Calls to action, or CTAs, are an essential part of marketing copy. They invite and compel readers to click, share, buy, review, or try your products. They’re darn important.

If your CTAs don’t work, you’re left with some pretty nasty consequences. Bad ones tend to have a domino effect on your business. In the digital world, it usually starts with suffering click-through rates, which leads to shrinking conversion numbers. And in the end you’re left with a dwindling bottom line.

CTAs show up everywhere in marketing copy. You’ll find them on banner and text ads, inside emails and newsletters, on landing pages and home pages, and on print communication too. They’re in radio advertisements and infomercials. They’re even on product packaging, embedded in YouTube videos and tucked inside 140-character Tweets!

Writing a great CTA is easier if you remember some key points. Try these tips the next time you write one.

Keep It Short and Sweet

As with all things related to marketing, you don’t have a lot of time to reach your intended audience. They’re busy, and they’re constantly bombarded with messages to do this or try that or click this link. Keep your message as short as possible. Ideally, call to action copy includes a few simple but powerful words.

Remember: Verbs Are Your Friends

Remember from your grammar lessons that verbs provide the action in language. You want verbs to lead off your CTAs because you want readers to be inspired to act on them. Even the simplest calls to action are strong and commanding. Things like, “Subscribe now” or “Call now” or “Click here” might be all it takes to get the job done.

Offer Instant Gratification

If you really want to give your audience a reason to follow through with your call to action, offer them something for their trouble. The trick is to make sure it’s something they actually want. “Subscribe for a chance to win a free copy of our white paper” might not be as effective as, say, “Order now for your FREE gift.” 

Highlight a Practical Solution

Remind your audience that they’ve got problems that you can solve. If your call to action offers to help them save time or money, you’re definitely on the right track. An example of a call to action that does this well is, “Save 20% and get automatic refills by becoming a preferred member.”

Remind Them It’s Urgent

If they think the benefits of your offering will last forever, odds are they’ll convince themselves they can always come back later. And the odds of a conversion once that happens are lower than low. Set an expiration date—a real one. People can see through that old “call in the next 30 minutes” spiel. Something like “Offer ends April 30, 2013” will inspire a true sense of urgency.

Finally, understand that there’s more to CTAs than just writing them. Always A/B test to find which ones generate the most leads and sales!