How to Write a Compelling Call-to-Action

21 August, 2012

How many small business owners are wondering how to get their website/blog/social networks/email campaign/flyer to turn into actual sales?

Once you’ve captured your readers’ attention, are they doing what you want them to do? If the answer is no, then chances are you haven’t asked them. A call to action is one of the most critical parts of your marketing message, and if you’re neglecting to include it, or doing it wrong, then you’re wasting a valuable lead. One that may never return.

It’s a bit like washing the dishes. Or taking out the rubbish. There’s no point in getting confused or upset because it hasn’t been done, when you haven’t asked for it to be done. Tell your readers exactly what you want them to do, and that you want them to do it right now.

An effective call to action is the single most successful way to convert leads into paying customers.

Here’s how:

1. Have an objective

What action would you like the reader to take? Have clear goals around what you want to achieve for each of your marketing messages. For example, do you want them to sign up for your newsletter, register for a free trial, or join an online class.

2. Be obvious

Your marketing material is not the place to beat about the bush. Don’t expect your readers to know what to do. They lead busy lives and don’t always have time to think about what comes next. Connect the dots for them, clearly and unmistakeably.

3. State the benefit

Marketing rules apply. Find out what makes your offer special and different and incorporate it into your call to action. Answering the question “What’s in it for me?” Pick the most critical benefit and highlight how it can make your reader smarter or better. Be specific. Instead of saying tips to increase your leads, you can promise to double your leads in 30 days. Remember, we’re not as logical as we think we are. Our main motivation is emotional. Our rational mind kicks in later.

4. Use verbs

The first thing to consider when crafting a catchy call to action is the opening verb you will use, keeping it short, strong and to the point, eg download, call, buy. We read from left to right, and many skimmers don’t make it to the right hand side of the page, so make sure the verb is at the beginning of the sentence.

5. Squash concerns

Allay fears up front by letting your audience know that signing up/contacting you/downloading the ebook will not lead to spam/cost any money/take a lot of time.

6. Be confident – but don’t command

If you speak with confidence and authority, your audience will have confidence to take action. Stand behind what you say. An example of a confident call to action might be “Everything you need to know about converting leads” or “The only conversion guide you’ll ever need”.

7. Be snappy

The attention span of the average customer is less than it takes to boil an egg. You literally have seconds to convince potential customers that they are about to miss out on the best opportunity of their lives. As a general rule, between 90 and 150 characters is good.

8. Use language your audience understands

Don’t use clever marketing jargon that will bore or confuse your audience. Write in the words your customers actually use. It might not make your high school English teacher happy, but your readers will appreciate it.

9. Be urgent

People are extremely motivated to take action out of a concern for missing out. Using words like ‘now’ and ‘today’ adds a sense of urgency that prompts the reader to act sooner. For example: “Act now to take part in this limited-time offer”, Hurry, only a few seats left for this exclusive event”, or “Call within the next 5 minutes to get the product at half price.”

 10. Be clever

Don’t be boring in your language. Use humour or a play on words to pique your audience’s attention and get them emotionally involved.

11. Include numbers

Statistics are a great way to impress people and cut through the clutter. Mention a specific discount, a % increase in sales, the impact of a particular event: “93% of our customers claim that…” Use this to lead into your call to action.

12. Be design-savvy

When designing, make your call to action statements bold and easy to see. Use a larger font size or different colour; use a graphic, use white space. When placing your call to action on a web page, stay above the fold.

13. Test & measure

An often neglected part of the process but perhaps the most vital one:

  1. Compare your call to action with similar marketing materials from your competitors. This will give you a good idea of what your target audience responds to.
  2. Send (and resend) your campaign materials changing only one item at a time so that you can identify the winning mechanism. If for example you make changes to your call to action text, don’t also change your font sizes or colours.

An effective call to action prompts the audience to take action through the value it expresses, and is essential for converting leads. Spend as much time, invest as much money and conduct as much testing as necessary to ensure your call to action, and the text leading into it, is the most effective it can be.

Keep it short, to the point, action-oriented and focused on benefits. Test and measure then try again. Don’t give up.


Robyn Young - Personal Leadership Branding for Executives

About the Author

Robyn Young

As a personal leadership branding strategist, Robyn Young helps individuals identify and articulate their unique strengths, values and goals, empowering them to build an authentic personal brand that resonates with their stakeholders.

Robyn has a keen eye for aligning personal attributes with professional aspirations, helping her clients project a powerful and compelling image in their chosen field.