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Copywriting Tips: Avoid 6 Common Pitfalls With Your Call to Action

by Marcia Yudkin

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Published on this site: June 8th, 2011 - See more articles from this month



Whenever you’re writing promotional emails or web copy, you have a hidden – or not so hidden – agenda of what you’d like the reader to do. There’s a certain step you hope they’ll take after they finish reading. Perhaps it’s to opt in to your newsletter, call you for a free executive briefing or purchase your latest product. Whatever that desired next step is, you get far better results when you tell readers explicitly to take that step. Copywriters call this explicit direction a “call to action.”

For example:

  • For a free manual on 7 ways to get into the good graces of your prospective mother-in-law, sign up below.

  • We have 16 seats still available in our upcoming Branding Best Practices seminar. Reserve your spot today!

  • To find out whether or not your site actually needs a makeover, call 888-818-8118 and talk to one of our web messaging specialists now. There is no cost and no obligation.

With that definition and those examples, you have the basics regarding the call to action. Follow these guidelines to make sure you’re implementing this powerful copywriting element as effectively as possible.

  1. Explicitness: I once asked a corporate client what she wanted a certain email to accomplish. “To create awareness,” she replied. “And why are you hoping to create awareness?” I probed. “To increase sales,” she replied. “And what step could people take after reading this email that would take them closer to a purchase?” The client thought for a moment. “Download our BTD white paper,” she said. Aha – now we had the appropriate content for her call to action. Remember that every call to action should center on a verb, which represents the desired action. Never assume that if you offer great content readers “simply know” what you want them to do next.

  2. Short communications: In short communications, such as an opt-in box or an email that people do not need to scroll their computer screen to read, place the call to action at the very end. Don’t allow designers to violate this sequence in the name of a more visually interesting layout. After all, we read, then act. If you invite people to act, then read, they do not act.

  3. Long communications: In longer communications, such as a drawn out sales page or an email that requires paging down to read, include more than one call to action. The first might be around the end of the first screen. The second should always be at the end. You might also have a third call to action in the middle.

  4. Placement: We are trained by years of reading books that page from left to right and by the classic layout of print ads to expect an action button or link on the right half of what we are reading, not the left. Again, don’t let designers position the “Order Now” or other call to action where they think it looks most harmonious. You need it to be highly noticeable exactly where the viewer looks for it.

  5. Format: Email is a tricky communication medium because you can’t know whether recipients are reading your message on their smartphone, which only displays text, or on a company network that blocks all images. To be safe, always include a version of your call to action that a text-only customer can see and click, even when you hope and expect nearly everyone to be viewing your email in full-color, graphical complexity.

  6. Link meaningful words: In the early days of the Internet, the customary call to action everywhere online was “click here.” Not only does that now seem dated, it wastes an opportunity to earn search engine juice by hyperlinking a phrase that includes relevant keywords. For example, instead of writing “Get your free ‘7 Steps to Freelancing Success’ report. Click here,” with your link on the last two words, write “Get a free copy of ‘7 Steps to Freelancing Success.’ Download the freelancing report,” with your link on the last four words.



Marcia Yudkin: Veteran copywriter and marketing consultant Marcia Yudkin is the author of Persuading on Paper, Meatier Marketing Copy and 13 other books. Besides mentoring marketing departments in copywriting skills, she runs a one-on-one mentoring program that trains copywriters and marketing consultants in 10 weeks. Participants learn no-hype marketing writing skills and business savvy. For more information, go to http://www.yudkin.com/become.htm.

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