Call-to-Action Guidelines: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

customer satisfaction check boxes

A call-to-action once referred to the verbal trigger in a sales pitch that pushed a prospect towards a buying decision. However, in our modern online world a call-to-action now describes the text, button, banner, or graphic that prompts a user to click-through to a decision in the sales/buying process.

Now, I would be lying if I said all calls-to-action were good and excellently executed. Because they’re not. Which is why I have searched the Internet to show you the right and wrong ways to create CTAs. So ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly calls-to-action.

The Good

You can argue about content, typography, color and frequency of placement, but good calls-to-action have some consistent virtues.


Good calls-to-action begin with a strong verb that prompts the user to perform an action, such as “Download”, “Click”, “Buy”, “Learn more”, “Let’s talk”, and so on. The trick is to keep it simple, but give the verb and object you’re wanting to sell or promote some urgency, such as “Download the ebook now!” or “Book a reservation today!”

HubSpot's Facebook cover photo


Placement, color, and size differentiate value when you have more than one call-to-action. Place buttons or icons vertically or horizontally in the same location, but separate them with action, color and type-size.

3 call-to-action buttons coloured orange, green, blue


The call-to-action shouldn’t be so small that it is not noticeable, but you don’t want it to be so large that visitors don’t even realize it’s clickable. When it comes to size it’s important to note that it is not necessarily the size that matters but the size relative to its surroundings.

Firefox download call-to-action button


Along with all of the above, the positioning of a good call-to-action is the most important. You will find many businesses placing their calls-to-action above the fold, however what if it’s too complex or the content is too lengthy?

The majority of website users now prefer the right-hand side of a webpage, therefore you should make sure your calls-to-action are featured here. You can either place it bottom right (which is prime real estate) or if you want to increase urgency, then place your call-to-action closer to the top right.

call-to-action placed on top right of website 

The Bad

A call-to-action is considered bad when it fails to speed up a users decision or is unable to deliver a return on the users investment of their time.


No one likes to be lied to, therefore your call-to-action should NOT make promises the landing page cannot keep. If you’re offering a “Free Download” then make sure it is for free, don’t entice the user and then tell them they have to pay for it.


Flash or animated effects do not belong in calls-to-action because mobile devices and search engines do not pick them up. Your call-to-action is also no place for your company logo or brand as these lie elsewhere on your website and do not direct the user to perform an action. However, if the user is unable to even locate your call-to-action, then that is really, really bad.

example of unaccessible call-to-action

The Ugly

The ugly call-to-action crops up frequently. It may be the placement, the text, or the appearance, or a combination of these weaknesses.


Some websites place a “Click here” at the end of the content, whereas others hide the click as a link within the copy. However, others fail to make the call-to-action bold or stand-alone. The thing is, which some businesses seem to forget, is that a call-to-action is meant to push the prospect’s mindset from just a site visitor all the way through to a customer.


The call-to-action button should have dimension. If the edges are beveled or shaded, it will appear to pop. However, you will fail to make this happen if your button is the same color as the page itself.

flat call-to-action button


The call-to-action should not lead to the homepage. That only takes the prospect for a circular ride. The call-to-action is a chance to drive visitors from one visual and content experience to a specific landing page pressing toward conversion, whereas returning the reader to the homepage only leads to confusion. The reader expects something new or additional when they answer the call-to-action.

So readers, what are you thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly call-to-actions? Do you have any examples that you would like to share? Feel free to leave your comments in the box below!

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