Revisiting the Call to Action
[By Karen Geier]
One of the most fundamental things about marketing writing is understanding the call to action. Understanding what it is is one thing, but actually being able to determine how to use a call to action and how to craft one that converts is like chess: it takes an hour to learn and a lifetime to master.
The Fundamental Purpose of the Call to Action
A call to action is where you test the rest of your marketing messaging. It is the single phrase that compels the reader toward a desired action. If it is too vague, too complicated, or asks more than a reader is willing to do, your call to action will be a failure.
If you create a call to action right, however, you can persuade a reader to click through on your emails, follow your brand on Twitter, sign up for sales consultations and more.
The Parts of a Call to Action
If you cut out the preamble to the call to action, you can see all effective calls to action share the same characteristics: A single, clearly defined ask, expressed as a verb. It might seem pedantic to point this out, but it’s important to explicitly understand why “click here” doesn’t hold the same weight to a reader as “activate your membership now.”
What makes a good call to action great are a few simple details. Details that once learned, provide you with a foolproof method for crafting calls to action that convert well.
A Refresher on Verbs
Everyone knows that verbs are action words, but describing an action in a story and inciting action from a reader are two completely different things and require different approaches.
You want to make your calls to action evoke an emotion or a desire for more. You don’t want them to be passively descriptive.
You want your verbs to be clear, evocative and as close to the beginning of your call to action as possible to put the focus on the action you want.
You don’t need to rely on the most obvious verbs. Remember: there are around 30 different verbs to describe walking. Consider your audience and brand voice as you select your verbs and choose one that most accurately, specifically describes the action you want.
Example: “Click here for more information” is descriptive of the task you want a reader to complete. “Discover our secret” is evocative of what they can expect if they perform the action and it is persuasive.
Keep It Short
Social media has made brevity of paramount importance, and calls to actions need to be even shorter than normal copy. Studies on which lengths convert best show that fewer than 90 characters is optimal, but consider keeping yours even shorter. Brevity is an exercise in focus for your marketing writing. If you can’t make it shorter, you might need to be clearer on what the result is you’re trying to achieve.
Keep It Specific
You might be able to argue that “click here” is a specific call to action because it describes the action you want someone to perform, but if you’re not describing the exact reason you need them to perform that action, then you’re not actually being specific.
Consider “click here.” Look at it from the perspective of your reader. Of all the places on the web I can click, why there? What will happen? Why do I need to click there? What will I get out of the exchange? If you’re not directly addressing these questions with your call to action, then you’re not being specific enough.
Consider: “Click here” vs. “get your free toolkit now.” “Click here” as about as vague as you can get.
Don’t Forget the Power of Mystery
You can also leverage the natural curiosity of readers by using intrigue in your calls to action if being 100% descriptive doesn’t fit your brand or your campaign. In this case, look for ways to intrigue the reader.
“Are you making these marketing mistakes?” is a call to action that will incite readers to click through to see what exactly the mistakes are.
Don’t Use Spammy Tricks
While it might be tempting to use high-pressure sales techniques in your calls to action, you have to consider how that one choice might negatively affect your brand perception. Don’t deliberately obfuscate why you need someone to click or hand over their contact information, because that is malicious and illegal. It will also get around that you’re not trustworthy.
Calls to action are the bedrock of successful online marketing. They aren’t something you should just casually throw out in your marketing writing. They deserve careful thought and planning. If you can only focus on one part of your copy, make it that.