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Improve Conversions with Better CTAs: a Quick Guide

Your organization has just rebranded its website. It’s got a beautiful, modern design full of updated visuals and tons of ways for supporters to engage with your mission—great!

Weeks and months go by. You’re still promoting your campaigns, programs, and newsletter sign-up options like normal, but you don’t notice any changes in your performance. Your online fundraising results seem roughly the same as before.

Was the website investment a mistake? Did it make a difference? 

Unfortunately, major website updates might not make a difference for your digital bottom line if your online marketing foundation is shaky to begin with. The purpose of your organization’s website is to communicate and inspire action. Rebrands and design updates can help you excel at the former, but if you’re neglecting the latter, you’re facing an uphill battle.

The calls to action, or CTAs, on your website (as well as your emails and social media posts) convert online engagement into a tangible impact for your organization. With poor CTAs, even the most well-designed nonprofit or higher education websites can struggle to generate value and on-the-ground engagement. 

Even experienced marketers can benefit from revisiting the basics of conversions and CTAs to ensure your website is making the most of current best practices. Improving your website’s ROI is easily approachable once you get a refresher on the basic concepts at play. Let’s take a look.

What’s a conversion?

In the marketing world, a conversion occurs whenever a reader or web visitor completes a specific target action. For nonprofit organizations, for example, these target actions typically include:

  • Donating online
  • Donating via text-to-give
  • Signing up to receive emails
  • Signing up to volunteer
  • Signing up to receive SMS messages

Other organizations might have target actions such as:

  • Downloading a white paper
  • Registering for a webinar or event
  • Signing up to receive emails
  • Purchasing an item

Conversions generally revolve around a specific endpoint in a user journey like the examples listed above. 

Your website and other marketing materials will have already stewarded and encouraged web visitors to reach that point and feel ready to take the target action. You can drill down and track intermediary steps like clickthroughs to your website from an email as distinct, unique conversions as part of the process to reach the ultimate desired action.

Essentially, you can think of a conversion as the final step a visitor takes that gets you closer to a concrete goal like increasing campaign revenue or your donor acquisition rate. In other words, it’s the point when an interested visitor is officially “converted” into a secured donor, volunteer, email recipient, etc.

What’s a call to action (CTA)?

A call to action is the explicit way in which you ask readers or site visitors to take a target action. 

Calls to action usually include buttons or graphics and include text and visuals that entice users to take action. All CTAs should direct users straight to a target landing page, the web page that includes the form or instructions for how to take the target action. 

For nonprofits, a blanket “donate now” button in your website’s header is considered best practice. You’ll also need to include more targeted asks throughout your website depending on each page’s purpose in order to support your organization’s more specific goals, like email, volunteer, recurring gift, or membership sign-ups.

Essential elements of effective CTAs

So what makes an effective call to action? Each CTA will look different depending on its unique context and the goal it’s supporting, but these are some essential elements that all CTAs should include:

1) Relevance

Simply put, what you’re asking readers to do must make sense. What can you assume users are looking for or seeking to accomplish when they visit specific pages of your website? Consider these factors:

  • A user’s intent and goals when visiting a specific web page. Are they looking to learn more about something? Are they looking to take a specific action? Depending on the purpose of the page, determine what would make the most sense to ask this user to do.
  • The specific context of the message. For instance, if it’s part of an email stream for previous volunteers, ask them to learn more about your new opportunities and join your next event rather than sign up for an orientation session.
  • A user’s readiness. Do they need more information before being likely to take your target action? For example, a brief section of your “ways to give page” about planned gifts will be more successful if it asks readers to click through to a more detailed page about how bequests work. That page is where a more specific request to set up a bequest will make the most sense contextually in the user’s journey. 

Ensuring relevance requires putting yourself in a visitor’s shoes. When adding or updating your CTAs, look at the page in question and think about who lands on it and why. Putting thought into the page’s context will allow you to add truly relevant additional CTAs to it that will boost its conversion-generating power. 

For some organizations that offer direct services to large audiences, like healthcare institutions, there could be much more complex user intents and goals at play. Their web designs and CTA strategies need to be more carefully plotted out to ensure each page’s CTAs are relevant to visitors’ goals and journeys. Check out Kanopi’s healthcare web design guide for an overview of what these strategies look like in action.

2) Compelling language

Your CTAs, whether they’re on a web page, email, marketing text message, social post, or even a printed mailer, need to stand out. What would you be more likely to click—“click here to donate” or “give a lifesaving gift today”?

To encourage clicks and engagement, use compelling and engaging language. Consider these best practices:

  • Use active voice and action verbs.
  • Avoid industry jargon.
  • Use “power words” that help tap into supporters’ emotions, curiosity, or concern.
  • Avoid using “we” and centering your organization—the focus should be on your supporters.
  • Evoke a sense of urgency or time sensitivity when appropriate.

Take a look at the donate and sign-up buttons on your website and email drafts and quickly review their language. Are there any immediate improvements you can identify? These are fast, easy changes you can make, and while they might seem small, they add up. If just 10 more supporters are encouraged to click through, learn about your mission, and give a gift for the first time, those are 10 more donors and gifts you wouldn’t have otherwise acquired!

3) Specificity 

Similarly to the importance of compelling language, your CTAs should also be very clear. Readers should immediately understand what you’re asking of them and where you’ll direct them if they click through.

When drafting the language for your CTA buttons, links, and graphics, double-check that you’re being as clear as possible. A good rule of thumb is to keep your text short and direct, balancing conciseness with the compelling action tips listed above. 

For most organizations, this will be fairly easy since most of your asks are quite straightforward—donate, sign up, learn more, contact us, etc.

More complex institutions should put extra consideration into the clarity of their CTAs. For example, college websites have to house a lot of diverse material that will be used by a wide range of audiences—students, alumni and families, staff, donors, community partners, and more. Understanding your audiences, making asks that are relevant to their goals, and using compelling but specific language will make a smoother experience for everyone who arrives on the website.

4) Prominent design and placement

You also need to consider the visual look and placement of your CTAs. Follow these best practices:

  • Visuals
    • For buttons, use bold colors that complement your website’s color scheme and stand out against the background. Ensure that the text color has sufficient contrast to be easily seen.
    • For graphics, also use bold colors that complement your main color scheme, but consider the additional visual elements. Your logo and well-designed illustrations will work, but photos of people tend to best catch users’ attention.
  • Placement
    • If you want readers to see something, make it easy to find! Bold buttons at the end of paragraphs and banner graphics at the tops and bottoms of pages are natural placements for CTAs.
    • Charitable organizations should include a “donate now” button on their website’s running header.
    • Including multiple CTAs is fine and often recommended, but don’t overdo it—keep each page focused on its core purpose.
    • If you have embeddable email sign-up forms, calendars, and donation tools, make use of them! These elements streamline the user experience and can boost engagement.

CTAs should be prominent but shouldn’t feel haphazardly placed. Each of the essential elements discussed in this guide involves considering the user experience and the context in which you ask visitors to take target actions. If you take a moment to think through the CTA from the user’s perspective, it becomes much easier to identify the right placements that will ensure it’s seen and acted upon.

Getting started and measuring your performance

Once you’ve got a solid grasp on call-to-action best practices and implement updates to your strategy, how do you ensure they actually make a difference? Follow these steps on an ongoing basis:

  1. Set clear goals. What are the specific outcomes you want to see as a result of updating your approach to CTAs? For example, you might aim to increase online fundraising conversions by 25% overall in the next 6 months, or you might set channel-specific goals, like increasing email clickthroughs by 15%.
  1. Create dedicated landing pages to support your goals. It’ll be easiest to track your progress when all the CTAs that are part of a campaign all point users to the same place. This allows you to review incoming traffic to a single landing page and its specific sources without wading through unnecessary amounts of irrelevant data. The landing pages should include the forms or instructions that will allow users to complete the final target action that you’re asking of them.
  1. Actively track your conversion rates. By funneling traffic to a dedicated landing page and tracking the number of form completions, you can calculate your conversion rates for the different CTAs that send users there. Web analytics tools and website plugins can greatly simplify this task. However you collect the data, make sure to intentionally track it so that you can measure your progress over time.
  1. Correlate performance to specific strategies. With conversion data in hand, you can take a closer look at your highest- and lowest-performing calls to action. What strategies do they employ? What audiences are they targeting? These are the insights that will help you continually improve your conversion rates and better understand your audience’s motivations for engaging with your organization.
  1. Test and refine your CTAs. With everything you’ve learned, make targeted changes to your CTAs and track the results. For a more systematic approach, try an A/B test in which you present two similar audiences with slightly different variations on the same CTA. Keep the process running with fine-tuned updates, testing, and analysis.

The data collection and analysis aspects of an effective CTA strategy are often harder for small shops to handle, which is why third-party help can be so valuable. Web designers and consultants can help with your CTA strategy, develop custom landing pages, and provide analytics solutions to help you roll out a professional-grade conversion strategy.

The bottom line is that conversions (and the calls to action that create them) must be approached intentionally. A beautiful website is only a true asset for your organization when it can make an impact, and that’s accomplished by understanding and adapting the strategies discussed here. Best of luck!

A nonprofit-specific version of this blog post was originally published on Mogli.