Recently I’ve been working with a lot of new clients to jumpstart their inbound marketing programs. Regardless of whether the client is marketing in high tech, is a school, non-profit or small business, job-one for their inbound marketing is attracting visitors and getting them to click on calls-to-action or CTAs. This is what we, in the business, call the classic top-of-the-funnel offer.
How do you know if your CTAs need help? If you’ve got a lot of traffic on a page and aren’t getting conversions, chances are your CTAs aren’t working for you. Why? Because most organizations gravitate to CTAs like: Click Here. Download Now. Free Trial. …Boring. Would you click on one of these offers? Or would you keep looking for something better?
Unless your organization is very special, your top of the funnel offer is going to be something free. It’s hard to imagine walking up to a stranger in a bar and asking them to pay for your drink as a way to start a relationship… similarly when a new visitor meets your value proposition on your website for the first time, you’re going to be doing the buying.
But if everyone in the bar… sorry the analogy just seems to be working… is giving away free drinks, how are your prospects going to decide to take your free drink instead of someone else’s? Since we can’t rely on free isn’t a differentiator, we have to develop CTAs that sell.
I always have to give credit when a company uses what it sells. Often a new client who’s using the Hubspot marketing automation platform to deploy CTAs will complain that the Hubspot CTA generator is too simple, too plain or out-and-out boring. That's when I launch into my talk on what's good is what works, not what you think looks good. Well, kudos to Hubspot. They actually used their simple, boring CTAs right on their homepage:
These are (presently) the only two CTAs on the homepage. It's pretty obvious what they want you to do. One top-of-the-funnel offer and one bottom-of-the-funnel offer… and no mention of the word free, click here etc. My answer to the new client… they didn’t make the CTA tool simple because they were trying to cut corners. The stuff works.
Beyond Simple: The Formula For Effective CTAs
But in the competition for prospects, sometimes you need to go beyond a simple text button to build a CTA that does its job. What does that CTA look like?
An effective CTA is like a powerful mini banner ad. People don’t tend to read them so much as they scan them. If you’re lucky, the scan will cause a visitor to stop long enough to process the CTA and decide to take action. So if you’re going beyond text buttons with your CTA, here’s my simple list of three tests to determine whether a CTA is on the right path to drive conversions:
- Does the CTA capture the persona you’re targeting? Can a visitor see themselves receiving the benefit described in your ad?
- Is the benefit clear? Can I determine in 5 seconds or less what I’m going to get if I accept the offer?
- Is it safe? Does the image and do the words make me feel like I’m not going to get a virus if I take the offer?
Helpscout isn’t a client of ours, but I really like this CTA that they’re using. It does so many things well that I thought I’d use it as an example:
In this CTA the persona is captured in a customer testimonial. The testimonial is really a loaded concept in the CTA:
- It puts you, the prospective customer in the ad.
- It articulates the value proposition simply and clearly.
- It also reduces the risk of a poor experience because another human is actually using this stuff and likes it.
But the CTA doesn’t stop selling there. The offer of the 15-day free trial is supported by another no-risk claim, namely that no credit card is required. I like that. And then after the CTA has gotten your attention, made its best case that you’re at no risk for taking the offer, if you’re still not convinced, you can take the chicken way out and just see how it all works. Nice execution.
Back when I was doing “traditional” advertising, one of the staple books on my shelf was Triggers by Joseph Sugarman. It describes 30 practical, effective mechanisms that evoke responses from your audience. Once you know them you’ll start recognizing them in other’s ads and CTAs. If you’re not interested in psychology and don’t want to go through trial and error to discover that there are some common ad mechanisms that evoke responses from people, this book may be for you.
Jump Start Your Inbound Marketing With Great CTAs
CTAs make the difference between mediocre inbound marketing and great inbound marketing. If your current idea of a great CTA is Click Here or Download Now and you’re not getting the conversions you want, use the concepts presented here to breathe new life into your calls-to-action.