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You Have to Tell Your Customers Where to Go

call to actionIt sucks to be in advertising and before you even ask I’ll tell you why.  The marketing pundits of today (who I mostly like and respect) have tagged us crusty old advertising fossils as bad guys. We’re mad men. Con men. The more sensitive types may just call us liars.  And then, who’s the dirtiest rottenest of the liars? Copywriters, of course. Having been one of those for more years than I want to admit, it’s a wonder I sleep at night.

But don’t go turning your back on my profession quite so fast. We’re not so bad. Sometimes we are sincere. Sometimes we believe in the products we peddle. And sometimes we have good ideas.

My point is we’re not 100% full of it. Sometimes we call ‘em as we see ‘em. And sometimes the wisdom we came to be known for back in the days of newspapers and network television actually apply to online marketing.

Case in point is the thing us old word slingers call the “call to action.” It’s a good label. It’s a good thing. And if you decide to hear me out, it’s very possible you’ll go where I ask you to and do what I want you to do.

Go here and do this.

The call to action is so simple. To do it right is to tell your prospect exactly what you want them to do. For example, “Buy now” is a good one. “Enter your email address here” is good. “For more information call 1-800-4ACTION” seems perfectly instructional. That’s the definition of a call to action. It’s an instruction. People appreciate instructions. Simon says buy my product.

Why then is the call to action so frequently a mangled mess? These missteps come to mind. The host:

  • Doesn’t want to be pushy.
  • Hasn’t determined what they want the prospect to do.
  • Doesn’t understand the prospect’s needs.
  • Offers too many options.
  • Assumes too much and knows too little.
  • Assumes the prospect will take action without being prompted.
  • Makes it overly difficult to oblige

What a heap of manure we have here. I don’t want you to make these mistakes. They cost you dearly.

I want you to make one thing perfectly clear.

Tell the person on your website what to do.  Be explicit. Tell them which device to use. Tell them why. Tell them when. Tell them how. If they need to go somewhere to do it, tell them where to go. 

You know that sign above the cash register at your favorite take-out restaurant? It says “Pay here.” That’s effective stuff. It’s helpful information. It gets you what you came to get: food.  It gets the seller what they want from you: a sale.

Maybe copywriters aren’t so bad after all. Think of us as helpers. In the spirit of helping you achieve your goals, allow me to feed you some further instructions that will help sharpen your website and make the register go "ring-a-ling-ding."

Have an objective
—What do you want your visitor to do? Buy? Call? Register? Sign up for something? Share content? Complete a survey? These are all valid calls to action. So your first action item: give your site a job description. Learn more about this vital step here by reading “A Successful Website Achieves Objectives.”

Provide a reason—Answer the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) question. For instance: Learn how to increase conversions. Download 21 Pointers to Sharpen Your Website” NOW! You can see how the reason and the reward work together here as a one-two punch.

Think singular—If you’re not running a restaurant, resist suggesting a menu full of options. If you are running a restaurant, ask your visitors to “Order Now.” The more explicit you are with your call to action, the more likely you’ll invoke the action, so think singular and call for your customer to do one thing.

Put up a sign—Ever hunted for the button your website host wanted you to press? That’s crazy. Don’t play “Where’s Waldo” games with potential customers. Make your call to action uber obvious. Put your call to action where it’s easily found and consider design tactics such as:

  • Creating a sizable button
  • Using contrasting colors
  • Surrounding it with white (or negative) space
  • Employing familiar cues such as arrows, cursors, etc.

Settle for less—If you plan to put a form in front of your offer, don’t be overly needy or unnecessarily greedy with your “price of admission.” More fields = less responses. So if you’re going to ask multiple choice questions or require prospects to qualify themselves at all, it should be because the qualification process is an intentional part of the process. If your objective is collect and nurture leads via email, you really need an email address and nothing more.

Suggest action everywhere—Don’t confuse your website for an ad or brochure. That is, don’t assume linear behavior on the part of the reader. The flexible structure of your website suggests your visitors could wander around any way they please and never make it to your contact us form or POP. So in addition to making it easy to find your CTA, every page of your website should tell the reader what to do and where to go.

Activate with urgency—Your call to action should feature active words such as call, buy, register, donate, and enroll. And, it only helps to up the urgency with limited time offers, expiration dates, or at least a little nudge like “now.”

Deliver pain relief—It’s one thing (and a must) to make it easy to take action. You get bonus points for “selling” the ease too. In other words, as long as you speak the truth, you should tell your prospect just how easy this little act of compliance shall be. If what you’re asking for doesn’t take long, doesn’t cost much, doesn’t involve any risk and does make the respondent’s life instantly awesome, go ahead and put a little extra pep in the step of your soon-to-be-customer.

Did you learn something? Can you add something? Make this article a dialogue. Contribute your thoughts here. It’s easy. Act now. For a limited time, you could be famous.

Want to gather 20 more insightful actions you can take to make your online marketing efforts more effective? Help yourself to “21 Pointers to Sharpen Your Website.”






Join The Conversation

  • Mar 30 Posted 5 years ago Joshua N. Muñoz Absolutely! Thanks.
  • FeldmanCreative's picture
    Mar 30 Posted 5 years ago FeldmanCreative

    Josh, hermano, comments like yours make it all the more worthwhile to write articles here. Thank you. Got me a reader and student. Right on. Please do help yourself to "21 Pointers to Sharpen Your Website," join the subscription lists on my site, and be in touch if you'd like to ask me questions. 

  • Mar 29 Posted 5 years ago Joshua N. Muñoz Great article, Extremely informative! I'm still very new to marketing and advertising, I'm constantly online trying to teach myself, researching every day faithfully, learning different stategies, and taking notes to everything marketing & social media. But this article, and it's links, has taught me alot, providing valuable insight into call to action strategy. Thanks Mr.Feldman it is highly appreciated J.N. Munoz
  • FeldmanCreative's picture
    Mar 28 Posted 5 years ago FeldmanCreative


    I appreciate the feedback. I suppose the directness you appreciate is in fact the point. When you say "buy," people reach for their wallets. Better yet, you say "pay here to [get what you want]." You with me?

    When you say "act now," they act now (or never). But don't be mistaken: it ain't evil. When I tell you to "hire Barry to make your online marketing more effective," I'm not just looking out for me, I believe I'm about to deliver exactly what you came to my site to find.

    Evil would be the opposite. Right? Evil would be to for the solution provider to make the solution hard to find. I feel 100% polite and forthright when I say "hire me" because I believe I'm about to help you. 


  • learnit2earnit's picture
    Mar 26 Posted 5 years ago learnit2earnit

    Barry I love how direct you are about this topic.  Appreciate you sharing your wisdom.  It wasn't until I understood how important it is to 'tell' your audience what is expected, what to do and that meant even the evil statement to 'buy now'.  I think I was guilty of being so polite I would forget to mention my product and asking people to take a look.

    Today I can see the power of the 'call to action' in everything that we do when it comes to online marketing.  I think your tips and points are spot on.  I'll be happy to share with my fans, followers and clients.

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