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Hear the Call? 3 Steps for Better Video CTAs


As more of you expand your efforts in video content marketing, you undoubtedly know (and have been told) that a call to action (CTA) is an absolute must have. That all-important prompt encourages someone to actually do something and it offers an opportunity to evaluate your video’s effectiveness.

Advice on how to weave an engaging and tightly integrated CTA into your video is much less decisive. Create a funny and personal or slick-motion graphic? Incorporate in video or description? The fact is that there is no single answer. The secrets to crafting a great CTA depend on your unique circumstances.

This guide focuses on YouTube because the CTA design is more direct and easier to measure than on other platforms. (Vimeo, for example, is a popular tool because of its visual clarity and compression for crowd-funded campaigns like Kickstarter, but those initiatives often have different goals.) In a medium where there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, access to information is key for successful content marketing.

Step 1: Assess your goals

Your CTA is the nudge you give viewers so that they will do something. So what do you want them to do? Take stock of your business goals in both abstract and specific terms: 

  • What do you want to achieve with this video? Be broad. Evaluate how the video is designed to contribute to your goals. Do you want viewers to buy a product, install an app, or subscribe to your channel?
  • How can your CTA support those goals? Be specific. If you want someone to purchase a product, does the CTA allow them to click through to the sales funnel? If you want more YouTube followers, does it encourage them to subscribe to your channel? If you want viewers to visit an affiliate, is the affiliate identified with a clear link?

After you’ve nailed down exactly what you want your CTA to achieve, your next task is to create something that meets these goals as effectively as possible.

Step 2: Identify the best options

At this point you have two decisions to make: How should you craft your CTA stylistically and which tools can help you meet the goals.

  • How does your CTA fit with the video content? Think thematically. Let’s use Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches as an example. The video is pensive, introspective, and emotionally charged. As such, the CTA on the screen at the video’s end is thoughtful, restrained, and unobtrusive. Dove didn’t use brightly colored annotations or loud noises. In its description, Dove simply included a hashtag and link.dove-real-beauty-video-cta

Now look at Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors episodic cartoon’s CTA end card. It’s busy, colorful and energetic, just like the video.


Its visible description focuses on the episode and doesn’t include a CTA, and the full description reads like closing credits for a show.

Both Dove and Cartoon Hangover understood their videos — they matched the CTA to the video, and more importantly, they matched the CTA to their goals. For a B2C like Dove, its primary objective was to encourage viewers to further their experience with the brand, while Cartoon Hangover’s primary objective was to inform viewers about the show.

What tools will effectively communicate your CTA?

  • Annotations: These pop-up messages on the video don’t have to detract from the viewing experience, but if they show up in the meatier content they can. The upside is that users can interact with your CTA immediately within the video experience. The downside is that annotations have a tendency to make users bounce, and annotations don’t appear on mobile or set-top boxes. Annotations in end cards? Totally cool.
  • Descriptions: A video description offers two-fold viewing — a few sentences on the first screen underneath the video and an expanded version after the viewer clicks “show more.” Including CTA links in descriptions is both better and worse than annotations because they don’t distract the viewer from the video experience. They’re more versatile than annotations and engaged viewers will naturally check your description for more information. But be careful about how you use your real estate: The first three lines of your description are a critical part of YouTube SEO (YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine), and the first lines are all that appear on the first screen.
  • Verbal (speaker mentions) vs. (direct host)A CTA during the video that comes from the narrator or host can carry more emotional weight than an end-card CTA. It also requires you to lock into a single CTA, so make sure the CTA is sufficiently attractive or powerful to engage viewers. Unlike an end card, which can be changed and updated easily, a speaker mention cannot be changed without significant production overhead. Many Kickstarter videos use this technique because viewers are likely already on the campaign page, making the next step obvious.

In addition, if your videos involve multiple speakers or subjects, the person speaking may not be in a position to deliver a meaningful CTA. In those cases, consider filming a separate end card with a familiar host that can be shot and edited separately.

In this edition of its Ripple Effect videos, Red Bull opens the video with its general web address then uses Red on the opening credit slide. The CTA returns 14 minutes 30 seconds later in the end credits. Note the lack of annotations in the video, though.

  • End cards: CTAs on the end cards can work, but it’s a risky move given that a good portion of your audience may not still be viewing. That means you should explore all CTA options, but don’t give up on end cards. The 40+ percent of your audience that may still be watching is probably interested and looking for more information.

As we’ve seen, there are pros and cons to every tool and stylistic decision you make, but this can be mitigated by combining CTA styles. Make sure they all support your goals so that you don’t risk overcomplicating your pool of results and possibilities.

Step 3: Test, measure, and iterate

After you implement your CTAs, the evaluation begins. What happens with your CTAs? How you measure your CTA depends on what goals you’re trying to hit, but since many marketers are ultimately trying to push YouTube viewers off site and into their own funnels, we’ll focus on three critical measurements:

  • Measure in-video CTA viewership: If you click on Audience Retention in YouTube Analytics, you can see at which points viewers are dropping off, and this information can be used in multiple ways. For example, a significant drop-off that coincides with an annotation is a good sign that viewers do not think the CTA is too disruptive to the experience. Perhaps more importantly, these analytics allow you to see what percentage of users even makes it to your CTA. You can calculate a CTA viewership number by multiplying the number of total views by the percentage that made it to the point in the video with a CTA.
  • Measure click-throughs: Other than clicking the universal “X” in the right corner of a page to cease viewing, there are only two ways to click out of YouTube – through annotations to your verified website (known in YouTube parlance as Associate Website Annotations) or through links in the description.

Ultimately, you want to extrapolate the conversion rate of your CTA by dividing the number of views by the number of out-bound clicks. This CTA conversion rate is a really handy way to compare variations in your execution.

Tip: Further track your CTAs by using custom links through shortened-URL sites like, which can bring in demographic and easy-tracking data for each CTA.

  • Measure your annotations: You can see how well an annotation is performing by visiting the Annotations page under Engagement Reports in YouTube Analytics. Enter the name of your video and not only will you get your number of clicks, but also the close rate (the number of times a viewer closed the video when the annotation appeared).


This three-step video CTA process can help you create a goal-oriented CTA, pick the right delivery avenues, gauge each CTA’s effectiveness, and adjust and use analytics to evaluate what you should continue, change, or stop. It will likely take a few tries before you’ve developed an effective style, but once done, you will have a systematic approach to engaging your audience, increasing retention, and in turn, boosting the number of people responding to your CTA.

Evaluating the effectiveness of your video’s call to action is important to your video content marketing program’s success. Want to explore further measurement tools? Check out our online How-to Guide for Measuring Success.

Cover image by Alejandro Escamilla via