call to action

Calling to the next action

Calling to the next action

September 04th, 2013 – 16 Comments

Every website needs a a proper call-to-action. Since I wrote the first version of that post in 2012, we have often been referring to that same post. It seems very hard to add focus on a homepage, somehow. I might be going out on a limb here, but I also think theme developers should design with this in mind. A lot of themes are designed to clutter a page with widgets and buttons that totally reduce focus on the main items on a page. I really do not want to mention image sliders without decent call-to-actions here ;-)

Let us agree that a homepage needs a great call-to-action. Now that you have a visitor clicking that main button or link on your homepage, you should really think of what happens next. The visitor lands on a second page. One of your goals is met, you prevented a bounce. Now you need to convert that visitor into a customer or subscriber.

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Every page has a call-to-action

Although a call-to-action is very important on a homepage, of course there could, or perhaps should, be a call-to-action on every page of your website. The contact form has a call-to-action, of course. A quote form in the sidebar has a call-to-action. Buttons for your own products, like in our sidebar, have or even are call-to-actions.

For every page on your website, you should decide if there is a call-to-action related to the content of that page, or that the content is solely for informational purposes and that call-to-action should be to achieve something else.

Lets go over a number of call-to-actions you might encounter while going over your website:

Product page

Product page call-to-action This should be the obvious one. Every product page needs an Add to Cart or Buy Now call-to-action. That button, as in most cases this is a button, needs to stand out, is usually accompanied by an ‘amount’ select box and is present on all shops, otherwise the shop is merely a catalogue.

In my experience, eCommerce shops tend to cram all kind of things around that button:

  • Social share buttons;
  • way too large size options (people will find these anyway);
  • related products;
  • color options.

I am sure you can come up with more clutter like this. Don’t get me wrong: these items should be available, I just highly doubt they really need to take focus away from the Add to Cart button. Just make them a lot smaller than the call-to-action and / or locate them a bit further away from that button.

The image above is an extreme example of a designer trying a minimal approach. One of the main reasons I really dislike it, is because I actually had to scroll to see the ‘Add to shopping bag’ button. I would create a block with all the options, but choose the right form elements to reduce clutter, keep the form options short and compact and focus on the important stuff. A select list for color, a select list for size, some Ajax to make sure only available stock is shown.

I think that would be my main show stopper, by the way. Seeing the product I want, clicking to a product page and landing on a page that says ‘out of stock’ instead of ‘order now’. At least give me some alternatives, but rather tell me when it will be available again (approximately) and maybe even give me an option to reserve the item.

Quick Quote or Contact form

Quick Quote FormOne out of twenty (non-shop) sites we review has a form in a sidebar to ‘Request a quick quote’, or ‘Quick contact’, like the one on the right. Now slap me silly and call me Susan, but if I have to fill in all these fields, that is not a quick contact to me. Let’s be honest, what do you really need to know? Email and name, perhaps? Just ask that.

Now I recently had a discussion with a site review customer that shed a different light on this. The customer in question pointed out that the form was intentionally a bit longer to filter the entries. In his opinion, people that were willing to fill in the extra fields were more likely to become serious customers. If there are just a few fields, it’s too easy to fill in the form and hit ‘Send’.

This is of course a matter of quality over quantity. And it is related to the product or service at hand as well, but he certainly had a good point here.

This does not imply the form on the right is the form I would prefer. Why split up first and last name? Why ask email address and telephone number? Even a form that asks for more details can be more focussed than this.

Besides that, the Send button is also a not really appealing. ‘Send’ feels just a lot less right than ‘Please contact me!’. That will also enlarge the button to make it stand out more.

Text on your call-to-action

When thinking about button texts, there are a few things that are important:

  1. First of all, you need to be sure you’re using an active voice. An active voice is action oriented, and thus literally calls people to action. And that’s exactly what you want. Make people want to click your button!
  2. Make sure your button text is specific for what people are doing. ‘Send’ is just too generic. Use something like “Sign up!” for a newsletter, or “Contact us” for a contact form. The text has to explain what the button will do.
  3. Use small and simple words. You need to keep your button text as simple as possible. People have to immediately understand what it means.
  4. Lastly, creating urgency can really convince people to click your call-to-action. You can do this by, for instance, having limited time offers or by telling people how your product can help them or solve their problems now. This can even be a text next to your call-to-action.

But just like Frank Luntz put on the cover of his book Words That Work: “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” So you definitely need to test whether all these tips will actually work for you. There’s no guarantee that what has worked for us, or any other company, will work for you.

Contact details

If the main goal of your website is getting in touch with potential buyers, the main concern on the website is to make it absolutely clear how you can be reached. List your phone number and please don’t be afraid to be a bit bold:

Phone number

This works in more than one way:

  • In a responsive design, the telephone number can be inserted right below the logo, so the mobile visitor can get in touch right away;
  • even if people do not click it, the very presence of it makes that a visitor is confident you can be reached in case of any problems, lowering barriers to buy at your online shop;
  • of course people will be able to call you without the hassle of turning your website inside out to find your phone number;
  • a local number might stimulate local buyers to buy at your place.

Regarding that last one, former review customer Peninsula Air Conditioning, told us that the general 1300 number did not emphasize enough that it is a local business and customers had actually told him that. Changing to the local number, created recognition and increased trust in the website.

Of course they created a secondary, textual call-to-action right below the local number, to assure visitors from other cities than Sydney, that the company could still help with their air conditioning needs.

It’s a nice example that the call-to-action does not always need to be something you can click.

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Subscribe to newsletter

The last example I would like to mention in this post is the Subscribe to Newsletter option. Again, you really only need an email address for that. Even if you would really want more details, you can always ask for these later.

The subscribe to newsletter call-to-action can be on every page, below every post or after every check out page. The main difference with the contact or quote form mentioned above is that it is a lot less clear what the consequences are. It’s quite clear that filling out a contact form leads to the company contacting you.

The newsletter subscription might result in an email a day or once per fortnight. It might be an email listing just excerpts of posts on a website, or it might be something ‘extra’ for subscribers. Being clear on what’s going to happen after subscribing, reduces the barriers to trust you with my email address. Making clear that you will not send any spammy emails also helps a great deal, for obvious reasons.

In conclusion

All in all, there are many call-to-actions to be defined after that one on the homepage. And these are equally important. I am sure you have forgotten these on projects. I am even more sure your customers can not always be convinced of the need for that second call-to-action. They might be too modest, or they focus on a matching design way to much. Blending in a call-to-action is never the right choice.

Enlighten me with your thoughts on this in the comments below. I’d love to see some examples of great call-to-action as well, but please pleasure me with designs gone wrong. There are plenty of those out there!

Read more: ‘eCommerce SEO checklist’ »

16 Responses to Calling to the next action

  1. Carolyn
    By Carolyn on 1 October, 2013

    Thanks for the great tips. I am currently redesigning my site and will definitely use your call to action tips.

  2. Lakhyajyoti
    By Lakhyajyoti on 12 September, 2013

    Another interest post. Surely I’ll follow your advices and very soon I’ll redesigned my website. Thanks for the share.

  3. Rana Irfan
    By Rana Irfan on 9 September, 2013

    Nice tips dear
    I have of topic question.
    I face Duplicate title tags problem but I could not solve this prolem. please help me in this regards:
    These are only one post but i found two URL in same post. how i can I remove one URL.
    Please help me thanks.

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 9 September, 2013

      Hi Rana,

      The utm stuff is an ‘extra’. It’s the exact same page, also for Google (check the canonical URL or Google itself and you will find only the original page). So please do not worry – there is no problem.

  4. Ted Forbes
    By Ted Forbes on 9 September, 2013

    Not only do you make the best plugins – you give great advice and training… thanks for being one of the best WP resources around!

  5. Raw Hasan
    By Raw Hasan on 8 September, 2013

    Hi Michiel,

    In my Bangladeshi travel company’s official website, I have a blog section where I write all the necessary information about traveling Bangladesh. I write many posts about which tourist site is open on which date and time, where to find good food, etc. etc. in my blog. I used to have my company’s hotline number displayed in big size on the top of every page of my site. What used to happen was, every one just picking up the phone and asking me, is the zoo open tomorrow? Do you have German whiskey on stock?? (I’ve written a post about where to buy alcohol from in Bangladesh which is currently ranking #1) Is this Hazir Biriani (a famous restaurant where they sell a very famous food)?

    Things got sometimes hard for me. So much so, when someone asked me to let him know after inquiring myself, is the zoo will be open tomorrow for sure or not, and I refused to let him know instead of finding the information himself from the post which is clearly written in the post, and he was asking me why I was getting paid if I can’t give him the information, and I was asking him who was paying me, it was impossible for me not to shut-down my website! So what I at least done was, removing that phone no from the top of every page, and leaving it to the “contact us” page only. Not only that, I had a link to our “contact us” page in a call-to-action end of every post of this kind asking them to contact us if they want a guided city tour. I also remove these “contact us” page links from all of the blog pages. Now I can at least take a nap in the afternoons and no one disturbs me asking if the zoo is open tomorrow!

    So displaying your phone no in bold and emphasizing it in top of your pages will not ALWAYS be a good idea! Sometime you need to hide it too!! :)

  6. Ruairi Phelan
    By Ruairi Phelan on 7 September, 2013

    I need to start to re-think my website is designed and space used. Some great advice here.



  7. Sajid
    By Sajid on 7 September, 2013

    Nice tips to implement on Contact page and it can indeed help in great conversions…Thanks a lot.

  8. Alfred Beiley
    By Alfred Beiley on 5 September, 2013

    Nice tips regarding call to action. I forgot to implement these points in my website. I will do it soon for my website. Thanks for this informative post.

  9. Rod Marchant-Smith
    By Rod Marchant-Smith on 5 September, 2013

    Hi Michiel,

    Thanks for the honourable mention! :)
    What I also didn’t realise at the time about the 1300 number is that although it’s a local call rate for landlines it isn’t for mobiles. And 95%+ of all our clients call us using a mobile number, so we were in effect costing them money. This may just be an Aussie situation, but here calls on a mobile to 1300 numbers do not fall under the ‘all calls to landlines are free’ part of your mobile contract. Oops…!


    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 5 September, 2013

      Nice addition indeed. It is never just the button that is the call-to-action, right :)

  10. Jordie van Rijn
    By Jordie van Rijn on 4 September, 2013

    Hi Michiel,

    Often things we think are pretty obvious might actually hurting your subscription / conversion rate. I dug up an article that shows a case with changes in the privacy policy text of an email subscription form.

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 4 September, 2013

      Like the article, thanks. But still wondering, would it just be the word ‘spam’ that causes the decrease in conversion there.

      Perhaps this is some yedi mind-trick: just don’t mention ‘spam’. Kind of like the pink elephant (as in don’t think of a pink elephant – and you do).

      Nice addition to the article, thanks!

  11. Jordie van Rijn
    By Jordie van Rijn on 4 September, 2013

    Hi Michiel,

    I like that you start off saying the homepage needs a clear CTA and less clutter, that should be a consideration in design.

    But as an emailmarketer I can say that in the part about newsletters: “Making clear that you will not send any spammy emails also helps a great deal, for obvious reasons.” You are totally assuming.

    From experience and testing i found that trust statements like “We hate spam as much as you do”, “we take your privacy seriously”, “already 75,000 subscribers” or showing an example newsletter can either help or hinder. So it’s not so obvious.

    Mentioning the word spam is usually not a good idea. So it might be good idea for Yoast, to test your form without the “No spam, we promise”.

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 4 September, 2013

      Thanks for your comment, Jordie. I would love to read your post about that, assuming you did write one, of course.

      You are spot on, I think it is pretty obvious a proper message stating one will not use the email address for other purposes than the newsletter helps. As with the button text, I am very sure the nature of the message also matters. Perhaps my blunt statement triggered your comment?

      But again, love to read more about that study you did!

  12. Ivica
    By Ivica on 4 September, 2013

    Thx guys, very good advices. I admit it (“my sin”) that I wasn’t paying enough attention on some of mentioned CTA’s, but I’ll change that, for sure :-)

    Best regards, Ivica

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