Writing Calls to Action that Move People

Marketing serves many purposes. It helps companies build their brands, spread awareness, generate leads and sales, energize their workforce, and generally builds a framework for growth.

Those goals are often accomplished through the use of strategic messaging, and one of the strongest indicators of the effectiveness of those communications is when your audience buys in, responds, and takes action.

That’s why so much thought and planning goes into constructing compelling calls to action: written prompts instructing a reader to do something. That something could be as basic as clicking a social sharing link or as involved as filling out personal information to register for an upcoming event or make a purchase.

The study of calls to action has taken on new importance in the internet age because, thanks to analytic tools that measure click-through rates, it’s easier than ever to see how successful a given line is working in real time.

Despite that development, calls to action are still just as commonly found on traditional media like brochures, flyers, store signage, and catalogs. Even billboards, which advertise to an audience that is indisposed, frequently recommend their viewers take some action, like pulling over at the local coffee shop for a break.

Whether on paper or digitized, some fundamental strategies for effective calls to action have proven especially good at eliciting a desired response. Here are ten tips to formating a request that gets noticed and produces results:

1. Explain the Benefits

Your audience doesn’t have unlimited time or resources. If they scan over your message and don’t immediately see how it can benefit them, they move on. Open by identifying a problem or need, and then make clear how their action will be a step towards a solution with your offering. Your call to action must provide some beneficial value, otherwise why would the target bother taking action?

2. Position to be Seen

There is some debate among the experts about where to place a call to action on a webpage, but a majority of analysts recommend it be above the fold (the upper half of the page) because 80-percent of visitors never bother to scroll down. It’s also recommended that you place it in the central column, where our eyes naturally land.

One related tip is to be cautious with the use of imagery. A few small graphics or charts can be useful (particularly for explaining the benefits of your request), but they also draw attention away from your call to action.

3. Employ Contrast

Use visual design that makes your call to action stand out from the page, such as by increasing the size of the text and rendering it in a bright, visible color that is distinct from surrounding elements.

Negative space, is also very important for drawing attention. Don’t overload the area around your message. Additionally, buttons increase click-through rates in some studies, presumably because they also help calls to action stand out.

4. Indicate Scarcity

If you want an immediate reaction, you need to explain why waiting is the wrong move. Make clear to your audience that they only have a limited time to respond, either because supplies are limited or because the offer is temporary.

Dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) is running rampant in our information saturated age. Instill a sense of urgency by taking advantage of the inclination to worry that others have access to something more if they act faster.

5. Offer Social Proof

As the saying goes, no man is an island. We are social creatures that look to those around us for guidance and reassurance. Encourage action by offering evidence that others have benefited from interacting with you in the form of testimonials, case studies, and social media.

6. Be Brief

Audiences lose interest quick, especially online, where we are constantly deluged with offers and directives vying for our awareness from all sides. Generally speaking, shorter is better. If you can boil your request down to just five words or less you greatly increase your chances of it being absorbed.

7. Use Action Language

Words matter. Wishy washy, unclear, and disengaged requests go unnoticed and unacted upon. Use active voice (where the subject does the action described by the verb) and imperative verbs (e.g. give, call, visit) to communicate that action is precisely what you are seeking.

Also, the mere addition of an exclamation point can help indicate enthusiasm and provoke an emotional response that drives action! But, don’t over do it!!!

8. Alleviate Fears

Taking the step of actually clicking a link or submitting personal information is something of a leap of faith these days. Hackers, spammers, and other unsavory netizens make the news daily, and most people are now well aware that every click carries some risk.

Transparency is key here. Answer all the common questions a person might have up front. Provide the details of the payment or return process. Explain what you plan to do with their information and how you intend to protect it. And, let them know how frequently – and under what circumstances – you will contact them in the future. Finally, don’t make unsubscribing difficult.

9. Create a Pattern of Behavior

An email campaign or a flyer will typically have just one or two calls to action because any more would pull focus away from the main point. But, for ecommerce sites and sales funnels, it can be useful to employ several, increasingly ambitious requests.

A user might not be ready to make a purchase immediately, so instead they are asked to do something less demanding, such as choose the style, color, size, or personalization of an offering. Each time they accept your request lowers the barrier to further action and predisposes them to making the ultimate purchase.

10. A/B Test

Best practices are all well and good, but adept marketers rely on real world metrics to justify their decisions, and even an extremely well designed call to action can benefit from iterative changes.

Maybe your particular readership does scroll below the fold or responds better to longer and more fleshed-out calls to action. You’ll never know until you test that theory out.

Whether you are soft selling with basic information to generate leads, working to raise your social media profile, nurturing leads with demonstrations and trials, promoting an event, or trying to actively convert leads into customers (or customers into repeat customers and brand loyalists), always design your messaging to stand out, engage your audience, and inspire action.