So What Exactly is a Call to Action?

We have a new kid in the offices here, and she’s great. She really gets this stuff and can write rings around everyone. So I’m sitting alongside her computer monitor, drinking coffee and chatting about conversion (like you do), and she asks me “Grok, what exactly is a call to action?”

Three of my eyebrows pop up, ‘cause my first reaction is to think, “Come on, isn’t it obvious?” And then I realize it’s a very good question, because it isn’t always obvious. So I suggest she read my article on Calls to Action.

Except, I never wrote one. So here’s the fix.

Let’s set out the important information you need to keep in mind when you design and weave effective Calls to Action into the structure of your Web site.

  • Every one of your visitors has come to you voluntarily – each made the choice to land on your Web site.
  • Excepting those who are lost, they came to you because you have something that interests them.
  • People like to be “sold.” They just don’t like being pushed. Persuasion is an act of gentle pulling.
  • Now, imagine you walk into a hotel. It’s big and posh, and although you know the routine of what you should be able to do in a hotel, you’ve never been in one like this. A fellow steps up to you and asks if you are planning on spending the night here, then shows you to the reception counter. At the counter you go through the ritual of registering (also an action-packed event), and then they ask if a bell hop can show you to your room and help with your luggage.

    “This way to reception, Sir.” “May I have someone assist you with your luggage?” “Would you prefer to use your MasterCard or your Visa?” These are Calls to Action. At no point along the way were you left to stand and stare, perplexed with indecision. The hotel staff gently persuaded you toward the next step on your journey to a good night’s sleep.

    It is absolutely okay to ask your visitors to take action. In fact, you must ask them. Because if you don’t, all you can do is hope they’ll figure out what they are supposed to do next and then actually do it. Without well-considered, well-placed Calls to Action, you leave a lot more to chance.

    The most obvious Calls to Action are ones that say “Add to Shopping Cart” or “Buy Now” or “Subscribe.” A straight-forward “do this.” At the most basic level, they tell the visitor what she can accomplish on that page, and encourage her forward in the conversion process. When Calls to Action like these are paired with Point of Action assurances (“We Value Your Privacy,” “You can always remove the item later”), you motivate action and build confidence.

    There are the Calls to Action that are meant to be part of the information-gathering process of the buying decision. You might offer these as Calls to Action: “Next” or “Click here to see alternate views” or “Read what our customers have to say about the Turbo 915.” It helps to pair this sort of Call to Action with an emotionally appealing benefit, so you maintain the flow of AIDAS.

    Embedded links are less obvious Calls to Action, but when they look the way folks expect a text link to look, and when they intuitively imply where they go, they certainly can function as a Call to Action. These are the Calls to Action that will help you meet the various needs of all the different personality types who come to your site. Suppose I read “The services we provide to clients like you …” and the “clients like you” part is a hyperlink. If knowing who you’ve worked with is really important to me, then you satisfy my desire for this information by placing a subtle Call to Action directly in my path.

    Calls to Action are critical elements in the design of your persuasion architecture. Every page should have at least one (never consider the back button on a browser or your various navigation schemes as Calls to Action). In fact, you should be able to follow your persuasion path from page to page with Calls to Action that echo the desired flow of your conversion process. And when folks want to take a little sub-loop information-gathering trip, make sure your Calls to Action can get them back into the primary loop.

    Got the idea? Then start calling.


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    Online Marketing Research on the Cheap

    You meet a lot of interesting people out there. Like Otherwise Nameless. About two years ago I met Otherwise, a shy fellow who asks that I not use his name, and since then I’ve enjoyed a remarkably rich intellectual exchange with the dude.

    Around here, we know that when Otherwise recommends something, you should be listening. The guy walks the talk:

    “I’ve been selling online since 1994-ish (my last company used the internet to grow from sub $100k to over $4 million – mainly from strong online marketing). And, since selling out two years ago, I’ve made a comfortable living selling stuff online – every dang day.”

    So when someone in a thread on a private discussion group asked Otherwise for his ideas on the fundamentals of marketing online, here’s what he had to say (his words, not mine).

    How Much Can You Spend To Acquire Customers Without Going Broke?

    If your product has a low price point (we’re talking plastic food containers, right?), what’s your margin? What’s your cost of product, plus labor, shipping, returns, and conversion (getting people to see your offer and buy your product) and what’s leftover for you?

    Until you know these, you’re likely to lose your shorts going the traditional ‘online marketing’ (or direct marketing) route. Know your metrics first.

    You’re in luck! There’s never been a better time, place or method to test-market your new products – and understand your metrics – without spending umteen thousands on market tests. Ready?


    Many product developers I know start there (even before they develop their product or make production molds or do patents). Why? Within moments you and I can see what’s selling to the millions of people who frequent the ‘Bay’ (there’s almost a million bids a day I hear). And we can learn our metrics cheap, quick, and easy.

    1) Check out what’s being sold within your niche.

    2) What’s the general demand for your product category? [An advanced search specifying Closed Auctions only will give you information about what’s been selling and at what prices. HotBidz, an Ebay search tool that sorts based on bids for current and past auctions (based on category, keyword or...) is also a good avenue for research.]

    3) For those products selling in your niche, what are the features/benefits, average bid, average shipping/handling fee and traffic (pay particular attention to the ‘auction counter’ your competitors place on their auctions – it’s a cheap way to know what’s of interest to your market)

    4) How is your own product positioned to compete? How do you position: price, value, features, bundles, etc.

    Is there demand for your stuff? Test it. Add an auction of your own. See how much traffic you get (add an auction counter). Pay particular attention to emails you get from customers (cheap focus grouping, Batman). Do whatever it takes to sell your stuff.

    Within a week or two you’ll know if there’s a direct B2C market online for your stuff. And, you’ll avoid the initial outlay for a web site, search engine marketing, cost per clicks, banner ads, and such, until you are dang sure there’s a direct consumer market for your stuff (and how much you can afford to spend on building a web site, cpc, search engines, banner ads and the like).

    What if you don’t get any bids on your auctions? Change the title, change the offer, change the price, play with copy, bundle in other products, partner with others to offer your stuff as a loss-leader, position it for different markets (tailgating, craft storage, pet food keeper), etc. Understand – without equivocation – what sells for your product and niche.

    What if you still don’t get bids or they aren't profitable? Your product may be better for B2B – meaning you need to sell to retail stores and other existing B2B channels (in large runs) to make your margins work. Selling one-off deals online may not be worth it.

    But the only way to know is “asking people to open their wallets for your stuff” – and I'd suggest you point your browser to Ebay first.

    Have fun!


    Words you can take to the bank. Oh, and Otherwise has a few more words for you:

    “Here’s something else to think about: Run, don’t walk to Wizards of Web. This stuff above is a one-off primer, but Wizards of Web will give you your very own Web Marketing PHD – in three days or less!”

    You gotta love a shameless, but completely unsolicited plug!


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