Do your website and blog inspire travelers to trust, remember and interact with your brand?
If your answer is “I don’t know” (or worse, “no”), then Houston, we have a problem.
The good news: There’s an easy solution to that problem. And that solution is to deploy powerful, engaging travel calls-to-action throughout your website.
This post will walk you through the what, why, and how of the travel call-to-action, or travel CTA. Because, while they may sound like marketing-speak, in practice, calls-to-action are very straightforward: they simply guide travelers to whatever action they should take next. Think of a CTA as your final instruction to website visitors – an instruction you present in the form of a button or a link, such as Sign Up, Download Now, Leave a Comment, Contact Us, or Read More.
What is a Travel Call-to-Action?
Now that we have the basic definition down, let’s get a little more specific; let’s talk about tourism. In hospitality, a travel call-to-action provides direction to, well, travelers. (Shocking, right?)
But really, that’s as complicated as it gets. The sole purpose of a travel CTA is to help travelers do what they already want to do.
They’re already interested in your destination, your inn, your itinerary, your vacation rental, your fill-in-the-blank. So, if they’re looking for more information about your bed & breakfast, then your CTA should direct them to more information about your bed & breakfast. If they’re hunting down great travel advice for your area, then your travel call-to-action should link to your downloadable travel guide. Etc. etc.
From there, it’s up to your messaging and travel bookings funnel (aka “the buyer journey”) to do the rest: How does interest in your destination, become interest in your inn, become a confirmed booking? Your calls-to-action are an important part of the equation.
So, back to the topic at hand. Common travel industry CTAs include Book Now, Check Availability, Reserve, Inquire, and similar terminology. (More on that later.) For now, my point is simple: Strong, well-planned travel calls-to-action are your direct path to converting website visitors into booked travelers.
Why Do Travel Calls-to-Action Matter?
Pulling numbers out of the air here – your analytics will reveal your true stats – but I’d hazard a guess that 95% (or more) of visitors to your blog and/or website aren’t yet ready to book.
They came for the info you offer. They searched Google for the best restaurants in Orlando, or the most romantic wedding spots in the Turks and Caicos, or the best hiking trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The truth: They’re not here for you.
And that means, once they’ve absorbed the information you offer, they’re gone. They’ve clicked over to a new browser tab, or hit the back button, or returned to Google.
And they’ll probably never think of you again.
Whoosh! <– That the sound of a booking, disappearing into the Land of Lost Opportunity.
That is, unless you have effective calls-to-action in place. If you don’t, well, you’ve already missed your chance. You’ve failed to direct interest to other parts of your site, or to get a new Facebook Like, or to earn your way into a traveler’s email inbox.
Worse, you’ve lost your opportunity to convert this I-might-someday-be-interested-but-right-now-I’m-still-in-the-planning-phase traveler into an eventual okay-I’ve-made-my-decision-and-I’m-ready-to-book traveler.
All because you failed to implement strong, well thought-out travel calls-to-action. It could have been simple, if you had just asked:
Sign up for our newsletter for more Orlando travel tips.
Download our free guide to weddings in the Turks and Caicos.
Follow us on Facebook for more outdoor inspiration from the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Whatever feels right. Whatever your site visitors are most likely looking for, after they’ve finished reading your page or blog post.
Go on, get inside their heads. Know your personas.
You’ll quickly realize travelers aren’t after your Big Ask (aka the hard sell –the ultimate conversion-to-booking). They aren’t ready to book with you. And that means, your CTA should not be the “Book” button: At best, it’s simply not an effective travel call-to action; at worst, it feels snake-oily – a total turnoff.
So, instead of ending your blog post about Blue Ridge Mountains hiking trails with, “Start your all your hikes at my Blue Ridge View Vacation Rental – book today!”, try something along the lines of, “Planning a Blue Ridge getaway? Sign up for our free newsletter for more great tips, deals, and insider information on the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
And don’t stop with just the one CTA. In addition to your primary call-to-action, secondary travel CTAs should be peppered throughout your site: in your top menu, your sidebar, and your site footer.
This is about engagement and trust-building, not the ultimate conversion. That will happen naturally, once you’ve engaged those travelers and built that trust.
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(☝ You see what I did there? ☝ Subtle, Erin, subtle.)
Best Practices for Travel Calls-to-Action (Travel CTAs)
I know this looks like a long list – nine (NINE?!) best practices for something as small as a single button?
Yep, nine. And I’ll tell you why: Your travel call-to-action is the most important element on any given webpage. Yes, stellar copy and amazing photos do all the heavy lifting, but your CTA is what seals the deal. Without strong calls-to-action, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to convert interest into bookings.
Now that you’re convinced, take a deep breath. This isn’t hard. We may be talking nine best practices, but they’re all simple and easy to implement. So let’s dive in:
- Use Action Language
- Think Benefits
- Reduce Risk
- Be Helpful (+ Persuasive)
- Keep Them Short & Sweet
- Go Bold
- Make Them Clickable
- Location, Location, Location
- Test Regularly
1. Use Action Language (aka Tell Them What to Do Next)
Think about it – we’re talking calls-to-action, so it stands to reason that your travel CTAs should encourage action, right? Right.
Action language can mark the difference between a visitor clicking a CTA, and navigating away from your site. So, begin your travel call-to-action with action-oriented language: “Book Your Trip”, “Discover Costa Rica”, “Start Planning Your Vacation.”
2. Keep Them Short & Sweet
CTAs are most effective when they’re brief. Make your full offer as concise as possible. For your CTA buttons, shoot for no more than five words. Three and under is better.
3. Reduce Risk
No-obligation or low-obligation calls-to-action reduce risk. In other words, even if a traveler isn’t yet ready to “Book,” he is on your site so he’s probably interested in reading more about your area (CTA button: “Read More about Destination“) or poke around your hotel rooms (CTA button: “See the Suites”). These are both no-obligation calls-to-action.
Once you’ve built a bit of rapport, this same traveler could be willing to exchange his email address for a free travel guide, or for your awesome newsletter, or for a free itinerary. These are low-obligation calls-to-action requiring only an email address (with option to unsubscribe anytime, of course), in exchange for your goods.
Bottom Line: Create low barrier-to-entry CTAs and offer high-quality offers in exchange, and you’ll build trust and ultimately give travelers the confidence they need to book with you.
4. Think Benefits
Copywriters and marketers are constantly harping on you to know the difference between features and benefits.
We have good reason, folks.
Travelers do not care about your features. No, they really don’t. They care about how your features benefit them. So, instead of highlighting the features of your offer (“free guide”), leverage your travel call-to-action – and by this, I mean the entire offer, and not just the button text – to highlight the full benefit of what you’re offering (“everything you need to plan your trip”).
One-word CTAs often fall into the feature pitfall: Book, Submit, Request, etc. Sure, those are all action verbs. And sure, they’re all short. But they don’t build any benefit into your offer. Instead, try Download Your Free Guide, Reserve Your Getaway, or Plan a Trip.
5. Be Helpful (Yet Also Persuasive)
Your website (blog, email newsletter, etc.) should appeal to every step in the booking journey.
By this, I mean that your website (for example) should have information for: 1) Travelers just starting to research a destination and its offerings; 2) Mid-stage planners who have decided on a destination, but haven’t yet settled on accommodations or activities; 3) Travelers who are ready to book; and 4) Guests who have already booked with you.
As such, your travel CTAs should provide direction for each phase of travel planning. Remember – you’re not trying to shoehorn travelers into doing something they don’t want to do; you’re trying to guide them in doing what they already intend. So, guide! Ask yourself: What’s the next logical step in their vacation planning? Then, lead them there. (Note: The next step is not always making a reservation.)
Once you’ve shown them where to go next, be persuasive! Make them an offer they can’t refuse. (Free is pretty hard to refuse, by the way, which is why the “free travel guide” is such a strong offer. Just be sure your free guide is AWESOME. It should be packed chock full of great information, use lots of sharp photography, and be designed well. Travelers should feel like they’ve received something of real value.) The offer of a discount, or of special offers, or of other value-adds can also be a strong pull.
Use a travel call-to-action to provide direction. Help. Engage. Lead travelers on a journey through your booking funnel. And use the right persuasive language along the way. (Ex. Don’t invite a first-stage planner to “Book Now!” if they haven’t even decided on a destination. Instead, invite them to “Download a Free Destination Guide.”)
6. Go Bold
Effective calls-to-action are visually striking. This means:
- They Use Contrast: Your CTA button or link text should contrast with the rest of your page. The most common way to do this is with a contrasting color that still fits within your site’s overall color palette.
- They’re Big Enough: A travel call-to-action should be large enough to stand out, but not so large that it looks like a circa 2001 banner advertisement. Your CTA should call attention but never distract.
- They’re Clear: Now’s not the time to be wishy-washy. Back up your high-contrast, big-enough CTA with clear wording.
7. Make Them Clickable
No explanation necessary: Your CTA should be clickable, and it should click-through (link) to a highly relevant, laser-focused offer. (Ex. “Download Your Free Guide” should link to a free guide.)
8. Location, Location, Location
We all know how important location is to the travel industry. Your website (blog, newsletter, etc.) real estate is no different: Location is key.
Travel calls-to-action can live anywhere on your site – in the middle of your homepage, at the bottom of a blog post, in your sidebar, as a scroll-triggered pop-up or slide-in, etc. – but do choose CTA location wisely. Place them organically and logically. Always ask yourself two questions:
- When would a traveler be interested in this offer? In other words, don’t serve your offer too soon. A vacation rental website guest probably isn’t ready to “Book Now” from your homepage, but she might be ready to “Explore the Villa.” (Note: A “Book Now” or similar hotel call-to-action button should be available on every page of a hotel, B&B, inn, vacation rental, etc. website. [ex. In the header.] It just might not be your primary CTA for any given page.)
- What path would lead a traveler to this offer? For lower-level pages – for example, a blog post about area hiking trails – think about how travelers arrive at your page. (Psst, check your analytics!) Then, serve up a fitting travel call-to-action. (Ex. On that hiking page, offer “Interested in more hiking trails, outdoor activities, and Area advice? Download our FREE Area travel guide!” [CTA Button: Start Planning].)
9. Test Regularly
CTAs are not a fix-it-and-forget-it kind of deal, unfortunately. Test them!
For example, if you’re wondering whether “Download the FREE Guide” or “Get Planning!” is the better travel call-to-action, then set up a simple A/B test. Send the exact same content to your entire email list – but with one difference: Half your list gets a “Download the FREE Guide” button, while the other half gets your “Get Planning!” button. See which gets the most clicks.
6 Examples of Effective CTAs for the Travel Industry
There are lots of great travel call-to-action examples out there. Here are a few.
Note: I’ve circled primary CTAs in green; secondary CTAs are in blue.
(Full disclosure: A client of mine.)
I love Costa Rican Vacations’ approach to their homepage: They don’t go straight for the jugular. They don’t hit you with buttons to BOOK BOOK BOOK!
Instead, their primary CTA doesn’t ask you to buy anything. It doesn’t even try to snag your contact information. CRV knows that they have to build value before travelers will trust them. They also know that most visitors to their homepage don’t have enough information to make a buying decision. Yet. And so, their primary homepage call-to-action gets you dreaming: What kind of traveler are you? They reel you in first, and then they go for the ask. And it works.
Bottom Line: Your CTAs should always align your goals with a traveler’s goals. And sometimes, that’s just to dig deeper into the information you offer.
Let’s get this out of the way first: For most hotels, a Book (or similar) button is going to exist on every page. And that’s because hotels are in a slightly different category than many other travel businesses: Their presence is scattered across the web and guidebooks, so it’s conceivable that website visitors come to their site simply to book.
That said, “Book” should not be the only call-to-action on a hotel website. In fact, I’d argue it shouldn’t be the primary CTA on many sections of the site. And that’s why I like the Hotel Boutique at Grand Central: Their above-the-fold homepage real estate (and CTA) highlights their best deals, accompanied by illustrative photos.
Bottom Line: You may have planned to stay 5 or 6 nights, but this CTA makes you consider staying 7+. And that’s an effective call-to-action.
(Full disclosure: A client of mine.)
Luxury Villas Orlando is another site that does homepage CTAs right: They don’t ask you to book right away, because they know you’re not ready. You need more information first.
Instead, LVO invites you explore their vacation rentals. They match photography with copy, and then top it off with a logical, unintimidating travel call-to-action. Notice I said unintimidating: Again, there’s no barrier to entry here. They’re not asking for your email address. They’re not asking you to do anything but look a little deeper. And so, you’re likely to do just that. They’ll make the ask (“Check Availability”) later, after you’ve already fallen in love with their villas.
Bottom Line: Your CTAs are somewhat location dependent. By this, I mean that someone who’s five levels-deep in your site, and has just finished reading your blog post on the 10 Best Hiking Trails in Your Area, may be willing to exchange her email address for a travel guide, but someone who has come across your homepage and knows nothing about you isn’t ready yet.
(Full disclosure: A client of mine.)
Hello, simplicity, oh how I love you. Above-the-fold, homepage real estate for Sun Cliff Casita has but one call-to-action: Discover.
“Discover” is a great word for a travel call-to-action, because it makes us all feel a little bit like explorers. And who doesn’t want to discover something on our travels, be it a new food or a new place to do absolutely nothing? That’s why this works so well: Sun Cliff Casita has stunning photography that really does make you want to discover. If the view’s that good, what else does this vacation home have in store for me?
Bottom Line: Simple can be more than good; it can be great. Don’t be afraid to test out clean, uncluttered homepage calls-to-action, to see if they work for you. Remember, your CTAs will get more targeted as a visitor digs deeper into your site.
The Outer Banks Official Tourism Authority website starts off with some great CTAs: buttons to Dream, Plan, or Discover. But we’re going to focus on what happens when you click one of those initial calls-to-action.
When you choose Dream, for example, you’re taken to a page that encourages you to dream about your upcoming trip. Scroll down, and the OBX will fuel that dream with videos, articles, and other information. And then, when you’ve scrolled all the way down and are now emotionally invested in your Outer Banks travel planning, only then do they hit you with the Big Ask: What’s your contact information?
Bottom Line: If the OBX had asked for your address as soon as you had hit the homepage, you probably would have said no. Instead, they placed their offer at the bottom of a secondary page, effectively waiting until you have shown sufficient interest (via clicking + scrolling) and are more likely to take the requested action.
(Note: “Next” as call-to-action is not the strongest choice. Better options: “Get My Guide” or “Start Planning”)
6. Visit Idaho
Like the Outer Banks, Visit Idaho has an inviting homepage CTA that doesn’t ask for anything more than a click: Plan Your Adventure.
Click through, and the excellent messaging – and Visit Idaho has truly excellent messaging – continues, with great photographs, lots of good planning info, and copy that really tugs at the heartstrings. Even better, every page of their site ends with a primary call-to-action: Order their free travel guide. (Or swap your email address for adventures in your inbox.)
Bottom Line: I keep saying it because it’s true: Don’t place high barrier-to-entry calls-to-action (e.g. give us your money!) too early in your site journey; instead, wait until you’ve earned some trust and emotional investment.
(Note: “Order” is a psychological stop-word, since it implies purchase. If you offer a free guide, choose action words like “Download Your Guide,” “Get It FREE,” or “Grab Your Guide.”)
4 Ways to Use This Information Right Now
- Do a website audit: Head over to your website (your email newsletter, your drip campaign, your everything) and identify your various calls-to-action. Compare them to the above list of best practices. If your travel CTAs don’t meet all nine points, tweak them.
- Ask around: Talk with your peers. Form a mini-mastermind group, and talk about your various calls-to-action (and their associated offers). What works best?
- Test your calls-to-action: One of the best and easiest ways to test new CTAs is to run an A/B test. This can be as simple as changing the action verb on a button, and tracking whether it yields better results.
- Ask questions (or comment) below: Comment below (or email me) with your questions. Share your findings. Let’s start a conversation about better, more powerful travel calls-to-action.