The first banner ad appeared in 1994. It was an ad from AT&T on the site HotWired.com, and it looked like this:
This simple banner from nearly 30 years ago does three things really well:
These three things are what our digital ads need to do in 2022, but unlike the audiences of 1994, out there surfin’ Geocities sites on Netscape, our audiences have seen more digital ads than they can count — probably before they’ve even gotten out of bed. They understand what to do with them and what they are.
So why, in the name of all things pixelated, are we marketers still using calls-to-action like “Click here” 30 entire years (give or take) after banner ads were invented? Is there truly anyone out there who still doesn’t know to click or tap a button? Is our design so clunky and unintuitive that these basic directions are needed?
We can do better.
Here’s a look at why we need to and a few tips for how to get started.
Whether they see your banner ads while browsing or come across a CTA button on your site, a strong CTA helps users understand what to do and what will happen when they do it.
Sure, technically “click here” is telling someone what to do, but in order to tell them why they should click, they need context. That runs the risk of taking up too much valuable space on a banner or button. Plus, it’s dated — not the impression you want to give users about your company.
The first example is clunky, unpolished, and too wordy. The second example tells the user what to do in just two words (and we could get away with just one, though “now” adds a sense of urgency). It includes an action word and has room for a little icon so even at a glance the user can still understand what the button is all about. Short, direct, easy-to-read — an ideal CTA.
If part of our job as marketers and content creators is to make our user’s journey from consideration to purchase as easy as possible, using a strong CTA is a simple way to make their customer journey that much more seamless.
Ultimately the reason you are running ads or have a website is to get people to do something that contributes to your organization’s success — sign up for a newsletter, make a donation, download a guide, buy a product, request a quote…you get the idea. Even awareness campaigns and basic brochure sites should have a clear goal or outcome they are trying to achieve when someone views the content.
The CTA is an important part of guiding your user to do the thing you want them to do. Swapping passive words and phrases like “learn more” or “check out” for more active, direct words can help them do it.
Here are a few examples of passive CTAs and stronger swaps:
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Literally anything else
This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours on a thesaurus site to avoid weak CTAs. You just need to remember that giving someone a clear direction is almost always more effective than being ambiguous.
Your brand’s personality should come through in everything you share with your audiences, right down to your CTAs. It’s another opportunity to stand out from the crowd and give users a more memorable experience with your brand. Here’s an example:
Both are asking a user to create an account on a site. The desired action is the same. The approach is different. The first feels more formal, polished, buttoned-up, academic, professional, or traditional. The second is more playful, casual, and informal.
Neither phrase is wrong — they just reinforce different brand personalities. (That’s something “Learn More” or “Click Here” just can’t deliver.)
Ideally, every CTA across all your marketing will be strong, actionable, and a reflection of your brand’s personality. But since we don’t live in an ideal world there will of course be moments when you just need to get some copy on a page or an ad out the door. Falling back on old standbys like “Learn More” will happen. (And sometimes they're simply forced on you by certain social media platforms and their ad-building templates.)
Give yourself a goal to use strong calls to action 80% of the time. That way you have a realistic starting place and don’t have to beat yourself up when you are up against a deadline.
Once you make it a routine practice (keeping a list of effective action words handy helps), you’ll probably find yourself naturally leaving those passive, worn-out CTAs in the past where they belong.
Curious about making your content more actionable? Schedule a chat with us.