The Call To Action (CTA) is almost always the most important element of a website. Sadly, for many website builders, entrepreneurs, and marketing consultants, it’s an afterthought. It’s common to agonize for weeks or even months over what content to offer on a site. It’s easy to think that designing the perfect infographic, writing the perfect copy, or embedding that compelling video will be the thing that makes the site.
Of course it’s important to have good content on a website, but that content is all designed to drive visitors to action, and visitors can only take the actions you offer them. Various CTA’s can invoke a wide range of psychological reactions from your site visitors. Let’s explore some of the psychological phenomena at play in website CTA’s.
Overchoice: Too Many CTAs
Overchoice or choice overload is a cognitive process that causes people to have a difficult time making a decision when faced with lots of options. One common mistake that marketers make is to have too many calls to action on the site. This is especially common in industries with lots of technology vendors. The Multifamily Housing and Automotive Retail markets are prime examples of this. There are so many good and proven technology tools in these industries, making it easy to justify using many of them at the same time. We often see sites in these industries with 5 or more calls to action on a single page. “Calculate my payment”, “Explore the neighborhood”, “Get today’s price”, “Compare Values”, “Text Us”, “Get Pre-approved”, or “Check Availability” are all fine things to offer a site visitor, but offering all of them on the same page will serve the visitor with a case of analysis paralysis, causing your overall conversion rate to drop.
Reactance: CTAs vs Regular Content
Reactance is a negative motivational arousal to offers or messages that eliminate behavioral freedoms. Your website causes reactance when the visitor feels that you are taking away their choices or limiting their range of alternatives. Consumers come to a website to get information. They expect that every link will offer a different type of information. Presenting normal, expected content as a flashy button, rather than in the flow of the site’s standard navigation, invokes a sense of distrust. When people feel that they are being pushed too hard in one direction, they will naturally run in the opposite direction.
Be sure to distinguish between your CTA and content that should be presented in the normal flow of the visitor’s experience. Use this rule of thumb: If the result of the visitors action is to simply display more information, make it part of the site navigation. The CTA should invite the visitor to something they can’t get by simply continuing to view the website. The CTA should be clear and set apart, but not too flashy or bold. If there’s a good reason for the visitor to click your CTA button or link, you shouldn’t have to overstate it with color, animation, or embellishment.
Positive Disconfirmation: Exceed Expectations
Expectation Confirmation Theory explains customer satisfaction as a function of expectations, perceived performance, and disconfirmation of beliefs. When a product or service outperforms the person’s original expectations, the disconfirmation is positive, leading to increased satisfaction. When a product or service underperforms the person’s original expectations, the disconfirmation is negative, which decreases satisfaction.
Consumers expect that websites will try to sell them something. They expect to be able to freely learn about what you’re selling and be able to buy it once they’ve received enough information to make an informed decision. When a website simply offers marketing copy, but no detailed specifications, you create negative disconfirmation. When your website doesn’t allow the visitor to take instant action, you create negative disconfirmation. But, when your website gives more information than expected, and allows the user to purchase or book instantly, indicating preferences and making customizations, you create positive disconfirmation, which is the best way to start a beautiful relationship.
Instant Gratification: Avoid Black Holes
Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment. Nobody likes to wait. If your CTA is sending visitors to a form, a phone call, or even a live chat, you’ve got to give them something instantly. A demo or information request that requires the visitor to wait for a response is a very poor CTA. Nobody wants to give up their personal information, just to wait and see what you might do with it, which brings us to the final (and perhaps most important) psychology of all sales and marketing…
Reciprocity: You Gotta Give to Receive
In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action. In other words, one good turn deserves another. If you are asking your site visitors to give you their personal information, but you are not offering something in return instantly, you won’t get many takers. Be sure that your CTA is offering something first, before you ask for the visitor’s info. Valuable information like a free white paper or visibility into your availability or process should be clearly offered in the CTA. When the visitor knows what they’re getting in return, they’ll be much more likely to give you their contact information, and their continued attention.
A Psychological Train-Wreck in One Little Button
I’ve seen many CTA’s that combine the worst of all of these. It’s as if they were designed to invoke the worst from a site visitor, rather than begin a relationship with them. Consider for a moment a website or landing page with a single button that invites the customer to “Learn More”. Clicking this button leads to a web form asking the visitor for their contact information. First, you’ve created negative disconfirmation, because the visitor expected to learn everything by simply visiting your site. Second, you’ve created reactance by forcing them into a narrow path with no clear destination. You’ve also given them no instant gratification and violated the principal of reciprocity by asking for their information before offering anything in return.
Similarly, consider a button that invites the visitor to “Schedule a Demo”. If the action on this button displays a contact form, you’ve again invoked all of the worst. But, if that button opens the door to view your real-time availability, introduces the visitor to the humans who will be giving the demo, and allows the visitor to make choices, you’ve invoked all of the best – giving them instant gratification, freedom of choice (no reactance), giving them something they want (reciprocity), and exceeding expectations (positive disconfirmation).