Call to action phrases are what drives most of us to click on new things on the web. You’ve even come to this blog post thanks to a ‘Read more’ or provocative title – to read more. But if we use so many different calls to actions (CTAs) across the web, why do we end up using the same ones (such as ‘Contact Us) and does this help – or hinder – getting us to take exactly what the name implies – take action.
Services such as About.Me, which recently released its Spotlight button feature, let users customize their CTAs. If that’s possible, what should we do – and how should we call to action?
But First, A Clickable History Lesson
I know, I know.
While you might not like history and 10-20 years of the modern web might not seem like all that much, it’s essential to understand where the use of the most common CTAs comes from.
While there have always been phrases in marketing as well as other aspects of human life that drove us to action (‘Drive in’, anyone?), the web made these phrases thanks to links; hyperlinks to be exact.
The term ‘hyperlink’ was coined in 1965 by Ted Nelson of the Project Xanadu – and he was inspired by Vannevar Bush who described how it would be useful to link any tow pages of information into a ‘trail of related information’, explaining that you could scroll through them.
While phrases were one thing, phrases that you could attach actionable links to were a whole other ballgame. The use of the popular ‘Contact Us’ had even more meaning if it meant that you could truly contact us, by clicking on the link and going to a contact form. It wasn’t just an instruction like it had been for years. It was truly – a CTA.
CTAs As A Matter of Routine
The exceptional power given to CTAs by hyperlinks is why today, both in marketing, but also the technology industry as a whole, we can’t help but to think of CTAs as our own.
If you ever watched children who grew up used to iPads and iPhones play, you could clearly see that even when it comes to ‘traditional’ objects such as books, sometimes they expected for a certain call to action to be interactive, to result – in an action.
The most common CTAs such as ‘Contact Us’ or ‘Buy now’ are popular because over the years we’ve all grown used to them, seeing them on hundreds of websites. ‘Buy now’ just seems logical for a website where you need to buy things. It’s like the word ‘Discount’ in the supermarket, you just grow used to it.
As far as the CTAs we know from countless landing pages and websites go, as writer Jeremy Smith points out, it’s all part of a logical progression from those pages – rooted in psychology.
Smith describes how the perceptual set theory explains how the mind receives things, considering objects, people, experiences, etc. by using a three-fold combination of perceptive processes — selecting, inferring, and interpreting. This 3-fold process shapes expectations and even more importantly – powers motivation.
What does this mean?
Well, for one thing, we expect to see a CTA on a website because we’ve seen one or two (or a hundred) on previous websites. Going to a new social network such as Frankly.Me after registering for Twitter, Facebook and others will create an expectation for that “Sign up for free” button.
We expect the ‘Contact Us’ button to lead us to a contact form. Only the newest of internet users will see a button like that and wonder: ‘What does that mean?’. And even then, we design CTA buttons to be very ‘clickable’. After the first click, there is no way back. We know what CTAs are and they shape our actions from that moment on.
So why does About.Me use different phrases, such as ‘View my portfolio’ instead of the ones that we are used to? ‘To make them unique’, I hear you scream to my question.
While being memorable and unique (and maybe even a little weird like we’re at SXSW) is important, other factors should be considered when replacing a common CTA, such as ‘Buy now’ that we’re used to, with something different.
You want users to immediately recognise what their next step is, right?
That’s the issue with common CTA’s. ‘Buy now’ or ‘Contact Us’ aren’t as helpful even when you know WHAT they’ll do, you ask yourselves – why?
‘Contact Us For A Quote’, while being a longer call to action, such as About.Me’s ‘View My Restaurant’, tells you exactly what you’re going to get – and why. It isn’t just ‘Read more’. It’s read more – for a reason. The other reason About.Me’s spotlight button makes so much sense is that common CTAs are just that – too common. Bashed with hundreds of ‘Buy now’ buttons that we don’t click on, we end up ignoring even those we might consider.
Just look at the box that pops up at the corner of your screen when you scroll down this article. Its unique call to action will certainly make you think: Do I need a .ME domain name for this particular reason? Writing unique CTAs is challenging and takes a bit more time, but the benefits – such as writing one for your About.Me page, far outweighs the time you spent on them.
But what happens when CTAs don’t ‘work’ and don’t get you to the particular page you want. I’m not talking about going back to an age before the web (don’t be crazy).
I’m talking about the smartphones we have in our pockets and the apps on them.
The Disconnect Between Mobile and CTAs
While CTAs and links are common on the web, including the mobile web, you’ve probably noticed how these simple technologies aren’t as common when it comes to mobile apps. Links just don’t work natively for mobile apps.
They don’t let you click on a button and go to a specific screen in an app. You are redirected to an app and expected to find the screen on your own.
Not really useful, right?
Others, however, such as Shazam, link you for example to a very specific song. How do they do that?
While this is a topic for another article, you do need to understand that the time for thinking about more specific CTAs for mobile content has come; thanks mostly to deep linking platforms such as Deeplink.Me, used by apps from Shazam, Urban outfitters and others.
For now, try to hone your CTA-writing skills on web and mobile web platforms such as About.Me. While the default might be something that’s most common to you, it doesn’t mean that you need to use it.
Knowing this fact and the history of the most common CTAs can now let your creativity flow. It’s like knowing about the possibility of a unique domain name such as .ME; it opens a whole new door of ‘clickable’ opportunities.