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The No. 1 Thing Your Website Needs to Make the Sale

Your small business website can feature gorgeous graphics, sparkling copy and the latest mobile-friendly design and layout, but without one key element, none of this will matter. If your website doesn't have effective calls to action (CTA), you still won't make the sale.

Calls to action are website buttons like "Shop now" or "Start my free trial"— in other words, the buttons users click to take the action you want them to. Sounds obvious, right? But a whopping 70 percent of small business websites in a 2015 study had no call to action at all on their site.

Not having a call to action is kind of like making a sales presentation to a prospect and then not asking for the close. Even if you don't actually sell products online, there are plenty of opportunities for calls to action. For example, if you own an auto repair company, your calls to action could include "Call now," "Get coupons" or " Schedule service online."

Here are some tips for effective calls to action.

Different parts or pages of your website should have different calls to action. For example, if your e-commerce site sells clothing, your homepage calls to action might include "Shop women’s," "Shop new arrivals" and "Shop the sale."

For any type of digital marketing that includes a call to action (such as your email newsletter, pay-per-click ads or social media marketing), that CTA button should take them to a landing page with its own special CTA. For example, if your Facebook post asks people to “Sign up” for your email newsletter, that “Sign up” button should take them right to the email signup page. If you just send them to the website homepage, they’ll have to search for the signup, possibly get frustrated and probably leave without signing up at all.

Place call to action buttons in a relevant and/or noticeable spot. In general, this will be "above the fold" — that is, the part of your webpage that users can see without scrolling down. However, sometimes you'll want to put the CTA button elsewhere. For example, if a page contains copy about a report, whitepaper or other gated content you’re offering for download, putting the CTA button at the bottom of the text may work best. If someone reads and scrolls all the way to the end of your copy, they’re clearly interested in what you have to offer and ready to click that CTA button—so put it right there.

There are no hard and fast rules for effective CTA buttons. Some of the factors that studies have shown to improve results include:

  • Contrast. The CTA button should stand out from the rest of the page, with sufficient white space around it.
  • Size. Buttons that are too big or small get fewer clicks. Basically, go with the standard size you see everywhere—there’s a reason it’s standard.
  • Benefits. The copy around your CTA button should spell out benefits to the user: “Get free money-saving tips and start building financial security.”

The best advice is to see for yourself which CTAs get the best results for you. Test different wording, different placements on the page, and even different designs of the CTA button itself. Use your website analytics to review results until you find the most effective combination.