You executed every element of your site design perfectly. The user interface is minimal, performs well and is easy to use. The content is top-notch, and the visual media is attractive. Your theme looks great on mobile and desktop, something that most competitors could only dream for. Everything is in order, and you’re poised to make a huge impact in your industry.

But you forgot to add and optimize one critical element: your call to action.

The site launches, and you soon realize your customers have nowhere to go, nothing to do, no mission to accomplish. They’re visiting your site, and then bouncing as much as a rubber ball on a slick, hard surface.

The CTA, or call to action, is largely responsible for all the conversions, revenue, business and profits you receive — at least when it comes to your online presence. It is one of the single most powerful and foundational elements of any online marketing strategy (visit our web design inspiration section to see great examples).

The CTA tells customers what to do, where to go next and, more importantly, where to spend their money.

If any of that seems silly or far-fetched to you, then you’re in the wrong industry.

Designing an Effective Call to Action

Sadly, designing an effective CTA is not always easy because it’s not just about a single, well-placed phrase, button or even form. The CTA encompasses the entire space between “bounce and conversion,” as Michael Aagaard of Unbounce claims. It is a “tipping point” where your customers decide if they want to abandon ship or see things through to the end.

It has to be poignant, direct and engaging. There are, of course, some steps you can take to ensure that happens:

1. Choose the Proper Location(s)

A single button placed at the bottom of your landing page isn’t going to be a sufficient call to action — at least as your only move. You’ll also need to choose the appropriate placement for your CTA elements and make sure they are spaced accordingly.

You may need to have multiple CTAs, each tailored to a specific page, content structure or topic. For example, the CTA on your ‘Contact’ page should be completely different from the one on your ‘Partners’ page.

Furthermore, you’ll want to place those CTAs strategically on every single page you have them. Do some A/B testing for your site and determine the best, most effective areas. Many eye-tracking studies have revealed website visitors scan pages in an F shape with their eyes, starting with the top left of any page.

Finally, make the CTAs obvious. They should be front and center, or at least easy to spot, because they are what point your customers in the direction you want them to go.

OKCupid is a great place to find inspiration. As a dating site, it’s obvious that anyone visiting is interested in seeing what the community can offer them. So, the CTA is a simple dropdown menu and button combo that allows them to specify preferences and do a quick peek. If they like what they see, they can continue with the sign-up process.

2. Timing Is Key

Do you throw your CTA in someone’s face right away? Should you wait until you explain what you’re selling? This point is easy to confuse with “location,” but it’s not the same thing. Timing is all about “when,” not “where,” you show your CTA.

In some cases, it might be more beneficial to show your CTA at the bottom of a page or after a fold —  timed after they’ve gotten to know your brand and products. In other cases, it might be better to have your CTA right up front, before anything else is even discussed.

Think of it as a more conventional sales pitch. If you’re going door-to-door to sell customers a product, you’re first going to introduce yourself and then get their attention. If you shove a product in their face right away and ask them to buy it, you’re probably not going to sell much. But that situation is exclusive, in a way. You may need to adapt your strategy so it better fits your medium or platform.

A CTA on a social media profile is going to be extremely different from one on your website, for example. And proper placement is as much about timing as it is about location.

Take a look at the Cliffside Industries website. Right away, you’re served a CTA to indicate there’s a sale going on. If and when you dismiss that, there’s still a top-menu that includes another CTA. In this particular case, the marketers decided it was best to put the CTA up first.

3. Make Them Attractive

A bland button or wall of text does not make for the most engaging CTA. You want them to be appealing, attractive and eye-catching. That includes taking into account the colors, typography, visual elements and placement.

A common form of this is to deliver a pop-up or small notification with captivating elements such as a model, product or bold-faced text.

Grey Goose vodka has some amazing and stunning CTA elements on their site — in particular, the one you see above that challenges you to “discover a cocktail tailored to your taste.”

4. Make the Value Clear

You want your users to do something, whether that be to order your products or services, subscribe to a newsletter, follow you on social media, etc. You know exactly what you want them to do, but does your audience know?

Make it clear what you want, and make the return value just as obvious. What are they getting for their investment? Is it worthwhile for them to follow your CTA?

Ultimately, following through with this is easier than you think. Try changing the copy for a button from “download” to “get your free e-book now” or something similar. Instead of “buy now,” use “add to cart and save X%” showing the value of the CTA.

All that talk about value proposition is pertinent here — and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You don’t have to include your CTA within the confines of a button. You can say everything you need to through regular web copy, an image or even a video.

Check out Square’s CTA at the bottom of their landing page. What is their device and platform used for? It’s to help independent sellers collect payments from customers, even with credit and debit cards. Their CTA includes the line “start selling with square,” and that tells you exactly what you’re getting.

5. Establish Trust

If you’re asking for a credit card number or personal information, your audience needs to know you’re not going to take advantage of them. All it takes is a few simple and reassuring words.

Going the opposite direction, if you’re offering a free trial, you can include copy that makes it clear no payment is necessary — through a statement such as “no credit card required.”

If you’re collecting an email or personal information, you should reassure your audience you’re not going to spam their inboxes or sell their data to partners or third parties.

But it could even be as simple as comparing your subscription or prices to the competition. This reassures your customers that you’re offering a great deal, better than anyone else.

Netflix is a perfect example of this. If you’re not already a subscriber and you visit the site, the CTA is right there, front and center. It invites you to join free for a month and informs you that you can watch anywhere, but cancel anytime. This establishes trust in an uncertain world.

So how does your CTA measure up? If you haven’t already, try putting these tips to work on your website and see how far they can take you.

Cover image by Milan Seitler. Check out his amazing portfolio!