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A call-to-action is the copy or graphic you use to entice and persuade your readers to take that action. Well-designed calls to action can dramatically increase a site's rate of conversion to its goal.
So what's a well-designed call to action? I've done testing on countless different sites, and here are the 7 most important best practices I've found.
Use discrete measurements of time in your call to action. Phrases like "click now" or "try our software today" give the user an understanding of how easy and immediate the action will be.
Concrete digits including prices make the action very specific for the user and in nearly every case I've seen test very well.
Indicate a Specific Action
Make your call to action as specific as possible. Tell the user exactly what you want them to do and how. Avoid vague generalities and instead tell them to click, sign up, contact us or download.
It often helps to direct a user's attention to a call to action by placing a stock photo of a person looking directly at that call to action. Images with actors looking directly at the user tend to distract them.
Make Your CTA Clickable
Make sure your call to action uses the accepted web conventions of clickability. If it's a text link, it should be at least underlined, if not the standard link-blue. Buttons should have a 3-d effect that simulates the buttons found in web and desktop interfaces, and both buttons and links should change the default cursor when the user hovers over them to the pointer hand.
Use Contrasting Colors
Contrasting colors can draw the user's eye to the action you want them to take. If your site is cool blue and gray, use a red or orange graphic.
Pay Attention to Position
Calls to action "above the fold" on a page (in the first screen viewable on a page without scrolling down) do very well. Calls to action in a sidebar don't perform as well as those in the central content area of a page. Put the call to action where the rest of the page will naturally lead a viewer's eyes.
Bonus Tip: Test, Test, Test!
If you want to start optimizing your calls to action beyond just best practices, check out Action Grader, HubSpot's latest free tool. Action Grader will help you setup continuous tests to constantly improve the click-through rate of your calls to action on every page of your site.
We're in private invite-only beta right now, but if you'd like to try it out, sign up at the form here and then leave a note in the comments below.