How to Write an Awesome (& Effective) Call to Action: The Ultimate Guide

Jean Myers
April 24, 2020
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What is it that propels people to “learn more,” “buy now,” or “sign up”? The answer, of course, is an awesome call to action.

Every marketing campaign has a call to action, or CTA for short. No matter how beautiful your website or compelling your content, your call to action is what truly makes or breaks your marketing efforts.

So what exactly is a call to action? Why does it matter, and how do you create one that works?

Here, we’ll cover:

  • The definition of call to action
  • Why a call to action is important
  • 5 steps to crafting the perfect call to action
  • 5 examples of successful calls to action

What is call to action?

A call to action is an invitation. It implores or urges the viewer to do something specific in response to an advertisement or piece of content.

On websites, a CTA often appears in the form of a clickable button, like this:

You can place call to action buttons on your website, email newsletters, blog posts, or social media ads. No matter where you put them, CTAs use clear, concise, and commanding language that prompt action and reward. Some example phrases that commonly show up include:

  • Join Now
  • Subscribe
  • Get Free Access
  • Start Your Free Trial
  • Add to Cart

The best CTAs are short, sweet, and clear as to what the viewer should do next.

Why is a call to action important?

The CTA is what ultimately moves the user to take action. It guides the user along a carefully curated buyer’s journey and is the crucial part of your marketing campaign that turns:

  • Casual users into leads
  • Leads into customers
  • Customers into loyal brand ambassadors

The best CTAs channel viewers through your marketing funnel and nudge them closer toward action.

As president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Shelly Polansky states:

The idea is to get customers and clients to notice and interact with a business, so that they share their experiences, providing one of the best strategies of all, word of mouth.

Great. So how do you make a CTA?

5 Steps to Creating an Effective Call to Action

There are five steps to crafting a compelling call to action that will drive higher conversion rates.

1. Know Your Target Audience

This might seem like Marketing 101, but you'd be surprised at how often this step gets overlooked. Ad copy draws viewers in by speaking directly to their needs, not by one-size-fits-all marketing tactics. Before you put pen to paper—or fingertips to keypad—research your target audience.

To write the best CTA, figure out:

  • Who makes the buying decisions?
  • What are their problems?
  • What solutions are they looking for?
  • What's their budget?
  • What are their wants and needs?
  • What motivates and inspires them?
  • What are their interests?
  • What other products and services do they use?

After you determine your target audience and discern their preferences and behaviors, you’ll be able to create a much more focused and effective CTA. Knowing your audience is the difference between an ad that works and an ad that falls flat.

2. Write Killer Copy

This is easier said than done. But the language you use makes all the difference in whether your CTA motivates action.

The right words will have a huge impact on the reader. But the wrong ones will go unnoticed at best.

Compelling ad copy has the power to inspire, motivate, change, and influence people. Harness the power of language and write the best copy to get those readers clicking on your call to action.

To write a powerful CTA:

  • Get personal with your audience. Instead of listing features, use emotional language to depict how the customer will benefit from your offering.
  • Make the offer feel exclusive. Include language that focuses on urgency and scarcity, or use features like a countdown.
  • Focus on generating curiosity and value with your offering.
  • Use social proof or testimonials in the background of your CTA button.
  • Use clear and concise action words.
  • Avoid friction words that make people hesitate to take action.
  • Reduce risks and make the process painless.

3. Design for Your Brand

Design matters when crafting a CTA. Think about what messages and feelings you transmit with your design choices.

An effective CTA page should guide the viewer’s attention to the CTA button. Minimize text and graphics so the user can focus their attention on the action needed to move forward:

  • Do not include too much. If a viewer is overwhelmed by graphics, videos, or textual information, they won’t be able to discern a clear message—they’ll miss the CTA.
  • Avoid going for too much color and detail. Keep the page simple so the CTA is easy to find and more likely to stand out.
  • Your design should fit your brand personality and match the product or service you offer.
  • Color contrast is a useful tool to increase readability and make your CTA stand out.

4. Keep Up to Date and Use the Right Tools

This is also a bit of a “duh,” but just like step one, it’s a crucial part of writing the perfect call to action for your business. Stay current with trends in your industry. Pay attention to what your competitors do.

  • Are there lessons to be learned from their experiences?
  • Are they using tools or tactics you aren't?
  • What gaps are there in your industry—are there niches you can fill?

Look at this powerful example from Counter Culture Coffee. In order to stay competitive in the thriving coffee industry, the company turned to online initiatives:

“Now, we’re tapping into social media and email marketing—we want to be cutting edge and ahead of the game.” -Katelin Resta, Content Manager

Counter Culture Coffee took the time to investigate their industry. With the help of the email marketing company Mailchimp, they were able to use new industry tools—in this case, a comprehensive all-in-one marketing platform—to design a tailored online marketing campaign.

The CTA they used across email newsletters and social media channels was a smash hit. In the months that followed, the number of customers coming in for advertised tastings increased dramatically. Beyond effective design and concise ad copy, using the right tools will help your business create CTAs that are broadly reaching and far more impactful.

5. Test Your Results

So you’ve followed the steps and crafted an amazing call to action. Well done! But don’t stop there.

In the age of data-driven decision making, you must test your results:

  • How is your call to action performing against expectations?
  • Are your conversion rates increasing?
  • What elements of your CTA can you change to improve results?

One of the easiest ways to measure your CTA’s effectiveness is to use A/B testing—comparing how multiple versions of the same CTA perform with randomized subsets of your target audience.

As with any marketing process, this evaluation stage is crucial. Businesses must know how they’re performing with their current tactics and adapt accordingly to stay competitive in their industries.

Examples of Successful Call to Action

You’ve learned the steps to crafting the perfect call to action for your brand. Now, it’s time to figure out where to start and get some inspiration. Here, we’ll discuss 5 great CTA advertising examples and analyze why they work well.

1. Mailchimp

Earlier, you read about how Mailchimp was instrumental in helping to grow Counter Culture Coffee's sales. But Mailchimp is a marketing success story in and of itself.

Here's what its call to action web page looks like:

What this call to action ad gets right:

  • Strong ad copy
  • Compelling imagery
  • Visual representation of the company's message
  • Call to action button visually stands out against its background
  • "Pick A Plan" is a unique call to action and a pleasant alliteration
  • Page is fun and intriguing while still minimalist

Not only does this webpage incorporate compelling copy and effective minimalist design, but it also fits with the rest of Mailchimp’s brand personality. It’s no wonder they’re a fast growing business with high conversion rates.

2. Dove

For years, Dove has marketed around the idea of its own definition of “real beauty” to break stereotypes and include broader audiences. Its recent marketing efforts center around this brand message and remain as powerful as ever.

What this call to action ad gets right:

  • Colorful images contrast against the white background to make a strong impression
  • Viewer's eye is drawn to the center circle, tempting them to click the button
  • Excellent use of gold outlining helps the call to action button stand out
  • Provides just enough information that we do want to "Discover more"

Dove’s CTA incorporates authentic copy with a powerful message. You’re not the only one if you find yourself genuinely wanting to take the step.

3. E-Trade

In 2016, E-Trade rolled out a new marketing campaign that targeted a younger audience. Their subsequent website redesign and revamped CTA resonated with the values and desires of their target audience and effectively combined minimalist visuals with concise ad copy to rejuvenate the business.

What this call to action ad gets right:

  • Bold font and minimalistic design
  • Clear and concise copy
  • CTA phrase, "Let's do this," is personal and encouraging—something you'd say to a friend
  • Arrow is a strong image that motivates action by pointing to the future
  • CTA button contrasts well against the white background, catching the eye’s attention
  • Powerful language—talk of the future inspires, and it only takes four steps to make it happen.

The clever use of language and imagery in this CTA helped E-Trade’s marketing campaign work wonders with its younger target audience.

4. HelloFresh

As the head of search engine advertising and display at HelloFresh Karl Villanueva eloquently put it:

“Marketing should not be a pain, but should be relevant. Our marketing should not distract the customer, but rather provide them with answers to their individual questions.”

We see that exemplified here with their neat, colorful, and informative CTA web page.

What this call to action ad gets right:

  • Visuals are aesthetically pleasing without being too jarring or distracting
  • Minimal copy conveys only what’s necessary
  • "View our plans" doesn't force you into a purchase, but invites you in like a friend.
  • Green call to action button stands out against the pink
  • Leverages social proof with the phrase, “America’s Most Popular”
  • Incentives are clear—variety and a low price

With a hip and natural look and well-written copy, it’s no surprise that HelloFresh is winning with its online marketing campaign and dominating the meal-kit-service field in conversion rates.

5. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Sierra Nevada invested approximately $10 million in digital and paid social media ads in 2019. Their online revamp and fresh design provide a great example of a simple yet effective, on-brand CTA that motivates action.

What this call to action ad gets right:

  • Beautiful, natural image fits the brand personality without obscuring the CTA
  • CTA button is in white, contrasting with the background image
  • The viewer feels included with the "Cheers" and invitation to "Start Exploring"
  • Only uses a few words to convey the message
  • Relaxed language fits the brand personality

The Takeaway

Now you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to create an amazing CTA for your company. You can now define call to action, make a call to action, and explain why call to action advertising is so important to the success of any online marketing strategy.

When creating your own call to action ad, remember to:

  • Get to know what makes your audience tick
  • Write powerful ad copy that makes the most of a few select words
  • Use a design and color scheme that fits your brand
  • Keep up with industry trends and tools
  • Evaluate your results using A/B testing
  • Revise accordingly

If you don’t know where to begin, review the five terrific examples we provided of call to action advertising and study why they’re so effective. These concrete illustrations of what works will guide you as you begin to brainstorm your own CTA.

This article was written by writer Terese Winters.

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