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Six Essential Strategies for Crafting a Compelling Call to Action

Business is, in many ways, a lot like life. Take, for example, the compelling call to action. In life, you generally have to ask someone to do something if you want to make sure that it gets done. Sure, you can sit and hope that your kids will clear the table after dinner, or that your husband will get off the couch and take the garbage out — but typically, it’s just not going to get done unless you specifically (and perhaps assertively) ask for it to get done!

That’s how it works in business, too. Your small business may need people to buy its products, sign up for its e-mail list, or like its Facebook page. Whatever the specific task, if it’s something that needs to get done, then it’s something you need to ask for. Trusting consumers or clients to do what you want them to do, without ever pausing to request their action, is simply not a winning strategy.

Enter the  Compelling Call to Action — one of the most significant components of your business writing and marketing campaigns. On blogs, Facebook posts, even the pages of your company website, a call to action is invaluable. The call to action is where you tell your clients what you want them to do, and entice them to do it. So if you want something to get done, crafting a compelling call to action is of the essence!

Actually crafting that kind of engaging, enticing call to action, meanwhile, can be tricky. It’s not like there’s a magic formula to will people to do your bidding, nor is there a blueprint that always works, without fail.

That said, there are a few tried and true techniques that tend to result in effective calls to action. Here are six tips that are utterly invaluable.

  1. Start with the words themselves. In particular, start with the subject and the verb — the words that explain, in a nutshell, what it is you want people to do. It’s important that your call to action have good subjects and verbs, but it’s likewise important that you position them properly on the page. Remember that many Web readers are not really readers at all, but rather they are skimmers. Your call to action must be skimmable, then, if you want it to affect the most people. Skimmers will start at the left of the page — where any English reader starts, really — so you need to have your subject and verb loaded at the front of your sentence.
  1. About those Remember that a verb is an action word — and what you’re writing here is a compelling call to action. Naturally, the verb is pretty important! Don’t use helping verbs, which seem weak or inactive; use strong, action-oriented verbs. Examples include buy, join, contact, like, and so forth.
  2. Try to include some statistics or numbers. Your call to action is, in a sense, sales copy — but you’ve got to have some figures to back it up. If you can provide meaningful numbers, they’ll entice people to click your link or buy your product with greater confidence. People will notice numbers, and they will respond to them!
  3. Adverbs are not particularly helpful. Statistics have found that verbs are the words that get the most clicks, the most Facebook likes, and the most Twitter shares. Adverbs, however, are generally not effective at all. Words like “highly” or “extremely” are amateur-ish and non-specific, and are generally best left out of a call to action. Remember that a call to action needs to cut right to the chase — so any words that are superfluous are ultimately hurting your content.
  4. Your call to action should be very, very brief. People don’t want to have to read paragraph after paragraph of text in order to figure out what you want them to do. Brevity is key — and in fact, you should keep it to somewhere between 90 and 200 characters, if at all possible. If you’re not great at writing succinctly, get on Twitter for some practice.
  5. A good call to action is practical, not technical. This tip gets at the heart of what a good call to action really is. This isn’t where you explain your methods, or go into detail about the strategies you employ. Your call to action is where you spell out the benefits you can offer to clients. It’s where you explain why they should do what you’re telling them to do. Make it about the immediate benefits to them, not about your own internal processes.

Calls to action are always a little different, and working too closely from a “template” is probably unwise. These general rules of thumb are battle-tested, however, and should point you in the general direction when it comes time to construct a truly engaging, effective call to action!

Rich Gorman is direct response marketer and reputation management expert. He operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.

Photo: L. Bo on Flickr

Susan Guillory

Susan Guillory is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, a content marketing firm based in San Diego. She’s written several business books, and frequently blogs about small business and marketing on sites including Forbes, AllBusiness, and Cision. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.

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