If SEO, social media, advertising and content are the main ingredients in your digital marketing recipe, having good calls to action (CTAs) is the secret sauce that makes them delicious. CTAs grab user attention, provide direction about what next steps to take, and are opportunities to let a bit of your school’s brand identity shine – all important attributes that can help you draw in more potential recruits.
At least, they accomplish these things when they are done well. CTA creation is both an art and a science, and missing the mark in their design and execution can lead to worse conversion rates, higher bounce rates, and other undesirable phenomena.
Why CTAs Matter in Digital Marketing for Schools
Before getting down to the concrete steps for improving your CTAs, here’s a refresher on what a CTA actually is: It’s a line of text, a button, or an image that asks users to take action (hence the name “call to action”). You can place CTAs on web pages, in blogs, in ads, in emails, and on social media pages.
Example: At the bottom of this contact form from the Academy of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences, you can see a typical CTA in the style of a red button.
A CTA can be used for many different purposes. You can have a CTA to encourage prospective students to request information about a program (as in the example above), to follow you on social media, to visit your website or read a blog post, and just about any other action you can think of. This has been demonstrated to have a significant effect. In a report by AdRoll entitled “Facebook CTAs: Big Results for a Little Button,” it was found that adding a CTA button to Facebook ad campaigns boosted the click-through rate by 2.85 times.
Whatever action you want prospects to take, the goal with CTAs is both to serve as encouragement and as a guide. In telling prospects what can be done within a piece of content, a CTA helps drive them to do so, making it a simple but vital component of all your higher ed marketing efforts.
Want to make your school’s CTAs as compelling as they can be? Here are four tips to try.
1: Use Thoughtful Copy for Your CTA to Boost Student Recruitment
Whether it takes the form of pure text, a button, or an image file, a CTA will incorporate text in some way, and it’s important to put thought into what that text ought to be. It’s possible to just create a form with a large red button that says “Submit” and call it a day, but putting a little more care into the process is likely to yield CTA copy that does a better job of converting.
The basic guideline for writing a CTA is the following: make a call that it is directly related to the action you are requesting that prospective students take. This explains the popularity of “Submit,” as it’s technically true that sites often want the user to submit information through a form. But why stop there? More descriptive copy can do a better job of letting users understand the purpose of a CTA at a quick glance, and it can also let your school show off a little bit of its personality.
Are you offering potential applicants a download of a student handbook if they fill out a form? Consider something like “Get your free guide.” Want to encourage users to join you on social media? Try a CTA that includes reference to the school’s mascot, colours, or motto. The possibilities are genuinely endless, and taking time to find the right one can help you create a user experience that is enticing and memorable.
Example: Bishop’s University’s homepage capitalizes on the school’s reputation for having a passionate student community in a CTA inviting users to join it on social media.
The style of the copy you use should closely align with your school’s identity. If you offer creative programs targeted toward students who are just leaving high school, for instance, an informal or even playful approach will likely prove appealing to your desired audience. For those looking to create CTAs for business programs or other relatively serious disciplines, more formal language will likely be best. As a rule of thumb, the text should sound like something a recruiter from your school might say when speaking to prospects.
2. Pick the Right Location for Your School’s CTAs
Location plays a big part in success with a call to action, with high visibility an essential part of drawing attention and engagement. On web pages and blogs, where users are expected to navigate up and down and consume a fair amount of content, this means that placing a CTA at the top or bottom of the page may not be the best strategy, since users at the opposite end won’t have it within reach. Instead, one smart tactic used by many schools is to put the CTA in a sticky header or footer, which remains in place on the screen even as the user scrolls. This ensures that conversion is never more than a click away.
Example: Canadian Tourism College’s main page includes a CTA in its sticky header, allowing users to immediately click through to request information, no matter where they are on the page.
As an alternative, it is worth considering placing a call to action partway down the page. This can be particularly effective for blogs, as it can allow you to capture interested users before they bounce off your page. Research conducted by data analysis firm Chartbeat for Slate revealed that up to 60% of readers only make it partway through articles, so a midway CTA could rescue valuable leads which would otherwise navigate away from your site. Digital marketing experts Hubspot regularly use this technique to good effect in their blogs:
Email is a slightly different story, as CTA placement should be based largely on the amount of content in a message. For a short email, it’s generally sufficient to place just one CTA at the end of the message. For longer emails, though, it could be useful to include a CTA in the middle and at the end, to reinforce the likelihood of users clicking through.
Example: This email message from Yorkville University is short enough that users don’t have to scroll at all to see the CTA, so there’s no need to have an additional CTA midway through the text.
Lastly, it is worth noting that while it’s possible to choose the location for your CTA on web pages and in emails, social networks often limit where a CTA can be placed on posts and pages. Though somewhat restrictive, this does carry the convenience of familiarity – prospective students should know instinctively where to look when they want to take a next step.
Example: Facebook allows pages to include CTAs in the upper right corner of the page. The University of Texas at Austin used this for a sign up button for its mailing lists.
3. Give Your Higher Ed CTAs a Bit of Visual Flair
A CTA that draws attention is a CTA that stands a better chance of converting. Putting care into the visual design of your calls to action is therefore a hugely important part of this element of digital marketing for schools. Note that, as with placement, the visual design of CTAs on social media posts and pages is often static, so the following advice is intended more for creating CTAs for emails and web pages.
Effective visual design for CTAs largely boils down to two criteria:
- It employs eye-catching shapes and/or colours
- It still remains cohesive with the overall design of your page or email
It is important to consider both of these criteria when developing a CTA that is distinctive and appealing. To illustrate this point, imagine a page for a school chemistry program that follows a clean, modern approach to design, but employs a giant, obtrusive-looking CTA button at the bottom of the page. By contrast with the rest of the page, the button certainly would stand out, but it would do so in a way that is offensive to the eye and likely wouldn’t encourage users to click through. Finding a balance that allows the button to look like it belongs on the page but still draws more attention than the average bit of text is very much preferable.
Thoughtful use of colour is perhaps the easiest way to make a big impact with your CTA. Many school websites are built around a particular colour scheme, likely incorporating the school’s official colours. The header, on-page buttons, icons, and other elements often use one of these colours to stand out a little on the page. In order to compete with these elements, a CTA must use a different colour that will allow it to stand out.
This means that there is no one colour that will be best for all CTAs. Red might catch the eye normally, but a red CTA on a page with many other red elements will not. Instead, it should just be something that is bright and complements the main colour scheme, whatever that happens to be. You can get a basic idea of suitable matching colours by using the Adobe Color Wheel, though it is best to instead consult with a professional designer who can offer their expertise.
Example: The CTA button on this landing page for Living Arts College uses a unique colour to draw the eye and promote conversion.
When using a CTA button, it’s also worth putting some thought into the shape and size of the button itself. Rectangular buttons can be found all over the internet, so there’s a good case to be made for sticking with that general shape, as users will easily be able to associate it with the function of the button. Square corners and round corners can both be appropriate here, and it doesn’t matter too much which one you choose. What’s most important is to promote cohesion by ensuring the corners match the design on the rest of the page. If you have other buttons on your site that use square corners, don’t use rounded ones for your CTA.
It is also worth noting that you do not need to use buttons for a CTA. A couple of sentences of bolded text can be a slightly lower-key but still attractive format for schools looking to guide students toward conversion. This type of CTA also flows naturally from your main body text, and can be particularly effective at the end of a page or blog post, since users who see it have probably been quite invested in reading the rest of the content, and are therefore more likely to see and click on the link.
Example: This CTA by Unity College Online is found at the bottom of a blog post. For users who have taken the time to go all the way through the content, this type of CTA is likely enough to draw a good click-through rate.
Finally, remember that moderate differences in sizing can be an effective tool for your CTA. Make buttons or text a bit bigger than similar elements on the page and you can grant them a little extra power to draw attention. Just don’t make them so big that users are put off by the difference.
4. Use A/B Testing to Optimize Your CTAs for Higher Ed Marketing
In as much as it’s possible to employ techniques and practices that tend to produce CTAs that get results, the truth is that there are no real rules when it comes to creating successful CTAs – only guidelines for what is likely to work.
Every school is different, and hopes to attract slightly different pools of prospects, which means the execution of the different elements of CTAs should be slightly different, too. As it’s difficult to know what will work best for a CTA based on intuition and guesswork alone, it’s considered best to do comparative testing. Trying out different permutations of CTAs can help you acquire objective data that will let you discover the ideal placement, sizing, colouring, shape, text, and other elements that go into a CTA. By using these findings, you can make CTA creation a process of continuous improvement, and gradually refine it for maximum effectiveness.
A/B testing services like the one offered by Hubspot are ideal for this, allowing you to integrate variations on a CTA within a piece of content, distribute the different content to two pools of members of your audience, and then track the results they get for click-through rate and conversion separately. This process can help you quickly land on an ideal combination of attributes to apply to your CTAs going forward. Just note that for the findings to be usable, you should only ever A/B test CTAs that differ in one way. This might mean testing a button vs. a text CTA, for example, or testing one button color against another, etc. By making only a single change between the A & B CTAs, you ensure that you can understand why one outperforms the other.
Example: The CTA creation tool from Hubspot makes it easy to both create CTAs and A/B test variants.
Though it can take some effort to consider all of the different elements of a good CTA, producing compelling ones can do a lot for recruitment teams hoping to draw more inquiries, engagement, and enrollment to their schools. For this reason, it’s worth putting in the time to get this element of digital marketing for higher education right. By ensuring your copy, visual design, and layout are all optimized, and using A/B testing to continually verify and improve your efforts, you’ll be able to master the art of CTA creation and regularly produce compelling calls to action that convert.