After your headline, your call to action (CTA) is the most important element on your website.

How many times have you heard or read the current ‘best practice’ around CTAs… that states one should always place CTAs above the fold? It’s a nice, easy-to-grasp rule of thumb that appeals to one’s common sense, right?

Well, there is also a less prevalent argument put forth by rogue copywriters and interaction designers… that CTAs are best placed where visitors are ready to start thinking about clicking a call to action.

What’s your point of view? (Feel free to share in the comments below.)

Personally, I’m a firm believer in the latter approach, and I hope to persuade those of you who subscribe to the current popular thinking (i.e., CTAs always above the fold) to come over to the other side. 🙂 And for those of you who are already converted, I hope to promote – with your help – a ‘new’ best practice around CTA placement on a page.

I propose a radical re-thinking of your CTAs… not just in their placement on the page, but also in how you think about calls to action in general.

Okay, so what exactly is this radical approach? Well, it’s me transforming “radical” into “RADical” with this bit of tricky business:

R (Require)
A (Acquire)
D (Desire)

A little cheesy? Perhaps, but acronyms help me remember certain things… like how to look at CTAs!

In my experience assessing and running A/B tests on hundreds of landing pages, I’ve learned that there are 3 things that must occur before anyone will click your CTA:

  1. Visitors must have the information they require before clicking your CTA.
  2. Visitors must be able to easily acquire your CTA.
  3. Visitors must desire whatever is on the other side of your CTA.

Let me break it down in more detail…

#1: Give visitors the information they require before asking them to click

Getting this right simply involves asking yourself if people have what they require in order to click your primary CTA. I’m not suggesting that you can’t keep a CTA above the fold – it may, in fact, be the ideal placement.

For example, if you’re selling Web-based software, your main CTA might be “Take A Two-Minute Tour”.

If your headline sets up your product or service as something of interest to a new visitor, and you show an aesthetically pleasing screenshot of your new creation, then it’s not hard to believe that people could be ready to take a tour of your product.

But there are also tons of examples of CTAs sitting high on the page… where it’s hard to imagine visitors having enough information to click and move on. They likely require more information about whatever it is you’re selling.

Let me illustrate with a business vertical where the players tend to follow each other’s lead… the auto insurance business.

For major national brands like Allstate, State Farm and Progressive, it seems plausible that their home page visitors could arrive armed with enough information about the brand to comfortably begin the [lengthy and often painful] process of requesting an auto insurance quote.

How so? First, because auto insurance is not a new concept to people, and second, because the national brands do so much advertising that they’re already top of mind for people seeking auto insurance. High brand awareness will typically lower the amount of information people require before entering the quote process.

Look where the main “Get a Quote” CTA is located on this screenshot of Progressive’s home page:

Does it work for them? I suspect so.

But does the same hold true for a lesser-known insurance brand like American Family? Not in my opinion.

Everyone makes a sub-conscious decision before clicking any CTA. It’s a split-second weighing of the perceived cost of clicking versus the perceived value of clicking. The perceived cost of getting a quote will be well known to anyone who’s done it before, but the perceived value of getting a quote from American Family is difficult to assess without access to more information.

I believe people visiting the American Family home page will require more details about why they should begin the quote process. Getting a quote takes time and it involves pulling together a lot of details about yourself, your household, and your vehicles. So unless visitors are already very familiar with American Family’s value proposition as an insurer, they’ll want to know what’s in it for them.

And yet American Family follows the same CTA design pattern as their larger competitors (i.e., CTA high on the page):

Take another look at the screenshot of Progressive’s home page (above American Family’s). Not only does Progressive’s above-the-fold CTA placement work because of their brand awareness, but they also provide crucial information alongside the CTA that will help people make the cost-value decision:

Cost: Get a quote in about 6 minutes
Value: You could save over $475 on car insurance

Before anyone will ‘invest’ in clicking your CTA, they need to know this:

Perceived value of the click > Perceived cost of the click

What information do your visitors require before making a click decision on your home page? Are you presenting at least a high level summary of the value your visitors can expect to receive by clicking?

Remember: Enable people to get the information they require before presenting them with a CTA. Trying to make the sale too soon may result in no sale at all.

#2: Allow visitors to easily acquire your CTA

The second component of our new way of thinking about CTAs is a little more straightforward than the first.

It simply boils down to knowing whether or not people can find your CTA. In other words, is it 100% clear to all visitors where they should click (once they have the information the require)?

Does that sound like a silly question? You’d be surprised.

Here are some common obstacles to “Acquire” that I see all the time:

  • CTAs that are too small to see at a glance
  • CTAs that do not provide sufficient contrast against other page elements (e.g., gray buttons!)
  • CTAs that are placed outside the normal eye-path of your primary content
  • CTAs that compete with too many other CTAs on the page
  • CTAs that are nestled amongst other evenly weighted CTAs

“Acquire” has nothing to do with button copy, and everything to do with visibility.

Remember: When your visitors are ready to click, they need to see the target. So make it really easy for them to acquire it.

#3: Make people desire whatever is on the other side of your CTA

“Require” is about what happens before people can click your CTA.

“Acquire” is about whether or not people can click your CTA.

“Desire” is about whether or not people will click your CTA.

Just because people have enough information to make a decision about clicking doesn’t mean they will. And even if people can easily find your CTA, they still may not click.

You need to do a little more work to ensure your visitors move deeper into your sales funnel, and persuade them to follow through with a click.

How? By carefully choosing the copy you incorporate into your CTA.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make your CTA copy more persuasive:

Lead with a familiar, easy-to-understand verb.
Use articles (e.g., “the”, “a”) or prepositions (e.g., “for”) to avoid sounding too robotic.
Be as specific as possible with your word choice rather than generic. (Hint: “Learn More” is generic.)
Add a strong benefit or statement of value. What will the visitor get out of clicking your CTA?
Suggest instant gratification by tacking on words like “Today”, “Now”, “Instantly” or “In Seconds”.

Let’s put this into practice.

Here are 3 examples of copy for an imaginary home page CTA:

“Submit”
“Learn More”
“Get Instant Access To Our Free Report”

Which of the 3 creates the strongest desire in your mind?

Paired with an easy-to-find button and some concise information about what lies within the free report, the 3rd option stands a great chance of getting clicked. The 3rd option also meets all of the ‘persuasive’ guidelines I mentioned above:

Lead with a familiar, easy-to-understand verb.
Use articles or prepositions to avoid sounding too robotic.
Be as specific as possible with your word choice rather than generic.
Add a strong benefit or statement of value.
Suggest instant gratification.

Remember: You need to consider the mindset of your visitors… more specifically, to think about the perceived value versus the perceived cost of clicking your primary button, and ensure you’re shifting the scale in your visitors’ minds toward the former. Get them excited about the value and they’ll click!

Special note for Copy Hackers customers: For a bunch more help in this area – extending beyond your CTA copy, too – see the chapter on click triggers in book #4, Buttons & Click-Worthy Calls to Action, for some great examples on how to amplify desire.

Grading 13 home page CTAs based on the RAD guidelines

If you’d like some real-world examples, you’re in luck. Below I’ve randomly selected a bunch of home pages (of websites recently mentioned on TechCrunch) to assess how well their primary CTAs meet the RAD criteria.

For each example, I’ll assign a grade – A through F – to the Require, Acquire, and Desire design elements. Obviously this is a pretty subjective exercise, but it should provide you with a good grounding on how to improve your own site’s CTAs.

On to the grading…

Site #1: Interstate

Require: D (Hard to tell what’s being offered.)
Acquire: B (The green color and surrounding white space help.)
Desire: C (Not bad, but not super persuasive either.)

Site #2: Tango Card

Require: B (Helpful info about no fees and cash card equivalent — intended for company employees.)
Acquire: A (Hard to miss a bright pink button.)
Desire: D (Sorry, “learn more” is weak.)

Site #3: Datameer

Require: F (Um, what is it?)
Acquire: A (Great color, contrast, and size for CTA.)
Desire: B (The word “FREE” has some pull, but the copy could be more specific.)

Site #4: Credit Sesame

Require: B (Helpful information in those bullets.)
Acquire: A (There’s no overlooking that button.)
Desire: B (There is “Free” again — but “Get Started” doing what exactly?)

Site #5: Wanelo

Require: A (I’d argue that you don’t require anything more than seeing these photos to initiate a click.)
Acquire: A (Pinterest has already set the stage — and I think it’s a breeze to acquire the targets here, especially with the hover feedback.)
Desire: A (What’s more persuasive or desirable than images of attractive or unique products?)

Are you shaking you head in disagreement on this one? It’s a bit of a different animal, sure, but I included Wanelo in this assessment for that very reason… 🙂

Site #6: Uber

Require: D (Uber gets lots of press, but seriously, what am I signing up for here?)
Acquire: A (Stop sign red and the button is nearly as big as the image of the car.)
Desire: D (It’s a cool service, guys, so at least get me curious enough to try it.)

Site #7: Mom Trusted

Require: C (Just a little light on specifics about the service.)
Acquire: A (The prominence of the button is enhanced by the search box.)
Desire: D (Might I not want to find the safest or best childcare providers in my area?)

Site #8: Creative Market

Require: A (Concise copy tells me what I need to know.)
Acquire: A (Like Mom Trusted, a CTA that includes a search box is tough to overlook.)
Desire: C (Getting $5 in early access credit is great, so reinforce the offer on the button itself.)

Site #9: Shoutlet

Require: D (Ouch. Too clever.)
Acquire: F (I’ve no idea where to click.)
Desire: F (Tough to create desire with no CTA or introductory copy.)

Site #10: BoxCryptor

Require: F (You want me to watch the video to understand what you’re offering?)
Acquire: C (Do I click the giant “FREE” star burst or follow the arrows?)
Desire: D (The phrase “download here” doesn’t make me feel anything.)

Site #11: Ringadoc

Require: A (I get it!)
Acquire: A (Talk about a magnet for the eyes.)
Desire: C (Dang, you lost me a little. Why not “Connect instantly to a licensed doctor”?)

Site #12: Cakehealt

Require: A (Helpful description and the screenshot really pulls it together for me.)
Acquire: A (Talk about contrast — nice.)
Desire: B (So close, but what do I get besides “started”?)

Site #13: Flurry

Require: C (A little more about how this works would help.)
Acquire: B (The main CTA competes a bit with the big Apple product images.)
Desire: D (“Find out more” is no better than “Learn more”.)

Applying RAD guidelines to your own site

Want proof that it works? If you have the traffic to run some landing page A/B tests, try the following:

If you think visitors may require specific details about your offering prior to clicking your CTA, add some succinct copy about your product/service above the CTA and test it.

If you suspect visitors cannot easily (i.e., zero effort) locate your primary CTA, make it more prominent and test it.

If you believe your CTA copy to be too generic and sub-optimal in terms of communicating value, punch it up and test it.

Happy testing, and let me know how it goes!