If you’ve ever taken a marketing class, or read a marketing book that deals with any level of ‘direct response’ marketing, then you’ve come across the phrase ‘call to action’. It’s the idea that in order to make marketing or advertising effective, you must tell your audience what step you want them to take next.

However, I believe that online, there are really two types of call-toaction. This article clarifies both, and explains when and how to use them.

Two types of calls to action

In the general sense, a ‘call to action’ is an instruction. When a TV infomercial says “pick up the phone now to order” – that’s a call to action. When a car dealership sends you a flyer encouraging you to ‘come to our showroom for a test drive’ that’s a call to action. In the same way, we use calls to action on websites to instruct and direct visitors what to do next. The first type of call to action is what I call a ‘signpost’. In other words, it’s a navigation tool, literally telling a site visitor what to click next. A signpost call to action is often as simple as a “click here for more” or “next” link at the bottom of a page. Graphically the call to action should look like the logical click. For that reason, I sometimes call it the best next click. An ‘offer’ is a little different than a signpost. Many companies use some sort of ‘teaser offer’ to capture name and contact information of prospective customers. (In this article, we’ll discuss that rather than product purchase offers based on a discount, etc.)

Creating Signposts

Signposts are fairly easy to create. They can be as generic as “Next” or “More” links at the bottom of each page. Often though, it’s better to be more specific about what visitors will see when they click on your desired link, something like “Find out how we ” or “Learn more about __”.

Creating Effective Offers for Lead Generation

Creating effective offers is a little trickier than signposts. I have found that there are three rules to follow to craft these types of offers for your website.

  • You offer must have high perceived value to the visitor. Ideally, it would be something that they’d actually be willing to pay for. A bite sized portion of your product or service, often fulfills this criteria. A good guide to ensure that your offer really does have value is that it should actually be useful/helpful/desirable whether or not the recipient decides to buy your services.
  • It must be cost effective for you to deliver. Now, ‘cost effective’ is a subjective term. You have to decide whether for your particular business that means $10, $1, or even free.
  • It should further qualify your visitor. Meaning that it should really only be of interest to someone that’s actually interested in your products and services.
  • What I mean is – if I enter your prize draw to win a laptop, then all you know about me is that I’m interested in winning a laptop – if you’re selling day spa services, real estate, or resume editing services, that doesn’t do you much good. Instead offer something that is only of interest to those that are interested in your services.

A few years ago, it was fairly common to see prize draws on the web – enter your email address for a chance to win a big screen TV, Palm Pilot, Hawaii vacation, whatever. You don’t see many of these types of offers anymore because the nature of the prize doesn’t qualify the visitor.

A CPA might offer a free review of last year’s tax return; a software company might offer a free demo, etc. Free information such as ‘how to’ guides and directories, and free samples and demos all tend to fit this description.

The text that the CPA uses to describe the whitepaper is the actual call to action. You have some decisions to make about what will make the most effective call to action – here understanding your target audience pays off. The CPA could say “download a free whitepaper on lowering your taxes” or the same offer could be phrased “receive your free report of the top 25 tips the IRS doesn’t want you to know”. Obviously the two variations of this offer feel a little different.

Here are a few steps that should help you to identify your own offer:

  • Brainstorm a possible list of offers.
  • Keeping in mind the characteristics of your target audience, review each of your ideas against the 3 criteria above – which appears to be the best match?

Your next task is to describe your offer in the most compelling (and brief) language possible.

  • Write a couple of sentences describing what your offer is.
  • Now condense your sentences to craft a 5-8 word ‘headline’ to describe your offer. (Use this as the actual call to action to drive your site visitors to the offer page.)

Mat Greenfield

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