You may not know what a call to action is, but chances are you have come across them countless times in your life; in magazines, emails, newsletters, comics, throughout the internet, on TV, they're literally everywhere. A call to action is a very basic marketing and advertising tool, and its goal is to direct potential customers on what to do or how to act next. Lets say, for example, that you have just read a descriptive email-newsletter on the benefits of a particular new pet food, the text tells you all about it and extols its many virtues; it's safe to say that you are informed.
But the company who sent you the newsletter, presumably an online pet store, does not want you to simply be informed, they want you to buy some. A call to action is the means by which an advertisement entices its audience into ordering or subscribing to their subject matter; usually with an interactive area or button with a phrase like 'Buy Here', Click Here To Order', 'Shop Now', etc.
Many people may feel uncomfortable using a call to action, as they think it is aggressive or that it comes over as rude, but in actual fact it is nothing more than a direction, it is no more or less aggressive than a road sign telling you to turn left here. A call to action is an essential part of online marketing, and if you go without utilising them you will only be losing out to those that do.
A call to action, like all directions, needs to be sharp and clear; there cannot be any misunderstanding or hesitation. Referring back to the pet food example, a call to action needs is essentially like “look how amazing this food will be for your dog. It has this, and this and this; it's awesome right? Yeah it is! BUY IT NOW!!!”. If you do not direct the reader you will just leave them thinking “that does sound like good dog food... I wonder what's happening on Facebook”, and all the excitement, interest and enthusiasm that has built up quickly dissipates.
Create A Sense Of Urgency – It doesn't matter if it's a limited time offer or if the product has been and still will be there for another year at the exact same price, it is important to create a sense of urgency so that consumers are encouraged to place an order sooner rather than later.
Keep It Short & Sweet – A call to action is not an argument, it does not need to do any persuading or enticing, that should already have been done. Something snappy is all you need, anything longer than 5 words and there is no sense of urgency
Place It High On The Page – It doesn't matter if it's an email or a website, a good deal of people will not scroll down past what they can see when the page first opens. A call to action needs to be visible, as if it cannot be seen it cannot do its job, so it is important that it is kept as high up on the page as possible.
Emphasise It – A call to action needs to grab and hold the reader's attention. It needs to be big, bold, unmissable and unforgetable. Colour is a good way of making a call to action button stand out, so use contrasting colours or hues that are not used anywhere else on the page, newsletter or email.
Make It Unique Content – You cannot look to the left whilst you're looking to the right, so there is no point having more than one call to action present at time as all it will do is cause hesitation and confusion. Remember, you do not want the potential customer to have to make a decision, if they have to choose between one or the other they can just as easily choose neither.
A call to action is a must for any website, without them there is nothing to attract and draw visitors any further in than the landing page. Calls to action have been used for years, and the reason why is that they are effective, so make sure you are using them to their full effect; not just on emails and banners, but also on social media, your site's meta-information, on product-orientated posts, and just about anywhere else that you can think of.