Ineffective CTAs: Why Your Website Isn’t Converting

A person holds a phone and enters their credit card information to complete a purchase.

Is your website a bit of a deadbeat? 🫣 You pay its hosting bill, make sure it’s up to date, and put a lot of time into it, but it doesn’t bring you any new leads. Or maybe it does occasionally, but it happens so rarely that when someone says they found you from your website, you say “Really??” 

Your website should be pulling its weight. 😤 If it’s not, it may be time to take a look at your CTAs.

“Now what?”

A CTA (call to action) answers the question “Now what do I do?” When someone is on your website, you’re hoping to convince them to engage with you in some way. (Click here to learn about primary goals for websites.) All the copy should be working to convince folks to take the next step.

But what happens once they’re convinced? They need to know what to do next, and you don’t always know where they’ll be on your site when they make up their mind.

The path of least resistance

The most important thing with your CTAs is to make sure that they offer the path of least resistance to your visitors. It should take the least possible amount of energy to do the thing you want them to do. ⚡ That means they should only have to click one button to get there.

You also want to minimize how much work it takes after the click. If someone is just signing up for your newsletter, they’re not likely to be willing to fill out an extensive form with a lot of personal information. Get that name and email address and then stop! 🛑 You can pick up the work in future communications by asking for more information or narrowing down what part of your marketing funnels they belong in. Know what the CTA is meant to accomplish and get that accomplished.

A part of presenting the CTA with as little resistance as possible is making sure your CTA is all over the place on your site (more on this in a little bit). Having frequent CTAs means that no matter where someone is when they make up their mind, they will have a CTA available or can scroll quickly to the last one they saw.

Make it make sense

You want to have CTAs all throughout your site, but littering your website with thoughtless CTAs won’t work. There has to be a strategy, and you’ll need to think about what CTAs you’re putting where. Tie the actions to the rest of the content so that people can feel like there’s some logic to the action they’re being asked to take. 

If you don’t make your CTAs logical, people will feel like they’re just a money-grab. 🤑 No one likes feeling like someone is only interested in them for the money, so make sure that when you’re calling your website visitors to take action, you’ve already given them reason to trust you. 

Not just one thing

A lot of times, people use “CTA” as shorthand for the button folks press that takes them to a form, scheduler, or shop page. But the CTA isn’t just the button. The most effective CTAs will be supported by the text around them. You may want to make your CTAs stand out by designing CTA sections or boxes that set the CTA apart from the rest of the page content. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a thoughtful header or even some body text making the CTA more alluring.

If you’re not setting your CTA apart with design, it’ll probably be most effective to have the CTA flow naturally out of the rest of the page content. Make sure that the CTA comes at a point that makes sense, and not just as an interruption to what you’re saying.

Primary and secondary CTAs

Your website doesn’t have to be limited to one single CTA. You might offer a range of services or products, and the way you position the CTAs for these will likely differ. But beyond this, you might have a primary CTA that represents the action you most want people to take—often something to the effect of “buy now” or “sign up”—and a secondary CTA that presents people with an opportunity to engage with you at a lower level of commitment, like an email newsletter.

If you offer something at a high price point or something that meets people at a very specific point in time, you may have people who end up on your website at the wrong time. 🙅 Perhaps they don’t have the budget yet, or they just aren’t ready to take the plunge. If they navigate away without engaging with you, you will likely lose them forever. 

How often do you struggle to remember that business you saw once upon a time that offered something that you’re looking for months or maybe even years later? 🤔 Unless you follow them on social media or get marketing emails from them regularly, they’ve probably slipped from memory. A Google search might bring them back up, but it also might bring up a competitor.

For this reason, it’s a great idea to have a secondary CTA that offers something of value to interested parties that just aren’t ready for your big-ticket item. Your secondary CTA could be your email newsletter or a downloadable PDF or even a class or limited demo. Whatever it is, you want to use it to gather information (name, email, etc.) about your client so you can nurture them in the future.

Optimizing your CTAs

If you want to check your existing CTAs, let’s go over what to look for.

Is it clear?

Folks should always know exactly what action you’re asking them to take. They should know (or be able to guess) what is going to happen when they click on the button (or link, etc.): are they going to be taken to a form or asked for their credit card information? This kind of ask shouldn’t come as a surprise. Some people are tempted to get creative with their CTAs and end up sacrificing clarity for cleverness. 

Additionally, it should also be obvious that you are asking them to do something. Don’t state your CTA in a way that leaves people feeling ambivalent about what you want them to do. CTAs won’t benefit from beating around the bush, nor will people feel compelled by lukewarm calls that seem to include an unspoken “No worries if not!”

Using action words like “click” or “sign up” can clearly communicate what you want folks to do with a button or form itself, but you can also use words like “buy,” “schedule,” or “get” to communicate what kind of engagement you’re looking for. Just make sure it’s clear how to do that (see below).

Is it designed well?

A button needs to look like a button. This might seem obvious, but sometimes designed elements can be ambiguous. In early stages of building our current website, our buttons lacked button-ness, and we spent a lot of time discussing how to make it clear that the words Discover websites and Explore partnerships looked “pressable.”

Have you ever gotten frustrated because you were trying to click on something on your phone screen and your phone kept opening the wrong thing? 🤬 Buttons need to be a size that makes them easy to engage with. Cursors on a computer tend to be pretty precise—though good accessibility dictates that your design should take into account users who might have motor issues that make precise movements difficult—but mobile phones and tablets can be a little less precise, so the design should take this into account.

Your CTAs should ideally stand out from the rest of the design as well. You want them to draw attention and be obvious to your visitors. Use brighter brand colors and elements that stand out from the rest of the design to make sure they’re easy to spot. As mentioned before, you can also use design elements to set them apart in their own section or box to further emphasize them.

Is it all over the place?

No one should have to hunt for your CTAs. It can feel like a bit much when you’re designing a website, but you really do want to put CTAs in more content blocks than not. You never know when someone will make up their mind about engaging with you, so the opportunity to take the desired action should be ever-present.

Some folks solve this by putting an overall CTA in the header section or making it “sticky” so that it is visible even if you scroll or navigate around.

Think about where you look when you’re trying to act on a website. Common places people look for CTAs are at the top of the screen, in the middle of the screen, or at the end of a blog post or product/service description. Let the expectations work for you, not against you, and put your CTAs in the most obvious places.

Is it logical?

Best practice is to make your CTA flow logically from the content around it. This can be especially important for CTAs in blog posts, but it applies to the rest of the website as well. 

Think of a company that services home appliances. If they’ve written a blog post or an extended sales block about how clogged dryer vents can cause house fires, that’s a great place to put a CTA to schedule a vent cleaning. It wouldn’t be a great time to prompt folks to buy a new dishwasher. 🙃

Your CTA should be seen as an offer of the solution. It’s important to agitate pain points for your clients, but you want to show them the way forward as well: a light at the end of the tunnel. Your CTA can flow naturally from content about the problem into offering the solution.

Is it compelling?

CTAs are not the place to be self-conscious about your business or not wanting to pressure someone. The whole point of a CTA is to push visitors into action, so don’t use weak language or pull your punches. Instead, you may want to consider adding a sense of urgency or scarcity to add motivation. 🚨

You can limit the time an offer is available or the number of people who can sign up. You can add this information to your CTAs to make them more compelling by saying “Buy now before you miss out.”

Is it consistent?

If you only have one CTA due to necessary first steps (like scheduling a consultation) or limited offerings (like signing up for a class), make your CTAs consistent throughout the website. That doesn’t mean they’re identical, but you don’t want people to reach a decision point and then wonder if the CTA they’re looking at is the same as the one they saw before or if there is a better option.

Use similar design elements and language to allow people to begin to recognize when you are asking for them to act. This can extend beyond your website and be used in email marketing, social media, and beyond.

Is it functional?

A CTA will fail 100% of the time if the desired action is impossible to take. 😅 Check your CTAs (and recheck regularly) to make sure they lead where you want them to and everything goes according to plan. You never want to hear from someone that they were trying to buy from you, but your form was broken or they never heard back.

Routinely check buttons to make sure they’re clickable and go to the right place. Check to see that forms function properly and any automations go off without a hitch. Test the whole process to make sure that information goes into the necessary systems and all the next steps are carried out as well.

A/B testing for CTAs

A great way to optimize your CTAs is to run some A/B tests where you have two versions of your CTAs live on your site at the same time but for different visitors. Analyzing the conversion rates for these versions can point you in the right direction for future CTAs.

Don’t assume what worked best at one point is the way forward forever. You’ll need to continue testing to keep things optimal. And there’s typically always room for improvement. Take the CTA that performed the best and test it against another CTA to see which one comes out on top. 🏆

🌿

If you’d like some help with your conversion rates, we offer free website audits that assess your CTAs and all the other factors that play a role in your website’s functionality and performance

For current clients: if you’re interested in trying some A/B testing of your CTAs, we can easily set it up for you. Just submit a support request and we’ll get started.

Don’t let your website be a freeloader; it’s time for it to earn its keep! Get those CTAs whipped into shape, and you’ll be surprised at how much more business your website can bring you. 

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