6 Steps to Killer Calls to Action

We’ve all seen it: we put 99% of our effort into creating marketing content, and then hurriedly slap a call to action on it. “Call me!” It’s almost desperate, like someone who is definitely NOT going to get a date at the end of the conversation. Instead, we need a plan, and some preparation. If the potential client says no to dinner, we offer a drink and conversation in a quieter part of the lounge. If they say no to that, we ask if they have any friends who are bored and want to do something fun. “Hope you’ll text me!” are the last words of a failed attempt to connect with an audience.

Why This is Important

The call to action is perhaps the single most important part of your website or e-mail blast. Sending people great content can build your credibility, status, and relationships as a thought leader but, at the end of the day, you still want clients. Here is how to generate or improve your calls to action (CTAs) to CONVERT your audience from passive into active consumers of your products or services. We’ll be format agnostic – whether we’re talking about blog posts, website pages, or e-mail blasts, the principles are the same.

Build a Thriving Audience

You can’t pitch to a dead audience that was never going to be interested in what you’re selling in the first place. So, if you spent early marketing efforts on getting a LARGE e-mail list or social following or web traffic, but it mostly consists of friends and family, or people who like your ideas but won’t actually spend money to use them, you’ve got work to do. No call to action will convert an unconvertible audience. This is not where we discuss audience building but, assuming you have a growing audience consisting at least partly of ideal consumers for your products who aren’t already spent and saturated, or people who have those people’s ears, your CTAs are a priority.

Prioritize Your Calls to Action

Brainstorm a list of potential calls to action and order them from your most desired to least desired. Then create another list arranged from most likely to be acted upon to least likely. Wed those two lists into one alternating list. For instance, maybe your most desired CTAs are: have a conversation, schedule a presentation, and share socially. The CTAs people are most likely to go for might be: buy a package, download a packet, and share socially. Since users flow through website and e-mail content in a somewhat linear way, you wed these into a list of priorities. That might be: CTA1: have a conversation, CTA2: buy a package, CTA3: schedule a presentation, CTA4: download a packet, CTA5: share socially.

Map Each Step of Each CTA in Detail

Get past generalities. Don’t let your calls to action be an afterthought. If you’re saying “I just want them to buy my stuff” or “I just want to have a conversation” and are unwilling to think beyond it, down to the brass tacks, your audience will have a similarly vague and uncommitted reaction. You must get as specific as it is possible to get about every facet of your calls to action.

  1. What is the process around it? In other words, what leads them up to it, and what happens after they do it? Get as precise as possible. Thinking through the way people land on your site, and what they might be thinking, and what they interact with first, and second, and third, and ultimately how they end up at your CTA, and then what happens AFTER they complete the CTA (e.g. we send a sales rep to meet them, and then…, and then…) are areas where you can’t afford to have vague, undeveloped planning and thinking.
  2. What is the process in it? For example, if it’s having a conversation, how is that structured? Maybe they fill out a form, and you send them a calendar booking link, and they choose a date and time, and then the call happens, and the call starts with you asking a series of questions, and then you provide a tailored presentation, and then they ask questions, and then you provide options for proceeding. All of that needs to be clearly spelled out in your planning, even if it’s not all said to the potential prospect.
  3. What is the conversion behavior? If you want people to schedule an appointment, assuming you’ve fleshed out what leads up to and out from that, and what happens during the appointment, you still need to get very specific on how you want them to do it. Do they call you? Send an e-mail, and you call e-mail them back, and they e-mail you back? Do they click a link and select a date/time? Until you get specific, your CTA can’t be effective.

One outcome of mapping the entire process is identifying points of measurement for purposes of tracking conversions. If we leave anything out, or fail to break it down into smallest parts, we risk overlooking gaps where we’re losing people and leaving money on the table.

Another result of doing this work is gaining insights into the possible motivators of your audience. Why DO people take you up on your offer. What do they EXPECT from going through the process with you. Motivators are key in deciding on how to phrase your calls to action.

Decide on CTA Wording

Once you have specific CTAs to work with, and you have the process specified for each one, soup to nuts, you can better create and inform the language. “Click here” or “Act now” are not very inviting calls to action. You know when someone hasn’t done sufficient thinking to generate an effective call to action, because it’s vague and general. Once you have the full process clearly articulated in your planning, you can focus on being specific and inspiring in the actual wording of your CTA. For instance, maybe the CTA of “have a conversation” becomes “Schedule a Powerful Exploratory Session to Confirm Your Goals”. Notice how we have the specific action (“schedule”). It could be even more specific (“Click For an Appointment Calendar to Schedule…”). We’ve also been specific about the outcome of a “conversation” (“Confirm Your Goals”). So, the initial action and the outcome of it are very clear. A bare “conversation” may be to vague or foreboding, but giving us some sense of what will happen replaces anxiety with excitement. We could further enhance the outcome (“Confirm Your Goals And Start Your New Career”) depending on our business model. Notice that “goals” is more vague but supporting it, with “start your new career”, gets to the brass tacks of the audience motivations. You’ll want to make some choices about what to keep and what to cut, to make your CTA brief and punchy, but you only make effective options for that if you’ve nailed down your priorities and processes.

Decide When/Where/How to Present Your CTAs

There are all kinds of options for HOW to present your calls to action:

  • Pull-quote. If one of your CTAs is “share our content”, you can get beyond simply tacking share buttons onto the top or bottom, by using pullquotes with a “click to tweet” or “click to pin it” type script. That seeds your content with actionable possibilities throughout. One motivator for people to act on this is that we all need content to share in our social channels.
  • Source-specific. You can implement a script to detect the source of an audience member (e.g. they came from Facebook or Twitter or a Google Search) and present a different CTA depending on that information. For instance, “Glad you found us on Twitter. Follow us on Facebook for insights we don’t share anywhere else!”
  • Form. The generic contact form reflects an unclear call to action. If you want people to register for a class, subscribe to your mailing list or RSS feed, or schedule an appointment, tailor the form accordingly.
  • Button/Link. Taking someone to another page to execute an action gives you an immediately measurable conversion action, but don’t automatically default to this if it’s not appropriate to what you want to achieve. Why click a button to go to a page with nothing but a form? If that’s all you’re doing, have the form appear INSTEAD of the button.

Likewise, WHERE you present your CTAs needs thought and planning:

  • Mid-page/post. You can present CTAs mid-article, interrupting the texts after about 250 words, or 500 in longer material. This might be a highlighted bit of text, or a button/link, or both.
  • Page/Post wrappers. A section that appears under the content of website pages and blog posts can be more effective than just finishing a piece of content with your copyright and footer. You can have a different wrapper for home page vs. secondary pages vs. blog posts. The more you tailor your CTAs to the user’s intention and likely frame of mind when interacting with your content, the better you are likely to convert.
  • Pop-up, slide-in, or welcome mat. These days ‘modals’ (those things that appear for a short time in front of a page) are getting smarter. Some detect “exit intent” (the visitor is about to leave – e.g. if the cursor begins to move rapidly from lower left to upper right of the browser – toward the X to close the tab) or appear only after a certain amount of time on the page. Some intrude very little (such as a box that slides in gently and eventually goes away or sits unobtrusively on the screen instead of a popup that physically interrupts the content and requires you to click to close it). A welcome mat is a page wrapper (a section of the home page) that appears only to first time visitors and disappears when they scroll; that lets you present your key CTA up front, for those who don’t need a presentation in order to take action. These modals can hold a form or text and a button or nearly any content you can put on a page somewhere.

Define and Measure Conversions

Mapping out the ENTIRE process of a customer’s interactions with our company, before, during, and after, can identify points of measurement for conversion. We still, however, need tools to measure behavior at each stage. Google analytics lets you set up conversion measurements, usually by either measuring how often people click through to a certain page (like a scheduling calendar or a contact page or a results page from a form) or with a script (e.g. to measure views of a given video, downloads, clicks to another website, etc). Most e-mail marketing tools (e.g. Mailchimp or MyEmma or MadMimi) have built in analytics to show which people opened, and which clicked a link (from a CTA) in the content. First, however, you must DEFINE what will constitute a conversion for you.

Again, it may not be as simple as “people who buy my stuff”. If you can account for each and every purchaser’s point of origin, then maybe that’s enough. But if you often don’t know exactly how someone found you, or the exact process by which they became a client, you need to think through it and plan out specific measurements. Likewise, if your website or e-mail cannot take them 100% of the way through the process, then you need to identify what constitutes a conversion for purposes of the website or e-mail. That allows you to measure any gaps between people who, for example, submit a form to initiate a buying process but then don’t complete the process for some reason. The point where we’re losing them might not be the website; it might be in between, and we need to change either our strategy for selling them once they complete a form or maintaining the relationship while we’re working on the sale.

Some companies will decide to measure buying signals as “soft conversions”. In other words, someone clicks through to your contact form and, regardless of whether or not they submit it, we know there was an intention to act or an impulse to consider it. That can tell us whether the content and call to action are effective. It’s a SEPARATE question whether they form page is effective at getting them to COMPLETE the task. If we consider completing the form a “hard conversion” (meaning we’ve taken them as far as the website or e-mail can take them) then we can measure what percentage of people soft convert that don’t hard convert. If there’s a significant gap, we may want to revise the form page.

You can see how strategizing your calls to action is more effective than relegating them to afterthought. If you’re putting 99% of your effort into crafting content, and barely any into the CTAs, the balance is off.

The opportunity cost of thinking through this process alone can be immense. Instead, reach out to MadPipe with your interest, and we’ll schedule an introductory consultation call to ensure it’s a fit for everyone. That way, you can move forward with confidence that your website content and e-mail marketing aren’t wasted.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership in marketing, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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