In theory, calls to action (CTAs) are simple: Tell your site visitors what to do, and why they should do it. In practice, however, that's about as easy as walking inside a long, dark tunnel with zero equipment. You can only do your best to stay on your feet and pray that you'll find the light eventually.
Luckily, you don't have to go in blind anymore. Unlike the 70 percent of small businesses that don't have CTAs, you're about to be armed with the basic knowledge for creating CTAs so your website will bite, rather than bite the dust. Although websites that don't follow these six rules to the letter exist, newbies would do well to master them first before breaking them.
1. Make Your CTA Visible
This might seem obvious (no pun intended), but the CTA shouldn't be placed just anywhere on your site. Since 80 percent of visitors would rather not scroll down the page, your CTA must stay above the fold as much as possible. Take Behance's "Sign Up" button, for example.
It's the first thing visitors see when the page fully loads. Also, the fact it’s a bright blue button set against a dark background helps, too.
However, there's a limit to how visible the CTA button can be. If you enlarge it to the point that it turns visitors off, you might end up shaving as much as 10 percent off your conversion rate. Keep the CTA button within your visitors' line of sight, but don't make it too in-your-face, either.
2. Keep Your CTA Simple and Specific
Once a visitor clicks on your website, you only have 15 seconds to keep them there. That means if you want them to figure out what to do on your site, they'd better figure it out fast, or they'll get bored and move on to the next one.
To keep them from doing that, take a leaf out of QuickSprout's book — or rather, site.
Three letters, one action: "Enter your URL." It's simple, specific and saves your visitors time and energy thinking about what they should do next. The fact that the site concisely explains what it's about, right above the CTA button, makes QuickSprout a surefire conversion magnet.
3. Keep It Consistent
People have a natural tendency to search for patterns. Once they get bitten by a brightly-colored snake, for example, they'll remember to stay away from brightly-colored snakes in the future.
The same principle applies for websites, as Uber shows below.
Notice how Uber uses the same green-and-white design for its two CTA buttons, even though they target two different users. Also, both buttons succinctly spell out what will happen when you click them: You can either get behind the driver's wheel, or behind the driver's seat. Lastly, the contrast between the green buttons and the background makes the former pop for the viewer.
4. Consider Ghost Buttons
You don't have to get too fancy with CTA buttons, though. If you want something that combines simplicity, elegance and proven effectiveness, you can't go wrong with ghost buttons like that of Kanbanize.
Since they have a distinct white outline, ghost buttons tend to pop off the page. And since they're designed to be transparent, they blend well with almost any background. Kanbanize also uses the same CTA button across different pages, and always in a place visible to visitors, so they're compliant with the best practices for incorporating CTAs discussed so far.
5. Use Social Proof
When people are in doubt about what to do, they look to others for guidance. Use that to your advantage, like Basecamp did.
By stating that over 6,600 companies signed with them within one week, they're reinforcing the idea that "Hey, these people think Basecamp is good. Maybe I should give it a try, too!"
Aside from their brilliant use of social proof, Basecamp has other ways to keep and convert users. Using a casual, relatable tone, they explain how helpful their product is in plain English. They also used the sign up box as a fixed element, so even when you reach the end of the page after reading the copy, you can access that box without having to scroll back up again.
6. Don't Forget Your Customers
Before you write the usual "Sign Up" or "Enter Your E-mail" in your CTA, consider how else you can make your site more useful for customers. What are your customers like? What do they usually do with your products? How else can you make customers feel more connected with your brand?
Judging by the way their site is designed, BarkBox has clear answers to those questions.
They're aware that, while many of their users sign up for themselves, others also want a convenient way to give BarkBox goodies to their loved ones. To make things easy for both groups, they designated two visible buttons that come in different colors, yet are similar in every other way.
The Next Steps
To quote Captain Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean: "These are more guidelines than actual rules." Feel free to use these tips for your website, but don't be afraid to perform A/B testing until you find a CTA design that suits your goals best. In the meantime, may the online gods be ever in your favor!
Lexie Lu is a designer and writer. She enjoys researching trends in the web and graphic design industry. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.