Maslen on Marketing, Structural tools

Write your call to action first and get better results

The call to action (CTA) is usually the line or paragraph at the end of an email, brochure or letter inviting the reader to respond. Most often, the desired response is an order of some kind. But it might be signing up to an email newsletter, reserving a place on a free seminar or even just confirming receipt.

Where do you put the call to action?

Logically, the CTA goes at the end. That’s where the selling finishes and the closing starts. Or does it? You could have a CTA in the headline. Like this:

Subscribe to Maslen on Marketing by 5.00 pm GMT today and get a FREE copy of my new book ‘Writing for Influence’

You could pepper your copy with CTAs after each new benefit or section. After all, you never know how soon your reader will have been convinced by your crystalline prose.

If you’re writing copy for the web, you need a CTA every time you want the visitor to do ANYTHING. They’re fidgety, thinking about the next site they want to visit, so you need to keep driving them along to your ultimate goal. That means you need a CTA when you want them to…

  • click through to another page
  • scroll down/up
  • subscribe to a newsletter
  • provide contact details
  • log in/out
  • follow a hyperlink

DON’T assume that just because they’re on a page with lots of links, they’ll follow them. You have to make them.

When do you write it?

Just as the CTA seems to go last, it often gets written last. But maybe that’s not such a good idea. After all, you’re tired…and elated…the letter is almost finished. You can go home. Just as soon as that pesky call to action is done. So you dash off an ‘order now’, save and close and you’re clear!

But this is the whole point of the letter (or ad, flyer or web page). This is where it all comes down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from your reader. So it needs the most effort, creativity and precision to get it right.

My recommendation? Write it first. Apart from anything else, it will help you focus on your goal, whether that’s new subscriptions, conference registrations or straight orders.

What should you say?

A good CTA gives people all the information they need to comply. Tell them:

What you want them to do (eg complete the coupon)
When you want them to do it (now, of course)
How you want them to do it (by email, phone, online, fax, pigeon post)

You could also remind them, gently, of what they risk by not acting.

How should you say it?

You want to be absolutely crystal clear here. Ambiguity kills a CTA stone dead. People start worrying they’re about to do the wrong thing, then they get cross, then they throw your missive in the bin.

Be direct, too. Use the imperative mood. And for goodness sake, don’t use phrases like ‘at your earliest convenience’, ‘as soon as possible’, or ‘urgent’. They all mean the same thing: nothing. If you are setting a deadline (if you’re not, you should be), be SPECIFIC. Give a date or, better yet, a time before which they must reply.

How much should you ask for?

I believe that the more you ask for, the greater the chance you’ll get nothing. I don’t mean, order four and we’ll give you a fifth FREE. I mean asking people to do lots of different things on the order form. This sort of thing:

[  ] Yes! Send me my Guide to better copywriting for £7.99
[  ] Please contact me to discuss a copywriting workshop
[  ] Please sign me up to your free copywriting newsletter

You’re making them think too much. Get them to place a nice simple order, then cross-sell/upsell them later on. This is dm we’re talking about here, after all.

Is it just for the order?

No! You can use a CTA to get people to do anything, even turn the page on a two-page letter. Instead of saying ‘Please turn over…’, you could tease them a little: ‘three more reasons to subscribe overleaf…’. Or go for the jugular: ‘Details of your FREE copywriting handbook, overleaf…’

Either way, be creative. Every word you write should be selling.

This month’s message

The call to action is the most important part of any marketing piece. Sure, the headline gets them interested and the body copy does the selling. But unless you can close the sale you’ve wasted your money. So be clear, be direct, be specific and be simple.

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