Written by Hirsch Fishman on September 9th, 2009
Say a new visitor to your website finds you through a search engine. They’re impressed with your content, which was written to get their attention. They like your professional design, which establishes that you’re a trustworthy brand. So then what? Give them a call-to-action and tell them what they should do, that’s what!
What is a call-to-action?
A call-to-action is the fundamental reason that you have a website in the first place. In web marketing, it’s defined as something, either a design element or some piece of content, that compels a visitor to take some specific action that you can measure to determine whether your website is working or not.
Every type of website you can think of has a call-to-action built into it, although of course some websites are better at emphasizing it than others. Calls-to-action provide focus for your website and if done right, give direction to your visitors for what you ultimately want them to do. Examples of a call-to-action include:
- Make an online donation
- Request an appointment
- Purchase a product
- Fill out a request form
- Register for an event or program
What makes a call-to-action effective?
Unfortunately there are no easy answers to that question, and there are plenty of people out there who ponder that question every day. While every website and every situation is different, there are some general guidelines you can follow when making your calls-to-action, both from the content and the design perspectives.
Also keep in mind that you should continually test whether your calls-to-action work or not. There are some free tools out there that will give you a good start at this, especially from Google. Their analytics tool will tell you what people are looking at on your website, while their website optimizer can help you test different combinations of calls-to-action in order to see what works better.
Using the right words appropriate to your website will drive people to take the action; using the wrong words can distract them, at best, or cause them to leave your website, at worst. With that in mind, here are some tips for writing effective calls-to-action:
- Lay the groundwork – Before someone is willing to follow one of your calls-to-action, they first have to recognize a need that requires them doing so. Telling your visitors the benefits of taking that action will help give them the motivation to actually do so.
- Use action-oriented words – Using an active voice encourages people to follow your calls-to-action, and also helps people scanning your website quickly identify what your call-to-action is about. This is also one of the reasons you should avoid using “click here” in your link text.
- Have one on every page – There should always be at least one call-to-action within the content on every page of your website – no page should be a dead-end. Ending your content with a call-to-action tells visitors what the next step is and keeps them moving on your website.
- Limit the number and keep them distinct – Having too many calls-to-action on a website can be confusing for your visitors. Limit yourself to only a few, and keep them distinct so visitors know what the primary call-to-action is, as well as what you want them to do first from the choices.
- Keep your forms short and clear – Unless someone has a compelling interest, many people see a long form asking for unnecessary information and won’t fill it out. Follow some of my other tips for writing clear instructions if your main call-to-action is a form.
You can also look through a previous post that I’ve written about improving your titles and sub-headers for some tips that are just as applicable to writing effective calls-to-action.
Web designers can have a lot of influence over how effective calls-to-action are. Following general usability and design guidelines help make the website as effective as possible. Here are some tips for how to do that:
- Put it above the fold – You want your main call-to-action to be visible wherever people go throughout your website – almost like your logo. The right side of your website’s header is a natural location to do that; any other lesser calls-to-action can go in sidebars, above the fold as well.
- Use images for emphasis – Images or icons get people’s attention because they get noticed by your eyes before content on a page does. Buttons also do the same thing and are great to use because they stand out against text AND imply action by their very nature.
- Choose contrasting colors – If you’re using a button as your primary call-to-action mechanism, use a color that contrasts with your main colors for maximum effect. Just don’t choose a color that contrasts so much that it becomes too hard to ignore when reading the content around it.
- Consider homepage placement – We all know how important your homepage is, which is why you need to make it as usable as possible for your visitors. Your main call-to-action should be prominently placed on it where people will really see it.
- Use some white space – The more white space around your call-to-action, the more people’s eyes will naturally be drawn to it. Crowding your call-to-action in with surrounding content will decrease its effectiveness as it gets lost in the overall noise of the page.
- Make it bigger – Size isn’t everything when it comes to your call-to-action, but making it bigger definitely makes it more likely that it will get noticed. Just don’t make it so big that it totally overwhelms the rest of the content on your website – find the right balance.
Creating effective calls-to-action are a HUGE topic and business for a lot of people, so I hope that this gave some good, introductory guidelines for making your calls-to-action more effective.
Have you had any particular success working with calls-to-action on your website or on a website you’ve done for a client? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and experiences!