You may be familiar with the concept of a call-to-action (CTA). It’s a sentence, link, or button that leads visitors to complete some action—preferably one that results in your company earning money. There’s no shortage of conversion optimization articles out there that promise insane improvements for just tinkering with your CTA.

As much as I wish that were true, here’s the reality as I’ve learned…

Focusing on the the ”call-to-action” is usually a waste of time, and can even result in lower conversion rates.

By taking a slightly different approach, you can actually multiply your user or customer acquisition rates instead of wasting time playing with button colors.

The Problem With Calls-to-Action

You can follow all the best practices for CTA buttons and still see no improvement in conversion rates. That’s because all those best practices talk about an ideal button—its color, text size, phrasing, etc—and rarely say anything about the button’s surroundings. And yet, the surroundings of a CTA make all the difference.

For example, here’s the homepage of an enterprise SaaS company, Message Systems:

Example 4 of Obvious Next Step

And here’s the homepage of a competing company, powerMTA:

Example 5 of Obvious Next Step

Which site would you guess converts more visitors into leads?

The “Evaluate Now” button of the second example is screaming to be clicked, while the “Learn More” button of the first example is easily overlooked despite following best practices for CTA buttons.

(I have no affiliation with either company.)

To increase conversions, forget the CTA…

A Solution: Ridiculously Obvious Next Step

My proposed solution is to forget about the “CTA” entirely and instead focus on giving the visitor a ridiculously obvious next step.

A Ridiculously Obvious Next Step

At every point along your conversion process – whether it’s a multi-step sign-up form, or a checkout, or a product onboarding – make the next step ridiculously obvious to your visitors. Why “ridiculously”? Because what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to your visitors, so make it ridiculously obvious to be sure.

How to make the next step a ridiculously obvious one:

  • Make it prominent. Whichever element the next step involves -- such as a checkout button or a contact form -- make it ridiculously more prominent than anything else on the page. If you can't spot your checkout button from across the room at 25% zoom, then it's not prominent enough.
  • Limit the alternatives. Submitting an order from the checkout page isn't a ridiculously obvious next step until you remove the site navigation. On the homepage, remove every non-essential link such as press releases or event calendars.
  • Match it to the users' intention. It's easy to make someone take the next step when it's what they came to do. For example, if a visitor is on your trial sign-up page, make signing up for the trial an obvious next step by removing everything but the sign-up form and some benefits about the trial. (If you're thinking this is silly, go check the exit rate of your sign-up page right now.)
  • Avoid ambiguity. Be clear about what the next step involves. Avoid non-specific buttons such as "Sign Up." "Submit," or "Continue." (I've written about this previously.)

When in doubt, go for drastic changes and A/B test against the original!

Examples of Ridiculously Obvious Next Steps

I recently applied this idea to the checkout page of a large ecommerce site and A/B tested it against the original – in which placing the order was a next step but not a ridiculously obvious one. I can’t share any specific details, but suffice it to say that the resultant annual increase in revenue wouldn’t be out of place in a rap song.

Here are some comparable ecommerce sites that arrived at similar conclusions with regards to increasing conversion rates by providing an obvious next step:

Example 1 of Obvious Next Step

On Pottery Barn’s checkout page, placing the order is an obvious next step. Anything not related to placing the order has been removed. No main menu, no footer, no featured items… The button tied to the next obvious step (“Place Order”) is the most prominent element on the page.

But they can do better. The “Place Order” button is still competing for attention against “Apply” and “Apply to Order.”

Example 2 of Obvious Next Step

There’s no menu, no “order process” bar, and just one very prominent checkout button. Aside from the credit card promotion – which I’m sure is very lucrative for them – they can even remove the footer and the “continue shopping” link.

(The place for a “continue shopping” link is on the View Cart page, not when I’m one click away from submitting the order.)

Example 3 of Obvious Next Step

If you don’t think this approach to conversion optimization works for large companies: What you see above is the checkout page of a company that did over $90 Million in revenue last year.

How to Use This Information

  • When discussing or starting a conversion optimization project, think about providing a ridiculously obvious next step instead of focusing on the CTA alone.
  • The easiest place to start is on a page where the next step should be obvious, such as sign up forms and checkout pages. Follow the above examples to come up with a version of the page with a ridiculously obvious next step, and run an A/B test to measure the effect. (Get in touch if you need help.)
  • Don't be timid. If checking out from a checkout page wasn't obvious before, it'll take more than a touch-up to make it a ridiculously obvious. Start with drastic variations, and optimize the small details later.
  • Share this post with your colleagues. Not only to improve their conversion rates—although they'll still thank you for that—but also so we can stop thinking of conversion optimization as playing with button colors and other nonsense.

PS - Liked this article? I write one every month or so, covering lessons learned on B2B startup growth. Don't miss the next one:

If you need help with marketing and revenue growth, get in touch.