Author: Lazarina Stoy
Visitors generally come to your site looking to learn something or perform an action. The more intuitively they’re able to get what they came for, the more likely your business will also benefit.
However, locating a resource or a piece of information on a site can be frustrating if the right signposts aren’t in place. CTAs present one way to guide those visitors, turn them into leads, followers, or even nudge them towards the final step of buying your product or service. It can also help them become brand ambassadors post-purchase.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what you need to know to begin creating compelling CTAs that benefit both the business and its strategic growth objectives, as well as the visitors of your site, including:
What is a call-to-action (CTA)?
The CTA acronym stands for call-to-action, which is a signal or prompt to a user to perform a desired action. The action the user is encouraged to take typically aligns with the business or strategic goals of the brand or website and often is considered the next logical step of the user journey.
Some might say that CTAs should always encourage an immediate sale or other type of conversion (e.g., sign-up). This is a misunderstanding, as most sophisticated conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies use various combinations of different CTAs according to the stage of the funnel that the user is in.
This enables a smoother approach to nurturing leads—one that is mindful of the different needs of users with different intents and fosters a trust-based relationship between the user and the business.
What are the benefits of a good CTA?
Having a good call-to-action can benefit every online space (not just websites) as it helps alleviate decision fatigue for users by broadcasting the next step in the journey (for those interested in taking it). At the same time, well-crafted CTAs also encourage users to take actions that are beneficial to the business, such as signing up for a newsletter or buying a product, for example.
Here are some of the benefits of creating good calls-to-action for your users:
Better understanding of potential avenues to take as a visitor
Quicker access to important content
Improved user experience and quicker navigation
Less stress and frustration from decision-making and self-navigation, in turn promoting better website and content usability
Creating strong CTAs is also beneficial for your business as well. They can help you:
Increase engagement, which can help you improve website metrics such as bounce rate, time on page, session duration, and pages per session. If you’re working with videos as a medium, they can help bolster metrics such as watch time and click-through rate, all of which are associated with improved organic performance.
Improve your understanding of users’ online behavior
Improve performance of targeted goal completions
CTAs can be applied to almost any content or online space, including in different places within a website, throughout social media pages, or even in videos, such as on YouTube or TikTok.
So, at this stage, you might be wondering what a good call-to-action looks like. Let’s go through some examples from different domains and for different use cases, but first, let’s break down all the different CTA types.
What are the different CTA types?
One way we can break down CTA types is based on the business goal. In other words, what is the call to action trying to achieve and how does it help the business strategy?
Here, we have summarized a number of different CTA types, but will go into further detail in the sections that follow.
Turn a visitor into a user
Any business that allows users to sign up to a service using the website or allows users to purchase a product through the website
Turn a visitor into a lead
Any business that can save customer service costs by allowing users to become better informed about a product or service through the website, submit a purchase order form through the site, or get their main questions answered through the site
Turn a lead into a qualified lead
Any business that has a multi-step funnel (purchase process) and/or can offer something to the user (such as a downloadable resource or discount, for example)
Generate awareness about something, such as a product launch, services, your brand, or its unique competitive advantages
Any business, regardless of size or structure
CTA types based on business goals
A user acquisition CTA aims to attract users directly by turning a visitor into a paying customer. This can be achieved via a complex CTA setup (which may be more appropriate for mature brands with greater resources), but can also be achieved via a simple button, a compelling, consistent business proposition, and a good user experience.
What user acquisition CTAs can achieve
User acquisition CTAs aim to attract users or paying customers.
For an eCommerce website, that would be someone purchasing a product via the website. For a service website, that might mean someone booking a consultation and purchasing via the site. And, for SaaS companies, this could be someone subscribing to a service (with or without a trial period).
What businesses user acquisition CTAs are best suited for
This CTA type is suited for businesses and organizations that have a self-service product, service, and/or payment process (for example, a SaaS company with a self-sign-up product, like Asana or Monday.com, or an eCommerce organization like Amazon or PrettyLittleThing.)
Examples of user acquisition CTAs
Retail giant Amazon’s instant purchase tactics are one of the most recognizable examples of this type of CTA. The site’s buy now and one-click checkout buttons make it as easy as possible for visitors to become users.
In other niches, user acquisition CTAs would typically include “sign up”, “get started,” or “create an account” buttons, but can also be CTAs based on the proposition of a free trial.
Where to place user acquisition CTAs
User acquisition CTAs are the money makers, so they should always be placed in prominent locations throughout the website. One common placement is in the top navigation menu, but these CTAs can appear in multiple different ways throughout a blog or resource section, as well as in service (or equivalent) pages.
A lead generation CTA is a broad CTA group encompassing elements that enable visitors to fill in their contact information, whether it’s through a form, signing up for a newsletter or something similar, effectively turning a visitor into a lead.
What lead generation CTAs can achieve
Lead generation CTAs can help you achieve just that—generating leads. This sounds simple enough, however, a crucial component of any worthwhile CRO strategy will ensure that lead generation has a purpose and the data that users provide will be utilized by the business in some form of value exchange—not for the purposes of irrelevant communications, solicitations, or for selling to third-parties.
What businesses lead generation CTAs are best suited for
Lead generation CTAs are used by small and large businesses alike, as each business (regardless of size and function) can benefit from having a self-service lead generation model via their website or other channel that enables user data collection.
Examples of lead generation CTAs
One of the most popular examples present on almost every website is a subscription pop-up or nudge. These can include direct email entry boxes, as shown below.
Alternatively, they can also be a lot more creative, yet achieve the same purpose.
Where to place lead generation CTAs
These types of CTAs are most often placed within the content of a page. You can also choose to make this CTA type ever-present by adding it to a side menu or the footer menu, however, bear in mind this may hinder its effectiveness, as some visitors might not make it to the footer of the page. Nevertheless, that can be a good place to get user information via a simple email subscription form, or your last chance to make a good value proposition in return for lead information.
One way to calculate the potential effectiveness of the email sign-up form (or any other CTA placed in the footer) is to reference historical page-scroll data across your website and make an evaluation based on the percentage of visitors that make it down to the end of your pages.
To summarize, lead generation CTAs can be placed throughout the website, in the content body, in a side menu, or in the footer. Some brands have also experimented with placing their lead gen CTA in their expandable menus (as shown in the example below).
Lead nurturing is the process of lead cultivation for audiences that are not ready to commit to a purchase straight away. To put it otherwise, lead nurturing targets top-of-funnel users or users with an informational intent, and anticipates that not every visitor of the website or platform will be immediately ready to buy.
A winning lead nurturing strategy accounts for needs of the visitor based on who they are (using profile characteristics, such as title, role, industry, search patterns, interests, and so on) and where they are in their buying journey, adapting the strategy as needed.
What lead nurturing CTAs can achieve
Through lead nurturing, a business can ensure that it steadily grows its lead portfolio, despite being aware that a percentage of this portfolio might not make a purchase immediately (or even ever).
What this strategy achieves is, in part, investment in the future potential of the collected leads as well as building brand awareness and positive brand associations with target consumers.
What businesses lead nurturing CTAs are best suited for
Lead nurturing CTAs are typically used by organizations that require a degree of education about their product or service or would benefit from getting potential customers more familiar with their brand to make those prospects more likely to commit to a demo or purchase later on.
Examples of lead nurturing CTAs
Here is an example of lead generation using a downloadable resource, which targets a niche audience.
Where to place lead nurturing CTAs
Similar to lead generation CTAs, there is no limitation to where you can place these, but each placement will likely have a different impact on the CTA’s effectiveness. What matters more than the placement is the copy and incentive used to entice the lead. Ideally, this should be something relevant to the visitor’s interest, search patterns, and persona.
This information can typically be gathered via a combination of your first-party data from Google Analytics and Google Search Console. For larger organizations, collecting data about which landing page your leads were first introduced to and what enticed them to make a purchase can also inform this decision.
А promotional CTA is a call to action that does not aim to collect any type of information from the user or nurture them down the funnel. Instead, this type of CTA acts as a signpost to promote something else on the website or channel.
To give you an example, an info card within a YouTube video pointing to another YouTube video is a type of promotional CTA, and so is internal linking in the SEO world. Both essentially amount to you promoting something else that you believe would be useful to the user, based on their search intent and profile, without expecting anything else but the click in return.
Promotional CTAs can be both buttons and links, but they can also be static visuals (e.g., an image or banner), or an auditory message delivered through a video or podcast.
What promotional CTAs can achieve
Promotional CTA can facilitate cross-pollination of resources across your channel or website. They often help promote smaller website goals that are not directly tied to revenue, such as increasing page views or subscriber count.
What businesses promotional CTAs are best suited for
Whilst helpful and necessary, promotional CTAs alone do not form a cohesive conversion strategy. Yet, without them, a cohesive strategy could not exist. Both small and large businesses alike rely on them, though they are not generally enough for hitting revenue-related goals, such as product or service purchases.
Examples of promotional CTAs
“Read more” buttons are one common example of promotional CTAs, despite there being a lot of research that suggests these buttons are ineffective from both a CRO and SEO standpoint.
Specifically, such generic promotional buttons are not great for accessibility, nor do they clearly and cohesively communicate the link destination (thus, being misaligned with SEO best practices). And, they don’t typically provide a clear call to action. Despite this, they are still prominent, as you can see below.
Another, better example are buttons that are organized based on a clear aim the user might have, or a value proposition, such as “find a solution” or “start for free.”
Promotional CTAs are also very common in eCommerce. Below is a great example of such a CTA in action.
Where to place promotional CTAs
Promotional CTAs can be placed anywhere on your site, including in menus and content. However, considering the prominence of the top-level navigation or main menu, it might be better to reserve the spot for lead generation or other conversion-related CTAs.
CTA types based on desired user action
Now that we have learned the main types of CTAs, let’s take a look at CTA tactics that can be used for completing common objectives and how they relate to the business goals we discussed in the previous section.
Form completion CTAs require the user to provide you with their contact details (among other relevant details you can ask for). This can be used for things such as a newsletter subscription, to request contact, or solicit feedback/reviews, depending on the nature of the data collected.
Click to expand.
Free trial or demo CTAs are typically offered in the SaaS and cloud industries, wherever there is a self-service or sales-assisted model.
Lead generation, user acquisition
Free downloads prompt the user to download a resource either in exchange for contact information or to promote user satisfaction and positive brand awareness.
Lead generation, lead nurturing
Sign-up/ create an account
The sign-up CTA is intended to encourage people to sign up for a service or to an online community like a social media site, for example. This is only suitable for websites that have an in-site experience, such as an eCommerce, social media, SaaS, or other service sites.
Social share CTAs encourage sharing on different social platforms. This CTA type is suitable for content that is highly shareable, and some websites even enable users to directly highlight snippets of the content.
Social follow widgets are typically displayed in the footer menu, can be added as prompts, or appear as side-menu pop-ups.
These social follow prompts can urge people to follow or subscribe, but the aim is establishing a connection between the brand’s business profile and the potential customer.
These CTAs can be visual, but they can also be verbal as well in podcasts or videos on the site.
Message/ live chat
The message or live chat CTA is a nudge. It can be considered an extension of the contact form and a replacement of (or addition to) calling the business directly.
This CTA is great for lead nurturing but can also be used for lead generation, depending on the degree of support that is required.
Lead generation, lead nurturing
Leave a review
This type of CTA urges people to leave a review, testimonial, rating, or any other feedback about their experience. This helps businesses build trust via social proof, which also helps to build authority. Such signals can also be utilized by search engines for understanding whether a brand is a real or fraudulent subject matter expert, and whether it should be recommended to new users.
This list above is not exhaustive but covers all the basic tactics that can support a business’s strategic action-based goals.
One thing to note is that, while we have covered examples of CTAs with different structures, calls to action can be delivered through a variety of mediums, including audio, video, text, image, or a combination. Let’s now take a deeper look at CTAs by medium.
CTA types based on medium
Image CTAs are not uncommon in conversion rate optimization strategies. Oftentimes, the image, button, and surrounding text work collectively to achieve the goal.
There are also cases where businesses use an image that looks like a combination of CTA elements, such as text, other images, and a button, yet is structured as one clickable creative that takes the user to the destination page to complete the desired action. While this can sometimes enable an easier user experience, it might limit SEO value as the text CTA is contained in an image, thus not parsed by crawlers, and the internal link is processed as a no-anchor (also referred to as a “naked”) link.
These CTAs might look like a banner ad and contain an image of the offer alongside copy explaining the value. Image CTAs could also be an image of the offer itself, which makes sense if promoting a template or a tool.
HubSpot has shared its approach to generating more conversions on its blog via image CTAs by incorporating two of them per article, which are hyperlinked to the landing page with the relevant offer.
Text-based CTAs, while often overlooked, can be very efficient for SEO purposes, but can also be pivotal to the success of a CRO strategy.
For instance, HubSpot’s frequently referenced case study explains that the company uses anchor text with different styling as part of its blog to help captivate readers’ attention (as shown below).
Below is another example from Alaya. The same tactic is used as part of a sentence in the text, highlighting the value proposition via the link and the relevance to the user via bold text.
Video CTAs can be longer, compelling the user to take an action through the art of storytelling, or they can be shorter and more to the point. A video, created with the purpose of attracting users (user acquisition), would often have other CTAs within it.
For instance, a video about the story, vision, and aims of a brand might contain a product demo, which is lead nurturing, as well as call for a social follow on the platform where the video is hosted.
Video CTAs are extremely rich in potential and, when constructed with thought and care, they can garner great results, not only by generating revenue for the organization but also by decreasing the need for sales assistance.
GIF or short videos are also possible CTA types, depending on how they are aligned with surrounding elements.
Short clips (like the one below), whilst meaningless out of context, can be positive for conversion rate optimization when positioned around a strong, compelling message and quick access sign-up links.
Within the hybrid category, there are a few notable mentions which essentially cover different combinations of CTAs across different mediums.
One great example is the in-post banner by Alaya, which combines image, text, and a button to deliver a compelling message.
How to choose the best CTA for your website and your visitors?
There are different factors to consider when choosing a CTA type. First, it’s important to use a variety of CTAs to keep things interesting for your users. Depending on your business goals, and the specific locations (sections, pages, or resources) on your site or channel that you might want to promote, you can shortlist different CTA tactics to test across different mediums.
When thinking about CTAs and actions that the user should complete, it’s important to take into account the user’s search intent and the particular stage of the customer journey that they’re in. Looking at first-party data can be a great way to start building behavioral models for your current and ideal personas. This can help reduce tension between the business and the consumer and ensure that the latter does not create a negative association with the brand.
Considering search intent when designing your CRO strategy can also ensure that the website is organized with a cohesive intent-driven architecture, and each action is aligned with the interest of the user.
Ultimately, it will be the visitors of your site that determine the effectiveness of your CRO strategy, so it’s important to monitor and measure the performance of your CTAs and adapt them as needed.
What other factors should you keep in mind when designing your CRO strategy?
In addition to your CTAs, there are three important components that you should keep in mind when designing your conversion rate optimization strategy: the copy used, performance tracking, and whether you will implement testing.
When thinking about performance measurement and testing, consider whether you have the capability to A/B test your CTAs. If your traffic performance does not yet allow A/B tests to be implemented and show statistical significance, rest assured that you can still work on CRO initiatives.
You can still implement custom tracking via platforms like Google Tag Manager, and self-report on the performance of different events (e.g., button clicks, banner clicks, image clicks, etc.) via Google Data Studio through its integration with Google Analytics. The aim of such a report would be to monitor the differences that result from the changes you make to the site, such as swapping button text, whilst you work on improving traffic.
There are many different avenues that your conversion rate optimization strategy could go in, even just based on the types of CTAs you choose for your site. This article mentioned a number of different CTAs, split into three groups:
CTAs based on business goals
CTAs based on desired user action
CTAs based on medium
To choose the right CTAs, you should consider what would benefit the business, how this can be communicated to the user, how the user can also benefit from the interaction, and how and where the nudges will appear to best encourage action.
When implementing CTAs it’s also important to consider aspects like copywriting, A/B testing, and performance measurement.
Calls to action FAQ
What does CTA stand for?
The CTA acronym in marketing stands for a call-to-action, which is a directive that is used to provide a signal or prompt to a user to perform a desired action. The desired action the user is encouraged to take is often one that aligns with the business or strategic goals of the organization, and often is considered the next logical step of the user journey.
What does call to action mean?
A call to action refers to an explicitly communicated nudge by a business or organization to the consumer of their content to perform an action that would benefit either the user or the organization, or both. Common examples of calls to action include “buy now,” “sign up,” or “read more,” for example.
How do you write a call to action?
To write an effective call to action, you must have a good understanding of:
Your audience’s needs and how they can be best addressed
What your business offers to address those needs
Any overlap between your business goals and your audience’s needs
When you are ready to write your call to action with regard to these considerations, it’s best to also keep ad copywriting best practices top of mind.
What are the main CTA types based on business goals?
There are four main types of CTAs based on business goals: user acquisition CTAs, lead generation CTAs, lead nurturing CTAs, and promotional CTAs.
What are the main mediums for CTAs?
CTAs are delivered via four main mediums: text, image, video, and audio CTAs. Oftentimes organizations will combine different formats, generating hybrid CTAs to improve their conversion performance.
Lazarina is an organic marketing consultant specializing in SEO, CRO, and data science. She's worked with countless teams in B2B, SaaS, and big tech to improve their organic positioning. As an advocate of SEO automation, Lazarina speaks on webinars and at conferences and creates helpful resources for fellow SEOs to kick off their data science journey. Twitter | Linkedin