Small Copy, Big Impact: Writing Your Call to Action
Ever go to a big event, like a music festival or a food fair? You wait in line and present your tickets, and then…you freeze. Faced with multiple stages, stalls, or activities, you’re unsure where to start.
In this scenario, you’ve already paid your admission fee, so this temporary glacial moment is no big deal. But when it happens to people who visit your website—who haven’t decided whether to spend their money with you—this indecision can spell the end of the sale.
Even if your business doesn’t technically operate online, chances are you have an online presence. Restaurants take online orders, hotels have web-based reservation software, wedding venues schedule site visits online…
And if you haven’t put some effort into your calls to action on your website, you’re probably not maximizing your online presence. Let’s fix that.
What does “call to action” mean?
In copywriting and marketing, the call to action is the phrase or sentence that invites the reader to take the next step.
The “next step” isn’t always to make a purchase. It could be encouraging the potential customer to seek more information, like “Schedule a call.” It could be asking them to sign up for your email list, with something like “Get discounts in your inbox.” Or it could finalize the checkout process with a CTA like “Complete my purchase” or “Book now.”
A call to action is usually clickable. It can either be a button, like the Book Now button above, or a text link.
These short phrases seem simple, but they can be the difference filling up your calendar with client visits to your event venue and waiting by the silent phone.
How to Write a Call to Action
1. Start with the desired outcome
To write your call to action (CTA), you first need to know the goal of the click. A CTA to schedule a call will be different from a CTA to get them to make a purchase.
This is because different CTAs are targeted at people in various stages of “readiness” to buy. People who are ready to spend their money today have already assessed your offer and they’re more receptive to a “buy” message. But for those who are still learning about you and your product or service, a “buy” message is premature. Instead, you need to move them to the next stage where they can get the information they need to make a decision.
That’s why a “Book now” CTA is great for a hotel website when they’re finalizing their reservation. But it’s not as good if you’re trying to get people to schedule a discovery call or a site visit.
2. Use an action word
Effective CTAs often (though not always!) start with a verb. We want the reader to take an action, so we have to tell them exactly what action they should take.
Some common CTA action words include:
Action words encourage the reader to do something, instead of remaining passive. This is a major hurdle to overcome! After all, it’s very easy to not do things.
3. Avoid “work” words
Certain words create friction in the reader’s mind. They sound like work. We’re trying to clear all paths and obstacles out of the way to make a purchasing decision as easy as possible. So why would you want to throw a pothole in the road at the crucial moment?
There are some “generally accepted” high friction words that many marketers say you should avoid. They include:
- Sign up
And on the other side, there are words considered low friction, like:
- Check out
As with just about every other “best practice” in the world of copywriting, these are suggestions, not rules. For example—if you were running an online education platform, I would definitely play with “learn” in my CTA. People are literally on the site because they want to learn, so the word may not put them off.
Or if I were doing a website for a wedding venue that was scheduling site visits, I might see if “visit” has any success. I would probably A/B test variations like these to get couples to book a walk-through:
- Reserve your tour
- Visit [venue name]
- Discover [venue name]
In this situation where we’re literally scheduling a visit to the venue, it might be an effective action word for your CTA.
The Call to Value
As we discussed above, you have to know where your prospect is in their buying journey. If they’re still in the assessment stage, a helpful tool can be the “call to value,” rather than the call to action.
A call to value (CTV) can help to make the benefit to the prospect more obvious. Unlike a simple “buy now” or “reserve your room” CTA, the CTV tells the reader why they should click. A good way to do this (that I learned from the geniuses at Copyhackers) is to finish the sentences “I want to…” or “I want you to…” with your CTV.
For example, a wedding planner could make their CTV (I want to) “Have a fun-filled, stress-free wedding day.” I want to is implied in the CTV, and it gives the prospect an idea of the benefit they’ll receive when they book with this planner. This link, by the way, would probably go to the planner’s contact page, and it would be where they could start the conversation about working together.
Think Through Your Call to Action
After writing a whole landing page or website, it’s very tempting to phone it in on the calls to action. You’re tired and you just want to be done.
Writing deliberate, low-friction calls to action can lead to a substantial increase in clicks and sales, with just a few words.
Do a quick 5-minute perusal of your current CTAs (if you have any!) to see where there are opportunities for improvement. And of course, track the results to see if your changes are effective over the next few weeks.