We all know what a “call to action” is: a link or button that urges your prospect to take an action, and move forward in some sort of process. According to the seminal book written by FutureNow’s founders, calls to action are “motivations for the visitor to move further into the sales process.”
I would say that, in recent years, the definition of a call to action has been expanded to include the interactive element on the website that the visitor clicks to take action, e.g. a text link or a button. Much attention is paid to the design and testing of calls to action, especially on landing pages, and rightly so. Focusing on optimizing calls to action will generally increase conversions.
However, are you ready to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to calls to action, and focus on an overlooked aspect of these powerful conversion rate optimization tools? Good!
Let’s first think about a web page…any web page. It should have a “Primary” call to action, which fits the definition above; it’s the thing the visitor should click if they’re ready to take the action you want them to take. And they will, if they’re ready, but what if they’re not ready or confident enough to take the action you’re asking of them?
That brings us to the concept of “Secondary” calls to action. Secondary calls to action are motivations and interactive elements offered to the prospect in case they aren’t ready to take the primary action. Visitors won’t do anything they aren’t ready for, so it’s wise to offer them alternate choices.
Some examples of websites, primary calls to action, and secondary calls to action:
eCommerce site | Add to Cart (Primary) | View Product Details (Secondary)
Lead generation site | Contact Us (Primary) | View Product Demo (Secondary)
Subscription site | Sign Up (Primary) | Take a Free Trial (Secondary)
In each case, you want the prospect to convert via the Primary, but the prospect may not be ready. They may, however, be ready to take a Secondary call to action and stay engaged with your site. And isn’t that better than them leaving and checking out a competitor?
As we’ll see, the Primary should always be the most visually prominent element, and the Secondary call(s) to action should be proximate, yet less prominent.
I’m going to share some of my favorite screenshots [click any to enlarge] of Primary and Secondary calls to action, but am going to start by recommending the book Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski. Chapter 6 covers this concept quite well from a usability standpoint.
The book illustrates how design decisions to use different HTML elements, colors, placements, and highlighting can cue users on which is the Primary Action and which is the Secondary. My preference is to use buttons for Primary and links for Secondary, but that is a specific that’s easy to test for each individual site.
Another best practice is to use copy to create an environment where the prospect feels comfortable taking either option. Structuring the labels of the calls to action as “either/or” or “yes/no” pairs is often persuasive; see the example from TripIt’s confirmation page as a good example.
This approach can be used almost anywhere, or on any type of page on a website.
One of my pet peeves is the giant “hero” image or slideshow that lives at the top of many, many homepages, yet offers no understandable calls to action to move forward. Or, these hero images do offer a call to action, but leave no flexibility for those who aren’t yet persuaded to do what is being asked of them. Why should I sign up for something if I just landed on your homepage?
See this nice example from FormSpring, where the hero image on the homepage offers a structured Primary and Secondary call to action within the same graphic. The Primary is obvious and overt, while the Secondary is subtle, but still useful to many.
As I look through my screenshot library (Yes, I’m a screenshot addict just like Bryan Eisenberg), I’m realizing I could write about examples all day, but you’d get tired of reading them. So, I’ll just share one more from the lead generation and B2B environment.
In the complex sales environment common to B2B sites, offering Secondary calls to action is crucial since the site needs to nurture prospects through a potentially long conversion process. This last example is from the bottom of a B2B page. Notice how it explicitly structures the thought process in terms of “next step,” which is to download a white paper (and become a lead in the process), and “other options” which can still be tracked and which will nurture the prospect along. The key to this approach is to make sure the calls to action are relevant to the page the prospect is on.
Assuming you get this concept and want to try it out for yourself, you can apply a continuous marketing optimization system like we use with our clients. If you use your own system, get started by following these steps to optimize pages for Secondary calls to action, and for conversion rate in general.
Happy optimizing, and keep us posted on the secondary calls to action you’re testing, and the results your tests yield!