha Kaif says:
    July 25, 2013 at 9:30 am

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

  39. Mary Green says:
    July 24, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    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 at 4:24 pm

      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.

  40. Phil Bogan says:
    July 24, 2013 at 11:46 am

    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 at 12:16 pm

      Thank, Phil! I’m glad you like it. 🙂

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