...and why are they important?
Any good marketer has a healthy respect for their audience. You can't attract a new customer if you are constantly underestimating or overexplaining. But you can have respect for your customers and still want to make things as easy and clear as possible. This may mean thorough product descriptions or an easy-to-navigate site, giving customers every opportunity and encouragement to follow the path that you want them to follow. One of the simplest marketing tools you can employ in this process is the Call to Action.
A call to action (sometimes abbreviated CTA) is a word or a brief phrase that tells your potential customer exactly what you want them to do. It is a call to a specific action. Online, that action could be anything from "Download Now" to "Click Here" or even "Like Our Page." In traditional marketing, a CTA might be "Call Today" or "Come In Now."
Using a call to action can ultimately help you to know how effective your site is. Because a good call to action will tell users exactly what to do, you can use your analytics to see quickly whether or not it's working. Did they click? Did they submit their email to sign up for your newsletter? Did they add to cart? These metrics can help you decide which changes can be made to help your site perform its best.
You can use a call to action anywhere there is an action to be performed. Ecommerce is the most obvious place, but there are many other places that also make sense. If you're posting a blog entry, you can invite people to comment below or to share the post on Facebook or Twitter. If you're trying to generate leads, you can ask for a phone number or an email address. In fact, you can (and should) also use calls to action on your social media posts themselves. There is always a direction that you want a user to go, whether it involves them pulling out their credit card or just clicking the "Share" button.
A good call to action is very clear in its language and creates a sense of urgency. Think of the television offers you see that offer a gift if you call within the next 20 minutes. The action is clear (CALL), and the urgency is there (RIGHT NOW). Additionally, there is an explicit benefit to the user (Gift). In just a few words, all the call to action bases is covered. On your site, this may mean asking users to sign up for your newsletter this week and be rewarded with an eBook. HubSpot uses this type of marketing to great effect, offering useful and desirable eBooks in exchange for lead contact information.
If you're not already utilizing a call to action, now is the time to start. If you are, now is the time to reassess. You can't use the same calls to action forever or, like any other tactic, they will get stale. Always be testing, tracking, and trying new calls to action to see which ones work best.
Overall, using calls to action to tell your customers what you want them to do is helping you both because you both want the same thing - they just don't know it yet.
Are you using calls to action? Are you reading one right now?