A Call To Action (CTA) is a statement designed to get an immediate response from the person reading or hearing it. It’s used in business as part of a marketing strategy to get your target market to respond by taking action.

CTAs are some of the most important parts of the Internet landscape. Without them, site visitors wouldn’t know what to do when they looked at a page since and the overall conversion rate for any website would be pretty much zero. And there’s a major reason CTAs are so effective — they’re part of the human psyche.

Whenever a potential customer visits your website, they expect some form of direction concerning what to do next — they want something on the page that’ll satisfy them on a psychological level.

Anticipation

Anticipation is the sensation that builds when you’re waiting for something to happen. It could be preparing for the big monster reveal in a horror movie, looking forward to your paycheck at the end of the week, or checking your phone for an important email. In short, you know something is going to happen but you’re just not sure when.

On the Internet, anticipation begins the moment someone lands on a page. Whenever they start reading, skimming, watching, or whatever they’re doing, some part of them is anticipating a payoff based on what they want to know. For example, say you just wrote a blog post on how to optimize YouTube videos. The anticipation starts right from the title. Someone reading this blog wants to know the answer to how you optimize YouTube videos.

The anticipation continues through the body of the post, which you can build by providing details that give people an idea about the upcoming payoff. The goal is to engage your reader by making them want to read to the end of a blog post, watch to the end of a video, or complete some other action that will bring them closer to your brand.

It’s like a comedian telling a joke — they have to go through the setup before they deliver the punchline. If the setup takes too long, people lose interest. And if the punchline comes too soon, it won’t have the same effect. The key is building the anticipation of your customers to the point where you’ve given them enough information and you know you can wrap it up.

Most people anticipate positive events since it’s just how the brain works. This means you can get the most out of anticipation by creating a positive experience for your user. Using agreeable language in your text, a comfortable design scheme for your page, and a positively-worded CTA are all ways that you can make the most of your readers’ anticipation. And agreeable language doesn’t have to pander to an audience; you can just state something that you know your demographic will accept.

Expectation

When you have anticipation, you also have expectation. An audience expects a punchline at the end of a joke. A reader expects a resolution at the end of a story. And your readers expect a call to action at the end of your post. Satisfying these expectations is what makes the anticipation worthwhile.

Your website’s visitors have a set of expectations when they read a page. If it’s a signup page, they expect a CTA that says something like “Sign Up.” If it’s a product page, they expect a CTA like “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now.” Basically, no matter what page a user visits, they expect to be told what they can do next in the context of the page they’re reading.

The best way to satisfy a visitor’s expectation of a CTA is to give them one. But it shouldn’t just be simple text, the CTA has to contextually jive with the rest of your page, and it has to stick out against the backdrop of the rest of your site. This can be done by using big buttons in a strong color that’s noticeably different from the rest of your website’s color scheme, like red or green. Green is a popular choice for any CTAs that have to do with money or nature.

Reward

When you have anticipation and expectation, you need to also have a reward. In this case, the reward is having their expectation satisfied by finding (and clicking) your CTA. Reward is one of the most basic functions of the human brain, and it’s one of the most satisfying experiences of being a person. It’s also a huge part of motivating people to do pretty much anything, including their jobs. And for some reason, reward seems to be more intense with buttons. Buttons are rewarding. And they’re especially rewarding when you can push them and get something you want – which is exactly what your CTA does.

So how do reward and buttons play into CTAs? Make your CTA rewarding. Make it a big, awesome button that people can’t wait to press, and when they do, show the button pushing back because of the click. Use rewarding language on your CTA. Short, simple, and practical statements that use words like “get,” “start,” and “discover” provide a sense of excitement that capitalizes on a user’s anticipation, satisfies their expectations, and drives them to get their reward.

Last, promise the user that they’ll get something for their time. Everyone loves a little somethin’-somethin’ for free, whether it’s a trial of your software or a PDF download.

Focus On The User

This is the most obvious point in this list, and you’ve probably heard it a thousand times before. But what you probably haven’t heard is that your focus on the user doesn’t always have to be about a user’s experience with your product, service, or company. You can reflect your focus in your actual text. The most common way to do that is to address the reader in what you’re writing, which is actually what I’m doing right now. Using “you” (or second person) is more conversational than using “he,” “she,” it,” and other third-person pronouns, so it’s like you’re talking straight to your reader. Third person feels like you’re reading a book — second feels like you’re having a conversation.

While second-person language works for addressing your readers in text, you should switch to first-person language on your CTAs. The idea is that you set the reader up by having a conversation with them, and then you give them the choice to click your CTA. So while you’re directly addressing the reader on your page, your CTA is you backing up, handing the reader the controls, and letting them make the decision for themselves.

Yes, someone is clicking your CTA button, but it was their choice to do it. In the same way, it may be your service, but it’s their account, their free download, their opportunity to win a year’s supply of Twinkies for some reason. The product belongs to you but the decision belongs to your users.