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How to Write a Strong Call to Action

by Virginia Nussey, May 15, 2009

Search ad, article, landing page — no matter where your copy is, a strong call to action improves the chance that a reader will go ahead and act. Writing an effective call to action requires that you pay attention to several things. The message has to be easy to find in the info-overload environment so common today. The writer has to connect with the audience's mind set. She needs to be clear about what it is the reader should do. And she has to use language that convinces the reader that it's the right thing to do.

Sound complicated? If you can remember that a great call to action makes a reader stop what he's doing and take the action you want, then you can remember the secrets to writing a winning call to action. In other words, if your call to action will STOP your reader in his tracks, then it's simple, tailored, obvious and persuasive.

Make It Simple

In the commotion of our modern world, a good call to action will cut through the noise because it's direct and clear. Cut out the guess work. Make sure the message is easy to understand. Use language that's not complicated and get straight to the point. A reader may be skimming your content or jumping between it and other tasks. When she comes back to your page or finishes scanning the text, a strong call to action will jump out to her because it's easy and simple. It doesn't require a second read through to understand and she knows the point of the message right away.

Keeping the call to action simple is not a recommendation that writers talk down to their audience or try to meet some lowest common denominator. The people who will read your copy are smart — and very busy. By making your call to action clear and easy to read, you're doing your reader a favor by saving her time and a measure of mental exhaustion. When she's swamped by work, when her attention is being divided among countless responsibilities, anything that makes life even a little easier is appreciated.

Make It Tailored

The best call to action will fit the reader's interests and their place in the conversion cycle. The first step is to get into the mind of your ideal audience, your market, the people who want what you got. Who is your customer and what motivates him? What is he looking for and how can you help? If you can speak to that demographic in the language they speak, your call to action will ring as relevant and genuine.

Once you're matching your copy to the audience's interests, you also want to tailor your call to action to their place in the conversion cycle. So if you're writing for an ecommerce site, you have to think about what part of the buying cycle you're writing for. Is the reader just becoming aware of your product? Is he gathering info or comparing different products? Maybe he's ready to buy? Depending on his intentions and what he's looking for on your page, your call to action will be different. If he's never heard of your product before, you may entice him to learn more. If he's checking out his options, you could ask him to compare products. If he's got his wallet out, he's looking for the cue to buy now!

Make It Obvious

Copywriters are good at painting flowery mental pictures with their words. And that's awesome! But not for a call to action. A strong call to action will make it extremely clear what it is you want the reader to do. Go ahead and lay out exactly what she should do, how she can do it and that she should do it right now. Forgo the metaphors, the pleasantries and maybe even the value proposition — save that for the rest of the copy. In the call to action, just give it to her straight; "click to buy now" may be just right!

At this point, the collective gasp of usability professionals and search engine optimizers is noted. Where's the descriptive, scannable, keyword-rich anchor text? Of course usability and search engine optimization should be factors in every decision you make when it comes to the text content of a page, ad or article. But crafting the most effective call to action is also a factor that should be considered. Studies have shown that links that say "click here" test better than links that don't. Most people don't mind doing things when they're explicitly told. Including several descriptors may be appropriate, but be careful not to bury the most vital part — a.k.a. the "do this now!" message.

Make It Persuasive

A call to action is an ideal time to use your powers of persuasion. Throughout the copy you probably included reasons why doing so-and-so will benefit the reader. Distill that message into your call to action as well. "Read this white paper and never wonder again!" "Get this product and fix that problem!" Keep in mind the reader's motivation for reading your message to begin with, and play to those needs and desires. Explain how doing what you want him to do will make his life a little easier. Use language that's urgent and active, and use concrete details to help the reader picture himself taking that action.

The reader may also be convinced to take action through special offers, upgrades or time limits. If a deal will expire, if prices are going up soon, if he can get a free trial or a bonus gift if he orders now, it could mean the difference between a conversion and a consideration. More offers that might seal the deal include introductory periods, online-exclusives, upgrades and free supplies or accessories. And again, use language that implies action now. "Let us know when you're ready" won't cut it. "Call now for a free gift with purchase" stands a much better chance to convert.

Life is hectic and demanding. Everyone could use some help to relieve some of the burden. Good products and services are made available every day with the hopes that they can make things a little easier. Similarly, the copywriting that tells people about those products and services has a chance to lessen the load as well. Both the reader and the copywriter benefit from a strong call to action: the reader may find a solution to a problem and the copywriter may help their employer get that conversion. But to deliver that message to its intended audience, a simple, tailored, obvious and persuasive call to action must lead the way.

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