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March 11, 2020
Crafting the best call to actions in UX writing

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I’m a rule-follower.
We’re talking didn’t-really-have-fun-in-my-teens level of obedience.
So it seems contradictory that I have so much trouble with being told what to do. If you tell me to do something, I’ll do the opposite. Go figure.
My husband loves it.
And by “loves”, I mean “tolerates”.
“Let’s sit by the window”, he’ll casually mention in a cafe.
It’s as if my legs suddenly have a mind of their own, propelling me toward the table wedged between the toilet door and kitchen.
Where you can tell me what to do?
These tricky little things called “call-to-actions” or “CTAs”.

What are CTAs?

Just like it says on the label, call-to-actions are the devices that move people from one place on the Internet to another.
These powerful words usually appear on buttons or as a hyperlink directing people to take action.
When the user selects a CTA, they proceed to the next step.

Why are they important?

I’m just going to say it. These are the most critical words on your website, app, podcast or any other digital product.
You only have a few characters to persuade users to move onto the next step in their journey.
People generally experience anxiety around clicking a button.
So it’s super important that the words you use reassure or even excite.

Ineffective CTAs are:

Unclear: This is not the place to be playful at the cost of clarity. If users don’t know where they’re going, they won’t click.
Long-winded: Keep it short for people who are looking to take decisive action. They should be able to “get it” in a nanosecond.
Deceptive: There’s nothing that’ll turn your customers away faster than being disappointed after they click on a CTA that promises the world.
Generic: It’s hard not to fall into the “Learn more” trap, but you can do better.
About you: Don’t tell them what you’ll get out of it, that doesn’t motivate people.
Stand-alone: So often, I see CTAs thrown in as an afterthought. They don’t work within the rest of the copy. Remember, these are the most important words. They deserve thoughtful consideration.
Reused: If you’re already working as a UX writer, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s relatively common practice for designers and developers to pull copy from other places on the website. The problem with this is A. They’re not consulting the word wizard in the organisation (that’s you). B. If that copy has been translated, you have no idea if it still works in other languages. (Hint, it doesn’t.)

The best CTAs are:

Specific: Think about what happens when the user clicks the button and reflect that experience. For example, rather than just having “buy” for every button in the purchasing process, you might have “Add to cart”, “Checkout” and then “Make payment”.
Short: Use words with max 2 syllables and skip articles like “a” or “the”. For example, “Make a payment”.
Emotional: This is especially important when you’re closer to the top of the funnel, and there is less intent from the user. For example, in a blog post or landing page, you’ll have to trigger emotions to convince them to click through.
Original: This is not to be confused with overly creative, but don’t just chuck in “learn more”. Take the time to consider every CTA you write.
Purposeful: Think about where the user is on their journey. Longer (more conversational) CTAs might be appropriate in a blog post, for example, whereas during a checkout users are in action mode and expect short directions.
Verb-lead: It makes sense that if you want someone to take action, you start with an action word.
About them: Write CTAs from the perspective of the users. What are they going to get out of it?
Contextual: Powerful CTAs go beyond the words on the button. It’s best practice to include reassurance in the form of social proof or authority around the CTA. For example, you’ll often see how many people have already subscribed near an opt-in form. If you’re about to make a credit card payment, you expect to see something written about security.

My not-so-secret weapon

I’ve always had tremendous success using the word “get” at the start of CTAs (also works a treat with headings and subject lines). Like extra-thousands-of-dollars-a-month kind of success.
It immediately tantalises the user and makes them think “oh goodie, something for me!”

Are you feeling a bit lost about how to write for a user interface (UI)? You don’t have to wing it. Get my 3-step process for UI copy that users love.

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