Choose Your Own Adventure: Exploring the Elusive Call-To-Action (Part 1)

You know them immediately by their placement, message, color, their vibe: Calls-to-Action (CTAs). When properly utilized they can symbolize choices, cues, or desired goals.

When improperly placed however, CTAs may have negative connotations. Users might feel manipulated, pressured to spend money, or become trapped in yet another email drip campaign.

CTAs are complex creatures.

They are comprised of visual and written components while effectively guarding the gate to a portal of new information. Their simple structure and placement can have a fundamental effect on the conversion potential of a web page. Clicking on a CTA can feel a lot like reading one of those “choose your own adventure” (CYOA) novels we children of the 80s and 90s enjoyed so much in grade school: a slim path leading to hoped-for experiences.

The job for design and content is to make a call-to-action more like a call-to-adventure: make it non-threatening while remaining appealing and even exciting. While the design and text of the call itself is vital to guiding your users to a desired end, the surrounding content and graphics should also create an environment in which clicking a CTA appeals.

Sufficed to say, there’s a lot to discuss. Ben, one of our Designers, and Chelsea, one of our content writers, have decided to share our discussion of the practical and philosophical basis for CTAs, and how we think you can make yours better.

Read on, and choose wisely.

choose-wisely

Chelsea: We don’t refer to a CTA as a “call” for no reason. By putting out the word, visually, you summon users to action-focused areas of your site, areas that will take them to the next level, whatever that is.

Ben, from your perspective as a designer, why do CTAs really matter? What is their primary purpose?

Ben: Well, let’s consider the larger context. My responsibility as a designer is to help identify the primary problem the client is experiencing and develop an effective solution. A critical component of that solution must respect the client’s user base and their experience (UX) while interacting with the website/product/app. If we ignore the user and how they connect with the product, why even be there in the first place?!

I’ve found that CTAs function as a bridge between the client’s goals (usually increasing conversions) and the user’s experience. They primarily exist to engage the user and promote action. How the CTA performs – determined by observation and A/B testing – impacts overall design quality, UX, lead generation, and so forth.

You’ve likely seen the example CTA’s executed poorly: a badge-like sticker slapped on a page with seemingly little consideration made to content and surrounding design. It screams promotion (BUY, BUY, BUY!) and falls on deaf ears because the audience sees right through the gimmick.

On the other hand, a quality CTA fits naturally with elements around it andengage-picard contains just the right amount of contrast to be noticeable and drive action. It represents an obvious, but not obnoxious next step. “Learning about my SaSS product? Let’s show you a short clip on how it works”. Real engagement ->>>

A secondary purpose for CTAs is to assist visual movement or flow. They can direct how users scan down the page, creating a visual path to follow. Poor CTA placement can disrupt attention and thus overall experience, creating a sense of chaos or confusion, leading to higher bounce rates. Effective placement of CTAs includes proper spacing between the surrounding content; it’s not too far away, yet not obscuring or overwhelming. A CTA can also function as a stepping stone to the next element or content area. We want the users to take action, yet if they don’t, we do not want to abandon them entirely.

As you can see there is much to consider. How do you approach CTAs from a content perspective, Chelsea?

Chelsea: Sounds like a real balancing act on the design side. For me, the primacy of a communicative, enticing CTA that delivers on its claims remains. I’m really interested in how CTAs make promises and deliver. I never want users to feel conned, but instead, satisfied. Content writers have to make sure that the words used within and around a call-to-action builds up the idea of an experience that the user both wants and will obtain. The page that comes after clicking a CTA needs to fulfill user expectations and provide the ultimate value. So, I suppose, a CTA is never just a CTA, which is where the adventure comes into play.

cave-of-timeConsider the promo language for the popular CYOA novel, The Cave of Time (I don’t know about you, but I’m HOOKED on name alone).

“You are hiking in Snake Canyon when you find yourself lost in the strange, dimly lit Cave of Time. Gradually you can make out two passageways. One curves downward to the right; the other leads upward to the left. It occurs to you that the one leading down may go to the past and the one leading up may go to the future. Which way will you choose?

If you take the left branch, turn to page 20. If you take the right branch, turn to page 61. If you walk outside the cave, turn to page 21. Be careful! In the Cave of Time you might meet up with a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex, or be lured aboard an alien spaceship!”

Um, yes please! Although these options are more vague than what we hope to offer with effective CTAs, they embody the same thrill of the choice. Decisions open doors, and CTAs present those doors clearly so users can step through.

Before moving through the next door, let’s pause for a moment to give our audience a second to catch up. How about we meet up soon to continue this conversation Ben?

Ben: Definitely. Wait, was that the right choice??….