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April 29, 2014 // 8:00 AM

How Smart Marketers Are Sabotaging Their Calls-to-Action

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banana-peel-text-overlayWe've all heard the regular call-to-action best practices by now. Write compelling copy. Choose appealing images. Have a solid value prop.

All important stuff, to be sure.

But what about the people who have fixed all the common CTA errors? (You can find the errors in this SlideShare if you want to check yourself.)

There are other, less-talked-about ways you may be hurting the success of your CTAs -- and by extension, your lead gen. Let's talk about those.

You're scared of using too many.

CTA confusion is a real thing, which is why it's common to preach only using one primary CTA per page. It's the primary "thing" you want your visitor to do, after all.

But sometimes there's more than one right answer. And I'm not talking about just adding in a secondary CTA, either. (Which you should absolutely do -- read this post if you want to learn more about secondary CTAs. Or read this one if you want to learn more but only have like 20 seconds.)

Instead of worrying about the quantity of primary CTAs on your page, think about the quantity of primary CTAs on your page that help you meet the goal of that CTA. For instance, if the goal of your homepage is to drive more MQLs through RFP requests, go ahead and put more than one RFP CTA on there -- even if they're totally different RFP CTAs that lead to totally different RFP request landing pages. The problem with multiple primary CTAs isn't that they exist -- it's when multiple CTAs exist that are encouraging actions that are totally counterintuitive to one another, and detract from the effectiveness of the page.

You're not writing custom copy.

As your offer library grows, you'll have less trouble finding CTAs to match your content. But if your offer library is growing, chances are your content strategy is more sophisticated, too -- which means you're writing about more specific, niche subject matters. That's a good thing, but your CTAs can start to look pretty generic next to those extremely personalized content pieces.

Let's take this blog post we published a while ago as an example: "How to Satisfy Every Stakeholder In Your Next Website Redesign." We had a CTA ready to go that we'd used for a while that promoted our offer Website Redesign Planning & Progress Kit. This is what the original CTA for the offer looked like:


We emphasized the progress tracking a little more than the strategic aspect, because at the time, it's what we talked about more.

But this new blog post really focused more on the strategic parts of managing website redesigns -- the part where you have to get a bunch of internal stakeholders on board. So, we customized the CTA copy to reflect the audience to whom the post was targeted. Here's the customized version:


We've since customized our offer CTAs when we're emphasizing something the CTA copy doesn't reflect, and consistently see improved conversion rates as a result.

You're not updating your design.

If you've started to see a disappointing leveling off of your CTA clickthrough rates (not submission rates, mind you), it could be due to design overexposure. It doesn't mean the content behind the CTAs is stale -- just that you've oversaturate your audience with a design such that it's fading into the background. It's commonplace. It's not "jumping off the page" anymore. 

Personally, I feel like this blog could use a CTA design refresh. I know it might be a good use of time because when I compare the clickthrough rates on these two CTAs, the latter is almost double the former.


It's probably because it's a break from the visual norm for our readers. We've had this gray design for a bit. If you've also had the same design for a bit, consider a refresh to help improve your CTA clickthrough rates.

Your CTAs are too smart.

Sometimes, a CTA should be kind of stupid. (This is a joke we make here when opting not to create "smart" or "dynamic" CTAs). What I mean by this is that just because you have some cool segmenting functionality doesn't mean you should always use it.

For instance, let's pretend you're launching a new product. Or hosting an event. Or releasing a new offer you want everyone to see. These are all instances in which smart CTAs can be counterintuitive to your goals, because you're segmenting for the sake of segmenting. Consider who you actually want to see your CTAs before you get segmentation-happy.

You're not trying new placements.

I don't know why we all decided CTAs belong at the bottom of blog posts and only the bottom of blog posts. Actually, I do know why. Because once upon a time, we had this idea that people read every word we wrote. If you're still reading this part of the post -- hey, thank you. I appreciate you sticking around.

But I also know that statistically, most readers don't even get 60% of the way through an article. So why not provide an earlier conversion opportunity?

For instance, we performed a test to see if slide-in CTAs helped clickthrough and submission rates. It did. (You can read more about that test here, and learn how to create your own slide-in CTAs.) We also performed a test to see if in-post visual callout CTAs helped clickthrough and submission rates. They didn't. At first. Then we tried adjusting other variables, and found they worked, but only when they were ridiculously contextual. So, if we wrote a section in a post about Evernote, and then served up a visual CTA related to Evernote, that would improve the post's overall CTA clickthrough and submission rate.

The moral of the story is this: We've always tested CTA placement on every other part of our site -- why not test it on our blog, too?

You're not updating CTAs on old pages.

But old pages are ... old. Why should I update them?

If they're still up, they might still be getting traffic. Check. If they are still getting traffic, you have two choices: Take the pages down, or update the content. I highly, highly recommend latter.

Most people won't have time to do a serious overhaul of all the page contents, especially because many of the pages that will fall victim to the still-getting-traffic-but-content-is-old issue will be blog posts. And the nature of blog posts is that you write a lot of them and, unless they're all evergreen, time will take its toll. So instead of rewriting dozens if not hundreds of blog posts that still get traffic, update the CTAs on those posts. This could mean making "stupid" CTAs smart, adding new creative, or replacing the CTAs with new offers entirely.

I recommend going through this exercise once a quarter if you're a frequent blogger (daily or more) and twice a year if you're a semi-frequent blogger (anywhere from 1-5 times a week). You should also go through the exercise with your non-blog site pages about twice a year to see if the CTAs on pages that still receive a lot of traffic are as relevant as they could be.

Audits are never fun, but it'll help you get more bang from your buck with your CTAs.

free examples of effective calls-to-action


Topics: Calls-to-Action

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