Anatomy of a Winning CTA

by Jason Skinner, Chief Marketing Officer - 04/11/14

The call-to-action is the first step, and arguably the most critical component, in the conversion process—but too many marketers mistakenly treat the CTA as an afterthought. Whether it accompanies your blog, direct mail piece, magazine article, or email, the CTA can turn casual interest into active participation in a couple short sentences.


A CTA is quite simply an appeal to take some sort of action. Call us. Visit our website. Download this e-book. There are a million possibilities, but in order to distinguish a wasted opportunity from a call that converts, you’ll need to build each CTA with the right components.

Consider the reader. It’s a common mistake: You create engaging, beautifully written content and then completely forget about the reader. What brought her to that article to begin with? Why is he taking time to read your blog? What are they looking for? More times than not, a reader in the beginning of the engagement process is searching for one thing: information. Signs of a stroke. Ways to burn more calories. How to perform CPR. The basics of a given topic are what initially attract your readers, and the promise of more specific information will propel them to the next step. Create engaging content and then ask yourself: After reading this, what is the next logical question an interested person might have? There’s your CTA!

Use the right verbs. It’s intuitive that a call-to-action should include action-oriented words, but simply saturating your CTA with verbs is not the right strategy. Consider the difference between vague verbs like “go” and “get” compared to clearer ones like “visit” and “download.” Challenge yourself to find verbs that inspire and energize the reader to take the next step. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t envision the specific action, then you’re using the wrong word.

Be specific. The most effective CTA will be precise about promised deliverables and will include a clearly defined value proposition. What exactly are you asking the reader to do and for what reason? While CTAs should be relevant to the content they accompany, they should also be capable of standing alone. Don’t simply tell them to download an e-book. Tell them the name of the e-book, the nature of its contents, and what they will get from reading it.

Skip the hard sell. You’ve kept your audience engaged enough to read an entire feature article, so don’t blow it by going in for the hard sell too soon. Chances are, you’ll sacrifice the credibility you earned and you’ll lose your lead in the process. Instead, continue employing language that is nonthreatening, helpful, and casual. Your readers will be less compelled to “donate now” and more likely to “visit our website to learn how we can make a difference.” Once there, they are more likely to be motivated to donate. Consumers are increasingly skeptical, so anything you can do to ease their suspicions will be rewarded with higher conversion rates.

Don’t forget to measure your success! A perfectly executed CTA is a waste of valuable marketing real estate if not properly measured for success. In the absence of a CRM partner, construct your CTAs in a way that allows for other types of measurement. For example, a dedicated phone line will give you an exact count of interested callers and a dedicated webpage can measure unique visitors.

The power of the CTA is in its unique ability to maximize on the value of information and relationship. Now that you’ve studied the anatomy of a winning call-to-action, it’s time to dissect your own CTAs, incorporate these critical elements, and start building more powerful versions that win loyal, engaged customers.

Learn more about maximizing your calls-to-action and measuring their success.  

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