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Calls to Action – 12 Tips To SNAP Readers Out of Passivity

The vast majority of visitors to your blog are paralyzed by passivity.

They never comment, they don’t vote in polls, they won’t subscribe to your feed or newsletters, they won’t buy the affiliate products that you recommend, they won’t email a friend about your blog, they won’t vote for you in social bookmarking sites and most of them will never come back.

Call-To-ActionImage by Aaron Jacobs

Depressed? You’re not alone.

Some days it gets me down that readers can be so passive too.

In this post (a part of our crafting blog posts series) I’m going to share how using Calls to Action can significantly increase the interactivity on your blog. I’d also love to hear what you have to say on the topic.

The Problem of Passivity on Blogs

I still remember early in my blogging expressing my frustration to another blogger. At the time my main concern was that while I was getting a lot of visitors, so few of them left a comment.

He responded to me with a question that was like a SMACK to the side of the head with a BRICK – it was so simple yet stupidly I’d never thought of it. He said:

“Do you ever ask for comments?”

He went on to explain to me a ‘secret’ that copywriters have known for ages – ‘Call to Action‘ – if you don’t call your readers to action they are far less likely to take it:

  • If you want people to comment, invite them to do it.
  • If you want people to subscribe, don’t assume that they’ll think to do it themselves, ask them to. If
  • If you want people to buy something – give them a way to do it.
  • If you want people to come back tomorrow, give them some motivation to do so and show them how to remind themselves.
  • If you want a vote on Digg or StumbleUpon – ask.

Call me ‘Captain Obvious’ – but so few of us bloggers have mastered the ‘Call to Action’ in their blogging that it is no wonder that so many of us struggle with passive audiences.

Why Calls to Action are Important

After my friend gave me the above advice I began to experiment with inviting readers to comment on my posts. Here’s what I found:

  • Some People Respond to Invitations - When I invited comments and didn’t assume that people would leave them I noticed a marked increase in comments. While the majority of my readers still ‘lurked’ I’d estimate comments were up by between 50-100% on posts.
  • Action grows Reader Engagement - I began to notice that when people commented once it would open a floodgate of comments from them over future days. When I questioned a few of these readers I found that some had been ‘lurking’ a while, too scared to comment but once they had they felt more ‘ownership’ and ‘confidence’ to do it again.
  • Action brings loyalty – I noticed that first time readers would become loyal readers – they’d often come back to the blog in the days after their comment to see how other people responded to it.
  • Action breeds Action - When you grow the interactivity on your blog it draws others to be interactive. When a first time visitor to your blog sees that you have thousands of subscribers and hundreds of comments they take notice and many will be drawn to do likewise (it is called social proof).

In time I saw similar things as I ‘asked’ readers to do other things (vote in polls, subscribing to feeds etc). I learned that as obvious as it might seem to us as bloggers to do these things – many readers don’t think to do these things unless asked to.

12 Tips for Calls to Action:

So how do you effectively use Calls to Action on your blog?

Let me say that the following Call to Action Tips come out of my own experience of experimenting with this type of thing. I’m by no means a copy writing expert (although am about to start some training in it) and would love to learn from your own experiences of Calls to Action so please do feel free to share you own experience in comments below.

1. Know what Action you want Readers to take

Sounds almost too basic to include in these tips but I think it’s really important to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve with your blog post. This really builds on the last post in this series which talked about making your posts matter and identifying purposes for posts. What’s the purpose of your post? What do you want readers to do as a result of reading the post? Answer these questions before writing your call to action and you’ll be in a great position to write an effective one.

2. One Call to Action Per Post

Early in my own experiments with Calls to Action I wrote a post that was linked to by the uber blog Slashdot. It sent more traffic to my blog than I’d ever seen before and so I decided to update the post with some calls to action. Problem was that I stuffed so many of them into the post that no one did any of them. I asked for comments, pointed to my RSS feed and newsletter, asked for people to link to the post… etc. I find that I have a lot more luck with just one call to action per post – it gives people a simple next step rather than overwhelming them with choices.

3. Make it a Win/Win Call to Action

There’s nothing wrong with benefiting from the actions that your readers take on your blog. Don’t be afraid to ask things of them – but do make sure that what you ask of them will have an upside not only for you but for them.

4. Make the Action Simple and Achievable

I was recently asked by a reader to look at a competition that they were running on their blog and to give my opinion on why no one had entered it. Upon looking at the competition it became clear that while the prize was great and the blog did have readers – that the requirements to entry were too complicated. The blogger was asking readers to leave a 500 word comment, write a post on their own blog linking to their competition AND subscribe to his RSS feed (and to prove it take a screen shot of the subscription confirmation page). Ask your readers to jump through too many hoops to do the thing you want them to do and you’ll get significantly less of them to take that action.

5. In Post Calls to Action Work Best

Positioning is everything in many aspects of your blog and calls to action are no exception. In the same way that click through on ads increase when you put ads near or in content – responses to calls to action will work significantly better for you within posts than if you slap them on your sidebar. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an invitation to action in your sidebar (almost every blog I know does this with RSS subscription invitations for example) however in post invitations will generally work best.

6. Express Clearly what you Want People to do

This really builds upon the ‘simple and achievable action’ point that I’ve made above but comes down to the way you communicate the desired action to readers. In the same way that I’ve suggested taking extra time to craft post titles and opening lines it is important to pause and consider the words that you use in your call to action. If your call to action isn’t a simple thing (and sometimes it is unavoidable) consider outlining what you want readers to do in ‘steps’ or a list of points. This is what I do on my Group Writing Projects and I find it works quite well.

7. Multiple Calls to the Same Action Can Work

While it’s best if you keep the number of actions you call for to a minimum (preferably 1 per post) this doesn’t mean you can’t invite readers to take that action more than once in the post. The most logical place for a call to action is at the end of the post – after all it is where readers stop reading and start thinking about what to do next. However I find that adding a call to action earlier in the post can increase the likelihood that people will take the action. This works for two main reasons – firstly you are sowing the seed of the action in their mind early and secondly some people will never make it to the end of your post but may actually take the action early on. For example – in this post I’ve already invited comments twice – and I’ll do it once more at the end of the post.

8. Draw the Eye to Calls to Action

Why do we make titles bigger and more eye catching on blog posts but leave our invitations to action as plain text languishing at the bottom of our posts? As with any important part to a post it is important that your readers see calls to action. You can ensure this happens in a number of ways including putting a heading above them, using an image near them, making the call to action a striking image itself, using text formatting (bold, italics, capitals), using colored backgrounds and borders around the calls to action etc.

9. Lead your readers to the Action

Your post itself needs to lead people to the action. The call and the topic of the post should strongly relate to one another and you should give reasons why the action would benefit readers. One technique that is worth using with some calls to action (particularly bigger ones) is to paint a picture of what life would be like after the action is taken (or what it’d be like if it is not taken).

10. Give an Incentive

Some calls to action will have an incentive to the reader built into them – but at times you might want to add extra incentive. This can be especially effective if you’re promoting an affiliate product and want to give your readers extra value by offering a bonus.

11. Mix Up Calls to Action from Post to Post

Readers can become a little blind (or numb) to calls to action over time if your calls are always the same (either given in the same way or asking them to do the same thing). Mix things up from post to post. Also don’t feel you need to have a call to action in every post. If you’re constantly asking your readers to do things you could burn them out.

12. Don’t Hard Sell But Call with Confidence

Using Calls to Action can be a bit of a balancing act at times. In talking to bloggers I find that they usually struggle with them in one of two ways. Either they feel awkward asking readers to do anything OR they SELL SELL SELL and lack subtlety. Somewhere between these two extremes is the place you need to dwell. The place you position yourself along the spectrum will differ from blog to blog and probably based upon your personality. Some bloggers get away with the hard sell better than others – the key is to experiment, listen to your readership and how they respond and to try to strike a balance between the two extremes.

What Was Your Most Effective Call to Action?

What I’ve shared above is my experience of Calls to Action but as I’ve said above – I’m still on a learning journey on this topic and would love to hear what you have leaned on the topic? Feel free to give an example of what you’ve done with a link and share your lessons in comments below so we can all improve our call to action technique!

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Sire says:

    What a great picture, I can almost imagine my readers falling asleep from inaction, but hopefully not from reading my blog. I think that my most important call to action was in my last post Do You Want More People Commenting On Your Blog?, as the heading itself was begging for a response.

    I suppose that a lot of people responded because not all that much was required of them other than an opinion. I think the question also appealed to a lot of new bloggers who were themselves looking for ways to increase the amount of comments to their blog.

    I completely understand point 4 as I never respond to competitions where they require me to complete a shopping lists of things to do before I even qualify.

    I will study each of your points more carefully in order to learn those that I am most likely to use for certain posts.

  2. Mike says:

    I would say that my most effective call to action would asking my subscribers to help me out by using my Amazon links to purchase items that relate to things I am discussing. For instance I just wrote a post on making an ultimate home theater for under a grand. I put links throughout the post guiding my readers as to what products to buy. I ask that if they found my article helpful to use the links I provide to purchase the items.

  3. I love that picture too, very funny! Good points as usual!

  4. I don’t do too many calls to action– I guess it’s the fear of the possibility that no one will respond to the call of action that holds me back. :)

  5. Steve Olson says:

    I’ve found that calls to action are really no more effective than the quality of the post. That sounds like commonsense but it wasn’t for me. A good lead, a compelling story, a list, followed, by a call for action. Sometimes you want the call for action in the lead, or at least a hint of it, and then another latter in the post. Great topic.

  6. Most readers are very clicky. I noticed that people click on a lot of things every time they come to my web site. That could be because they find the titles of my posts interesting or Internet users are just too damned clicky. I think the main problem is getting someone to stay at a web site once they’ve clicked on it.

  7. Rodney says:

    Great post! It’s really helpful to me because I can relate to your experience of not getting any responses from readers. Now, I’m not a pro or anything in this subject(calls to action). I’m still struggling with it myself. So, I’m sorry because I don’t have any experiences to share at the moment. Anyway, your post inspired me to experiment with this call to action thingy. Thanks again.

  8. L-Jay says:

    Great point. I just realised that I only comment on blogs when they ask me a question. (Hence, my comment here.)

    The trick is figuring out a way to ask for comments on own my blog – (it’s only two weeks old) – as I’d kinda be ‘calling to action’ into the wind (at the moment).

    The other thing is that not many people know about my niche (Norway) – that’s why I’m blogging about it. I don’t think I could ask people to comment on their own reindeer racing experiences or how they coped sleeping in an ice cave.

    So… How do I invite comments when people don’t have an experience to comment?

  9. What a great pic! Your tips for calls to action are great. To often, bloggers simply blog and expect “them to come and be active.” So not true, calls to action are very important. Thanks for sharing :-)

  10. diacriticals says:

    Indeed, it is easy to forget this simple thing. If we don’t ask we will not get…
    A dinamic blog is a successful blog

  11. Yeah, this really hits the nail on the head. Decent number of page views, but very little action. Part of it is traffic sources. It is hard to get visitors from stumbleupon, tastespotting and so on to do anything but skim. But still, I should be more direct and work on the copywriting skills.

  12. sap abap says:

    It is simple a good post and actually shares the heart of many blogger’s.

    Fine to see a set of solutions and could be the best part what i like is
    “ASK,IT WILL BE GIVEN”.

    Thank you for sharing.

  13. Joe says:

    Captain Obvious – I think your calls to action tips are great. These can work for blogs, e-commerce sites, and even printed materials.

    Writers really have to get away from their pride that the reader will just “know what I want from them.” I believe asking for action lets people know what the writer believes to be important.

  14. AV says:

    In item 3 you note that it should be a win/win call to action–beyond providing expertise as you do here (which is what prompted me to comment with my own questions) how else can a blogger make it win/win for readers to respond? Do you have any examples of bloggers you know or have worked with that did this?

    Thank you!

  15. Hmmm… Interesting.

    Does anyone think asking the readers for participation might be mistaken by them as annoying? Currenlty my readership is small – 3 people. 2 from work one from home. I sometimes think asking them to comment or suscribe might be taken as distracting co-workers who might think that they’ll participate and then been seen posting from work.

    I guess once the readers are actually reading the blog, I might feel easier about asking….

  16. Easily my best call to action was asking my readers to give their opinion on whether or not I should put my ebook back on the shelves. I got 80 comments in less than a day, and none of them were mine. My traffic shot through the roof from all the RSS readers clicking through to either make comments or read the comments other people had left.

    It helped that the issue was really contentious and the title was pretty salacious, but I was really impressed by how many people came out and gave really well thought-out answers. I also figured out what I wanted to do with the stupid ebook, which was a nice bonus. :)

  17. MaxBro says:

    I can’t recommend enough those automatic social news button counters as a heavy reader of many blogs.

    Usually if I see a “Digg This” button with a few Diggs already, I can’t help but click on the link and Digg the article myself. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how many articles get popular; simply because the button is there and it only takes a second to vote for something on another website.

    Some blogs have a plugin that shows you similar posts to the one you’re reading. It’s not purely a call to action perhaps, but by showing other things you’ve written it helps to keep your readers on your blog longer.

    Another good call to action I find is a request to comment and discuss in a forum on the site. It all depends on whether you are a fan of forums as to whether this works, but often it does if it’s shown enough times and if the topic at hand is interesting enough.

    I think the trick is as Darren says, that you only have one request per post. If I see a jumble of words at the bottom of an article (newsletter subscriptions, RSS, Digg this, etc.) I’m liable to overlook the thicket of letters and move on to another post or website altogether.

  18. Mike Nichols says:

    I’ve taken to heart all your suggestions in the past and now have a special section at the end of each post asking readers questions about the post and inviting comments, along with a highlighted box asking readers to subscribe and/or bookmark the site.

    My comments have shot up over 100% since I started doing this, though it took some time for it to take effect. Not so much on the subscribing and bookmarking, but I’m willing to be patient.

    Thanks for another information-filled post!

  19. Dominique says:

    Hi Daren -

    I added a “Political Alerts” petition link to my blog and had instant response. I have also had people thank me for posting them in one spot so they can stay on top of the ones they want to get involved in.

    I also set it up so it has it’s own feed.

    With a blog, I guess you always have to think outside of the box!

    BTW, I love your twitter feed!

  20. Netizen says:

    I think the most important is to respond to comments. It gives a blog some interactivity and encourages readers to comment and can often lead to serious discussions (instead of “nice post” comments)

    Perhaps it`s just my imagination, but it feels like you respond to comments more often than you did some time ago… Your own comments are now also highlighted with blue background (or was it always that way… can`t remember)

    Anyway… I think this is one of the best things a blogger can do to keep / encourage readers to be active

  21. Comments are important to me, so I ask questions.

    I ask a question at the end of almost each post.

    When people read a question, they often want to answer, especially if they have a strong opinion on the subject.

  22. suz says:

    Excellent post. I do this some times, especially when I want feed back. Sometimes I am just blogging more as an outlet.

    I do have readers and contacts that I have had for several years so they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t interested. I blog as a social outlet, with some tutorials thrown in so not all my blogs are public or even of interest to the public.

    I find Title or Subject to be everything to drawing someone in. Everyone is not going to be interested in everything you say. You also have to consider what everyone is going through in real life.

    Something I have noticed lately with all the social sites popping up is sheer amount of information. You could never read it all.

    Another thing that draws me in is good punctuation, paragraphs, correct spelling and sub titles if they are warranted. There is nothing worse than reading a sloppy blog or one where the web page has glaring colors that you have to highlight just to read.

  23. So far I haven’t done much calling to action. Some posts have received some good reader interaction but not what I’d like. I will definitely start asking more and assuming less. Thanks for the great post!

  24. Great article! This applies to so much more than just blogs.

    I submitted this story to Sphinn, so please go sphinn it up!
    http://sphinn.com/story/69051

  25. I read about calls to action on problogger.net a couple weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to use them tactfully on my website and it seems to be working.

    Reader incentive is important. Mine is a weekly product giveaway. People are more likely to sign up for something if they have a chance to win something every week.

  26. Great post and great picture. This is something I’ve been thinking about as I’ve recently launched my own website and blog. Call to action is something that most blog fail at pretty miserably it seems. Yet call to action seems to be something that is very effective. I look forward to brainstorming about how I can use it. Thanks.

  27. Serge says:

    Although I’m already using some of these tips, it remains an interesting article. I try to ask a question to my readers that is (of course) related to the topic I’m writing about in the article. I’m not going to ask several questions at once otherwise it becomes to complicated for them. I must admit that comments are increasing slightly on such posts. But as you mention in tip n° 11 you have to be careful not to ask questions all the time.

  28. jp_zer0 says:

    My most effective call to action was when I asked my readers to share their favorite quotes for a sidebar widget.

  29. I get lots of comments on Goodlife Zen. I do two things to get them.

    1. I ask people a question at the end of a post and ask them to answer it in the comment.
    2. I use the comment section to respond so that a conversation ensues.

    After reading this article, I’m determined to ask for subscription with the same sort of confidence.

  30. Jess says:

    my most effective call was when I was giving something away and they had to leave a comment to win….But I think the floodgate theory is true too

    thanks darren

    jess

  31. Darren Rowse says:

    AV – you ask for an example of a Win/Win call to action.

    How about asking for comments and saying that you’ll use some of the best of them (with a crediting link to their own blog/site) as the basis for a future blog post. This gives people incentive to comment and to comment well as it could potentially highlight their own blog.

  32. Money Lint says:

    My blog is only a month old so if finding visitors wasn’t hard enough, getting those same visitors to subscribe to my feed so they come back on a regular basis is even harder.

    I recently added some links to the bottom of each post that makes it super easy for them to subscribe via email or RSS. I just did it last night but I have already had 1 new subscriber….small fries I know but you start somewhere I guess.

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  33. AV says:

    Darren–thanks for your response! I spent a large part of my day reflecting on some of the posts in my blog that had received the most response and saw some of your suggestions in action: I never received more comments than when I do a contest with a prize or ask people for their addresses before a trip so I can mail postcards. Ha!

    I like your suggestion here, too. I think I am going to begin giving back a little more. Also helps when you reward frequent commenters with feedback on their own blogs. This is a little harder because time isn’t always on our side, but it’s rewarding on the long-run in terms of building a community online.

  34. Tom Jones says:

    Thanks Darren, I will try to get some of these ideas going on site right away

  35. Kelvin Kao says:

    It’s the hardest the first time. Once a reader has perform an action once (usually by leaving a comment), that person is a lot more likely to do it again. Contests that only require a reader to leave a comment is good for this purpose. And the follow-ups are important. People are more likely to do it again if the action is acknowledged by or responded to by the blogger or other readers.

  36. Darren:

    I have to admit, you floor me with your writing. I love it, to the point, deliberate, consistently refreshing and it keeps you riveted to the seat in anticipation of the next great point.

    You are truly an aspiration to behold on a scale of 1 to 10 for blogging.

    I feel your point on the call to action and the threshold where readers engage rather than fade away and tuck and run.

    I guess the limbic system does have a fight or flee equivalent online, but nothing like a simple auto suggestion to bypass the logical mind and dispell the homeostasis.

    I am literally blown away by your clarity and scope of communication. Great stuff…you have one more subscriber now!

  37. Well I’ve been going through the posts on this blog for over a month.. First thing I would say is that “it is wonderful…!”.

    About this post – I like the smooth flow of this post. Some people are passive.. they won’t subscribe to the blog even when they would like to unless they have been told to do so…. it is like school kids … some kids want to do homework but won’t do it till they are asked to :)… Even though we are grown up , there is still a small kid inside all of us :-)

  38. Bonie says:

    at my country its not possible to call to out, but the rate so expensive and the sound not clear. thats why we are not want to call or receive call from other country :)

  39. arthurficial says:

    this post was like a brick to my head. thanx

  40. Mr. Plane says:

    “Make it a Win/Win Call to Action”

    How do you do that? Offer something? Offer just a nice enviroment to read another post?

    Hints?

  41. Leanne says:

    Great post. I’ll admit I often respond well to these, but when I try the same thing with my own blog I often sound like I’m begging. Thanks for the great tips, I’ll be trying them out soon.

  42. Tomskus says:

    Very insightful and spot on the mark article, with precise focus.

    Pity the advert following was a dead end! Sorry.

  43. Jo says:

    Asking readers for for their opinion or inviting their participation definitely helps newbies and the more passive bloggers to leave a comment.

  44. You’d just be shooting yourself in the foot, without having a CTA. I back this 100%. You guys are always providing the best content for website and blog owners.

  45. Evelyn Lim says:

    I’ve recently been inviting more comments on my blog but realise that I may be having too many call to actions in one post. Okay…got the message about keeping them down to One. The problem is the conflicting demands that I want from my readers – guess I need to sort out what is priority.

    Thanks for sharing the valuable tips!

    Evelyn

  46. YEisHere says:

    Wow, I’ve been going at this with a vengeance — love to write, love to share and love to get feedback — which doesn’t happen very often!
    I’ve started the simple call to action within and at the end of my posts yet NOW I see how type size and other ‘eye candy’ can really catch the attention and rouse the action in to being!

    You are truly PRO!

    Thanks for sharing — inspiration is STILL the best teacher 4 me! ;)

    YE is Here!

  47. David says:

    You don’t mention readers who drift away after going thru the stage that you talk about. They have ownership. But it’s like a car. They want a new one after a certain period of time.

  48. John Dilbeck says:

    I think more interactivity on a blog is essential to its success, and I think that starts with comments and the discussions that arise.

    I had a primary blog that I really liked and which was doing well, but it was based on a platform where people had to register and log in before they could comment. I knew that was limiting the comments and conversations.

    Finally, this month, I made the decision to move my primary blogging activities to a new blog powered by WordPress so that commenting would be much easier and there would be no hoops to jump through.

    It has already made a difference. In only a couple of weeks, there are many more comments and conversations than there were on the older blog over several months.

    Now, I have to think more about how to use calls to action to get more subscribers.

    Great post and great ideas, Darren.

    Act on your dream!

    JD

  49. Just having a call to action, I’ve found, can help immensely. I admit I haven’t been doing this nearly as much as I should, so I’m trying it again. In my latest post I’ve experimented with writing a call to action directly into the story, and we’ll see what happens.

  50. Holden says:

    These are fantastic tips.

    Thank you so much!

    LCH