A website is an investment for any business or organization.  As a business owner, you can put quite a bit of time and resources into building a website that looks great, loads quickly, and yet be underwhelmed by the results.  As a web designer, I often see a critical setup skipped early in the planning phase web design projects: The call to action

Imagine you are a website visitor.  This shouldn’t be much of a stretch since you most likely are one several times a day.  You land on a page, and what determines what you do next?  Perhaps you have a specific goal in mind; you’ve visited the website of your wireless provider so you can take a look at your teenage daughter’s data usage on her phone (yikes). Hopefully, the site’s navigation is clear and intuitive, allowing you to find that information quickly.

Your existing customers are on your site for specific reasons and are likely looking for specific information.  What you may be missing out on are visitors who are not yet your customer.  They’re not looking for a specific piece of information.  They may have no idea what they are looking for unless you tell them.  You must present options to such a visitor, and those options are based on your sales funnel.

As I mentioned earlier, determining your call to action should be done during the planning phase of your web design project.  That’s not to say that all hope is lost if you are looking at this later, but you may end up having to redo some of the work that you’ve already done.

What Are Your Objectives

Your objectives are going to change from company to company, or industry to industry.  If you’re a car dealership, your goals are probably to sell more cars, lease more cars, and increase the amount of revenue generated by your service department.  If you’re a nursing home, your goal is most likely to attract new residents to live in your facility.  A software company wants to sell more software, and a college or university wants to increase enrollment.

If we look at these examples, we can start our planning.  Some of these objectives may be fairly straightforward, while others are not. It’s a fair bit easier to sell someone a $49 piece of software than it is to sell a college education.  It’s easier to get someone to come into your shop for an oil change than it is to get them to buy a new car.  This is why we should carefully plan our sales funnel.

Planning the Sales funnel.

You may not be able to sell someone a car on your website, but the goal is to move them one step closer from casual visitor to paying customer (and hopefully to word-of-mouth advertiser).  We should think about what steps can be taken with lower risk for a potential customer.  We may get a lot of tire-kickers, but who knows; maybe one of them would buy. If we look at the examples from earlier, we can determine a few possible entry points into the sales funnel.  Remember; at this point, it is about establishing a relationship between the potential customer and your company.  We’re not going to win by swinging for the fences on every pitch.

Car Dealership:  We can increase sales and leases by encouraging people to come for a test drive.

Nursing Home:  We can increase sales by offering tours to prospective residents and their families.

Software company:  We can increase software sales by offering a free trial, or a less feature-rich version of our software.

College or University:  We can increase enrollment by offering orientation weekends for prospective students.

You get the idea:  Determine a low-risk way for your prospective customers to be introduced to your organization.  If they have a positive experience, you’ve moved them further down the funnel, and they are more disposed to becoming a high-value customer.

The email Optin:

One first step that you see all over the web these days is trading a digital asset for an email address.  The idea is that getting someone to sign up for a mailing list is a pretty simple first step into the sales funnel.  The trick it to give them something for their trouble that provides value to them, but does not cost you too much.  Digital assets like eBooks or white papers are a great example.  With these incentives, not only do you provide value to your potential customers, but you also have the opportunity to present yourself as a subject matter expert.  This may not work for everyone, but it is a very popular way to get people on a mailing list, where they can be sent further targeted marketing materials.

Placing Our Call to Action

We’ve taken a look at our objectives and determined our sales funnel.  Our calls to action should be pretty clear to us at this point.  The trick is going to be to make them clear to our website visitors.  There is a psychology to the use of colour, size and position on a page that will make an element more noticeable and more attractive to click on.  There are people who devote themselves to the study of analytics data to optimize every pixel of their page in order to get the absolute best conversion rate possible.  Most likely you can do a lot with just some common sense, and the input of a few friends.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have a call to action near the top of a page.  It should be presented in a way that it can stand out from the page enough to get noticed (but not to be obnoxious).  We want to put the right call to action on the right page of our site.  If we take the example of the car dealership; we may want to put a call to action for a test drive on the home page, but perhaps we want to put a call to action for a reduced price for an oil change on the service page.

We can present the same call to action in multiple places.  The car dealership might have a page for each model car in the lineup, and each page could contain a call to action for a test drive.  The trick is to think like a customer and anticipate what they are looking for in the context of where they are on your site.  Ask yourself, “what action would I like my customer to take, based on the information I am presenting here?”.

Final Thoughts

A professional looking website with lots of bells and whistles is great, but a well-planned series of calls to action will do a lot to maximize the potential of that new site.  Think of the call to action as a good salesman.  He doesn’t push to make the hard sell, and he’s not intrusive, but he is there to provide your with information and guidance to help you have your best possible buying (or pre-buying) experience.  He will help to convert casual visitors into potential leads and allow your products and services to more readily sell themselves.