Increasing conversion rates is a complex and challenging endeavor no business can ignore. And an important means to that end is conversion rate optimization (CRO), meaning the process of making your marketing and sales efforts work more efficiently.

Related: 5 Elements of an Irresistible Call to Action

Investing time and resources into CRO can have a huge impact on your bottom line, because you can increase sales without increasing customer-acquisition costs. What resources are important here? One of the first should be an effective call to action (CTA). And when you do set out to craft an effective CTA, there are three main areas to focus on: choosing the correct marketing forums, understanding the components of a strong CTA and testing, to help you drive increased conversions.

Here are three questions to ask yourself to help you craft an effective CTA:

1. When is a call to action appropriate?

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to incorporate a CTA into every piece of marketing collateral you produce. Some content is purely for the benefit of your target audience; an example is white papers. White papers are typically written for educational purposes -- you are providing a service to current and potential customers, as well as building a relationship with them.

Embedding a strong call to action in a white paper, therefore, could cause your audience to distrust your paper, and potentially your whole company. The key, then, lies in carefully selecting the right marketing forums. Use a CTA when it is obvious to your audience members that what they are viewing is a marketing piece.

Email, direct mail and other traditional marketing channels are ideal examples. CTAs, however, should be avoided on social media sites, white papers and other channels where your audience is likely to view a call to action as intrusive.

2. What strategies help make a strong CTA?

  • Ensure your call to action is highly visible. Whether you’re using direct mail, email or a website, your call to action has to be highly visible. This can be accomplished in a number of ways: by using an alternative color, surrounding your CTA with white space and positioning it front and center. A popular technique on websites is to produce a floating CTA button that scrolls up and down, so it is always in plain view.
  • Choose a single call to action. Some people think that if using one CTA is good, incorporating two or more is even better. In reality, more than one call to action can confuse your audience. So, take a moment to think about the one thing you would like your audience to do -- this is your CTA. If you are uncertain about which channel to drive your audience to (perhaps you are deciding between an online form and a telephone call), try testing both separately. This can help you avoid leaving improved engagement to chance.
  • Use simple words that clearly convey action. Words like "call," "click," and "register" leave no doubt as to what you would like your audience to do. If your CTA uses a digital channel, build in buttons rather than hyperlinks, as people have been conditioned to click on buttons.
  • Instill a sense of urgency. Combine words like “now” and “today” with limited time offers. Ideally, your CTA will entice your audience to take action now. Consider, for a moment, how often you yourself have read an email or a website with the intention of returning to it later. The email gets buried in your inbox, or you move on to another website. Your target audience will likely do the same. Creating a sense of urgency is thus a crucial step in driving engagement.
  • Design an engagement path, from call to action to conversion, which is short, simple and consistent. Each additional step in your engagement path will result in your losing a percentage of your audience. If your CTA involves a telephone call, try to limit the number of menu options that your caller must navigate to reach a live person. If your CTA involves clicking on an email or website link, the fewer clicks the better. Finally, aim to create a message, look and feel that is consistent from start to finish. This can mitigate confusion and frustration on the part of your audience. For instance, if your email and landing page all look different and present a different message, you will likely have a high bounce rate.

Related: 3 Critical Principles of Effective Calls to Action

3. After deciding when and how to include a call to action, what's the next step?

The next step is to test your CTA to ensure your efforts pay off. As you A/B test, remember to change just one variable at a time, as testing more than one variable increases the complexity of measuring the results.

Different audiences and channels will often respond differently to different calls to action, and you will likely find that you must rotate or update your CTAs, to avoid losing your audience’s interest over time. Be prepared to test and retest, and as you introduce new calls to action, return to these steps to ensure you are maximizing your conversions.

Related: Facebook Is Rolling Out a 'Call-to-Action' Feature for Businesses