The Definitive Guide to Crafting Winning Calls to Action in Your Content

Every piece of content that you publish should have some kind of call to action. One common misconception that comes up is the question: What if I'm trying to avoid the hard sell?
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If you've recently launched a content marketing initiative for your business, you've probably learned that there are many things to focus on. Generating topic ideas, getting the writing done, finding compelling graphics and videos and facts to back up your materials, and identifying places to post your content takes a great deal of effort. You'll likely hit new milestones in your own productivity and creativity along the way. But once you sit back and observe (and hopefully measure) the success of your efforts, you're likely going to be asking yourself one critical question.

Did this content convert prospects into customers?

One of the most important keys to successfully converting prospects into customers and moving leads along the sales funnel with your content is through your calls to action. Let's take a closer look at calls to action, why you need them, and how to make sure that you're using the most compelling calls you possibly can.

What is a call to action?

A call to action is a clear statement - usually at the end of a piece of content - that directly and simply tells the reader what you want them to do next. A call to action can ask reader to make a purchase, sign up for a newsletter, share the content on their social media channels, or download or read additional content. Other calls to action might be much more specific, such as entering a contest, registering for a conference, or asking friends to help promote a specific event.

For example, the following is a common example of what you might see at the end of a general article about lawn care. "If you're interested in learning more about keeping your lawn green during the hottest parts of summer, contact one of our lawn care consultants to discuss your needs and set up a complimentary yard evaluation." This example does many things right. It reminds the reader about the issue and benefit that brought them to the article, and it spells out what they need to do next to deepen their relationship with the author and their company.

The cardinal sin of calls to action

People often ask me about improving their calls to action. We have in-depth discussions about writing strong copy, testing different offers, including benefits, and more. We'll take a closer look at those important topics below. But it might surprise you to find out that the single biggest issue with calls to action is actually far simpler. By far, the biggest problem with calls to action is that most content doesn't include one in the first place.

Let's quickly revisit what we outlined above. Investing in and committing to a content development strategy is no small undertaking. It requires hours of strategy planning, data mining, content creation, content dissemination, and ROI measurement. Yet this one small thing is often the key to turning your effort into a profitable endeavor that attracts leads and drives conversions.

Every piece of content that you publish should have some kind of call to action. One common misconception that comes up is the question: What if I'm trying to avoid the hard sell? It's a fair question. The good news is that calls to action go way beyond just demanding that the reader purchase your products or services. In fact, my personal perspective is that the best content engages, entertains, inspires, educates, and informs your audience. If you establish your expertise, then sales and other business benefits will naturally follow.

But that doesn't mean that it's not important to guide your reader to the next logical step in the conversation that you're building with them. This can be done in a variety of ways - including subtle ones that don't feel like a hard sell at all - but it should always be done. It's also worth noting that your target conversion isn't always a sale. Many businesses work with a much more complex set of conversions and business goals. Everything from downloading an app to giving an email address may be critical to the business' bottom line. Bearing in mind your broader conversion ecosystem will open up a much wider variety of potential calls to action.

Different kinds of calls to action

As I alluded to in the last section, there are a wide variety of conversions, and therefore, calls to action, that have value for your business. What's important to keep in mind is that these types of calls to action can be bucketed by the general business goal they're trying to accomplish. Here's a quick look at the different categories of call to action that are worth keeping in mind when you're evaluating your content.

The engagement call to action: An engagement call to action focuses on getting readers to take simple actions to help promote your content or share their thoughts. Some common ones include:

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The "driving to other content" call to action: In more complex content strategies, content is often acting as a gateway to other pieces of content. Therefore, sometimes your calls to action simply drive the reader to other things you've created.

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The sign up/lead capture call to action: Many calls to action are focused at getting more in-depth information about prospects such as email address or lead generation information including more detailed contact information.

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The lead nurturing call to action: Lead nurturing is a process of consciously moving your prospect along the sales funnel. This isn't that different than moving your reader to a related piece of content, except that it's less random. In this instance, you're not simply driving the reader deeper into your content but rather architecting an experience that's driving them toward the sale.

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The sales oriented call to action: Depending on your content, your prospect may be ready to buy. Calls to action can also include driving the reader toward making a purchase.

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Auditing your existing content

For each piece of content that you write, take the time to map out your specific goals. If you tie your goal and content to where in the buying cycle you expect the reader to be, you'll be able to create a call to action that compels them to the right next step.

There's a good chance that you're concerned your calls to action may not be as strong as they could be, especially for content that you've written in the past. I always recommend a call to action revamp start with a closer look at your existing content assets. Ask yourself:

  • Does this content have a call to action?
  • Is the call to action clear and concise?
  • Is the call to action appropriate to the audience reading it?
  • Where am I driving them? Is that page optimized to make the most of this opportunity?
  • What's my business goal with this content, and does the call to action support it?
  • Have I mapped out a broader roadmap for my content, and does this content do its job of supporting that broader journey?

Once you've gone through and improved your existing content, you can now turn your attention to the future and make a great call to action a piece of every content that you write.

The role of testing

A/B testing - or split testing - is one of the most powerful weapons in an online marketer's arsenal. Specifically, it's what allows you to get real time feedback from customers and prospects on what's working. Based on that information, can you refine and improve your content. As part of a process of continuous innovation, you can hone your copy so that it's as optimized as possible.

When you're split-testing your site, many things vie for attention. Headlines, color schemes, design elements, and core benefits are often the focus of split testing. Don't forget to test your calls to action. From different calls to subtle tweaks in language, optimizing your call to action can have a huge impact on your content's conversion rates.

The role of design

Calls to action aren't just about content. There's often a design element as well. This has to do with layouts, bolding or other font changes, links, and design elements like buttons, arrows, and highlighting. The psychology of design and calls to action is worth a piece in its own right. For now, I'll keep my advice simple: don't forget to look closely at the experience your design is creating.

  • Is your call to action prominent?
  • Does the design or layout draw your eye to the call to action?
  • Is it apparent and easy to take the next step - easy to find the link or click on the button?
  • Is your design/call to action synergy optimized for different devices? Are your buttons easily clickable on mobile devices, for example?

Writing your best calls to action

Finally, there are some basic writing tips that can help you create more compelling calls to action. If your strategy, offer and design are in place, refining your copy is the final step to a great call to action. In the end, there are four elements of any action, and you can improve your conversion rate by incorporating each of the four elements into every call to action. Here are some tips that I've personally found useful in my own work and when helping clients optimize their closing copy.

  • Do you use simple, clear language? This is not the place to be verbose. Write like you talk, and make sure that every word serves the end goal.
  • Use active language. Strong verbs and short sentences are usually appropriate.
  • Use power words. Copywriter John Carlton is famous for his "Power Words" report. The gist is simple. Which verb creates a stronger picture in your mind in the following context: he "ran" down the street or he "rocketed" down the street? Do you want a potential date to "seem interested in you" or "to hang on your every word, as if you were the most fascinating person they'd ever met?"
  • Talk directly to your prospect. Use "you" if possible.
  • Remind the prospect about the issue or problem that brought them to your site in the first place. "If you're ready to solve your weight problem once and for all..."
  • Clearly promote the benefits and tell the reader what's in it for them if they take that next step.

Calls to action are usually a small piece of your content when taken word for word. But I'd argue that they're as potentially important as your headline in getting the maximum value from your content. Do you follow a specific strategy when writing your calls to action? Let me know in the comments below.

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