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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. Nicole says:

    The call to action for comments have seem to been slow for new visitors, however, I have received more responses from other bloggers and readers when requesting their opinions directly versus just posting an invitation for comments or subscribers at the end of a blog post.

    Maybe implementing a few of your suggestions in this post will help the new visitors become more active in commenting and subscribing.

    Darren,
    As great as this particular post is,

    I wish that you will write a similar posts on call to actions for interviewees.

    It seems that I have no difficulty in getting interview subjects to agree to an interview for my blog, but when I work on the questions and then send them, these individuals never follow through on their end of the interview deal.

    Out of several interview subjects that have agreed to be interviewed for my blog, only one has actually answered the questions and sent them back to me. The other attempts have been like a complete waste of my time from doing brief research all the way to structuring the interview and sending the questions. I would rather they just say “no” when I ask if I can interview them.

    So…..I would totally Digg a “Call to Action” post for interview subjects…..just something for you to ponder. If not, I will try to find out if this post could actually work for both readers AND interview subjects.

  2. I think there’s a better way to get people to participate than just to ask for a comment. Rather than just seeing it as a matter of active versus passive, I believe it’s more important to get into the mindset of the reader. People are highly motivated to do certain things, and to contribute under certain circumstances; I think the trick is to create a scenario that people naturally want to participate in and be a part of. The “What’s in it for me?” factor prevails… AN

  3. I use the commentluv plugin and it is a great incentive to leave a comment.After a blog post I often ask a question “What do you think?” and say that the commenter will get a link back to their site if they comment on the article.It works well.

  4. Prasanna S says:

    Hi Darren,

    I got some very valuable tips which I can apply to my blog, sometimes the other way also works, some of my readers on reading my technical articles ask some questions, the solution of which became my next entry at times, its their call to action, probably one can ask questions to readers to respond.

    Yes readers need to revisit the blog again and I have seen most of the sites engage them with details like how many people from different countries visit the blog, the number of subscribers, etc.

    My thinking is that call to action should be way above the title of the blog to ensure that they get readers attention.

  5. Great post Darren, i am still in that abyss of being a newbie and do struggle to get comments on my blog, the best response to a post i had was Why I want to sell my Online Shopping Mall I stumbled it and got 83 views with only one comment left.
    So i think the fact that i was offering to sell the shop brought in the surfers, but my post must have been lacking somewhere.

    On a different note its good to here that even the established bloggers have memories of blogging nightmares.

  6. At my site, thedadjam.com, I use the theme of a “Jam” or “Jam Session” to encourage my readers to join in and discuss by leaving comments. I try and encourage collaboration, and usually at the end of my posts I ask my readers to “Join the Jam” by leaving comments or sharing their own ideas on what I wrote about. Sometimes I also ask a question at the end of my post and ask my readers to answer the question in the comments. It has been working fairly well. Your article has some nice ideas, thanks!

  7. Answering the call…
    Wellness & Blessings to you
    Your Wellness Informant

  8. How could I NOT answer that call to action?!?

    Because we have so many comment entry giveaways, I find I get so few comments on the “real” posts.

    But when we do ask a question and call on our readers input and advice, we definitely notice the difference. If we just write a post and don’t ask them anything, etc, much less response.

  9. Mark Ress says:

    Out of the many posts, this one attract my attention. I believe it is possible for anyone to make money online too.

  10. That is really great. Gathering people with the same interest is really good. Thank you for expanding my knowledge.

  11. Nice post, you have just reminded me about how important design principles are.

  12. morison dony says:

    Web design is the first thing your visitors will see. It will determine your credibility and whether or not your visitors will stay or leave. That is what most of us take into consideration so heavily. However, many of us forgot about the loading time of the page which takes about 7-9 seconds. Longer loading time will make visitors leave your site even without reading your content :D

  13. Annaleen says:

    Once again I’m so glad I read this, not feeling it’s only happening to me and too embarrassed to ask. The question for me is what is the ONE thing I would like them to do, so I may ask for action later … or is that procrastination?

  14. I have just been blogging since the beginning of the year and I have really learned a lot from receiving your bloggers tips through email.
    I will add a call to action to my blogs and see how it goes.
    thanks again
    David

  15. Robby G says:

    I always felt somewhat guilty about calls to actions, but you’re right, it’s the way to go especially if you’re providing a win/win scenario for the readers. Thanks Darren.

  16. Wooooooow Darren, you indeed have gone very very deep into writing the post.I think that if you ask for an action multiple number of times, the reader thinks your desperate. Not a good sign?

  17. I embedded calls to action in my template.

    bottom of article 1: A link to my “best of” page.

    bottom of article 3: Suggestion that they tell a friend

    bottom of article 5: A “thank you” and invitation to come back or to subcribe via RSS.

    Too early to tell how effective it is – I just implemented it a couple days ago while toying around with the template.

  18. Ark Lady says:

    I have a few calls to action embedded in my template too. I give them three options to pick from but usually have one call to action at the end of the post that I am writing.

    Your suggestion to add an earlier call to action is something that I have not tried–might be something to do.

    Recently I attempted adding a retweet plug-in with little benefit. I do try and offer different options and rotate them because I believe people become blind over time and mixing it up is a good strategy.

  19. Bravo Darren, I already know this stuff from affiliate marketing training so I don’t know why I didn’t immediately do this on my blog. some of the problem is knowing how to do it using Word Press.

    Their instructions can be awfully confusing and difficult to find.

  20. Marcus Neto says:

    I have been running a month of contests over at my site and had not received any comments till starting to ASK people to leave comments or sign up as members. It is interesting. I hope it continues even when I am not offering licenses for software or templates or educational products. Thank you so much for this post. It works…

  21. d3monoid says:

    Hey bro!

    Really nice article. I ‘ve started my blog 3 days ago and i think this tips ll help me a lot thanks again :)

  22. Rachella says:

    I think the bigger your readership, the more response to calls for action. I ask people to comment all the time, yet they rarely do. Perhaps my writing is boring them?

  23. Gina Chen says:

    Two of your ideas really resonated with me.

    1. Don’t ask them to do too much. (I’ve done this, and it has failed. Never considered why, but your reasoning — that readers are overwhelmed by too many calls to action — makes sense.)

    2. Don’t ask in same way. I’ve been adding a signature to my post with plea to follow me on twitter or subscribe to my blog. But after reading your post, I suspect some people just read over this because I have it in the same place on every post. I will mix it up and see how it goes.

  24. Robyn says:

    I know I have had problems getting people to comment due to Blogger, I am using it as a learning ground though, so I’ll see what happens when I update my other blogs.

    my call to action was for a new product I came across, that included other info on products. good exercise

  25. Turil says:

    My best call to action is by far my “Ask A Question” theme. I’m a philosophy counselor, and it’s my job to encourage people to ask questions that I can use to help them understand more about life. Everyone has questions, and many are happy to share them with me, which is just plain cool in my book… The nice thing is that people can ask me a question, privately, and I’ll give them a personalized, private reply, and they only pay me if they want to for my counseling. It’s sort of like personalized philosophy “shareware”, and it’s how I earn most of my money from my (admittedly very small) business.

  26. Gina says:

    Since my blog is about simple ways to make change happen every day, almost all of my blog posts have a simple call to action. It’s a young blog and we don’t have many followers yet, but the most comments received were around a series that I did on Turn Off TV Week. Here are the three posts:

    http://changebecomeschange.typepad.com/change_becomes_changebe_t/2009/04/turn-off-the-screens-see-what-might-happen.html#comments

    http://changebecomeschange.typepad.com/change_becomes_changebe_t/2009/04/how-are-you-spending-turn-off-week.html#comments

    http://changebecomeschange.typepad.com/change_becomes_changebe_t/2009/04/how-we-turned-off-the-tv-for-a-week.html#comments

  27. Nic says:

    My most effective call to action was when I specifically invited my ‘lurkers’ to come and introduce themselves in the comments section of that post. I even gave them a few (blogging-related) questions they could answer if they couldn’t think of anything else to say.
    I got a lot of comments and heard from a LOT of people I didn’t even know were reading my blog. Since they had never commented I didn’t even know of their existence. And since that post when they commented for the first time, I’ve noticed that many of them have started commenting regularly.
    It was good to ‘meet’ them and I also found some more blogs to add to my reader by checking out their blogs. So it benefited everyone!
    Here’s the post that changed my life!
    http://pinknic-uk.blogspot.com/2009/04/nice-to-meet-you.html

  28. Issa says:

    ‘Call to action’ surely increases interactivity. Comments bolster my confidence in writing, lack of them discourages me to continue… Thanks a lot for this post! It’s so helpful!^^