You might be saying, “I’m a blogger, not a sales person. I create content. Why would I need to worry about calls to action?” But if you are, I’d encourage you to adjust your thinking. Making money from your blog, growing your business, and getting readers to interact will be next to impossible if you can’t effectively motivate your audience to take action.
Still skeptical? Take a look at Darren Rowse. His latest video on making money online encourages bloggers to build products, and for good reason: according to his blogging income breakdown, 40% of his February income came from ebooks and another 9% from membership sites such as Third Tribe Marketing and ProBlogger.com. Certainly these revenue streams would not have existed if he’d never asked anyone to buy his ebooks or join these sites. He is successful, in part, because he’s great at creating effective calls to action.
Even if you’re not selling anything (yet), you still want your audience to take action by commenting, interacting, sharing, Facebook “liking” your post, watching your videos, attending your events, etc. These things all grow your blog and your community. So let’s get into some tips that will help you create successful calls to action on your blog, no matter what your goal. To give you some examples of these tips in action, I’ll use blog posts about the last month’s most-blogged-about stories, according to Regator (they are, in order: Japan, Libya, SXSW, Charlie Sheen, March Madness, AT&T, Elizabeth Taylor, St. Patrick’s Day, iPad 2, and Rebecca Black).
1. Be clear
Example: Social Times’s “10 Ways To Help Japan Through Social Media”
In this example, the goal is to get readers to take action to help Japan. There are several options, and each is presented in a clear, simple way: “Watch this video,” “If you have received information about someone in Japan who was affected by the earthquake or tsunami … add this information to Google’s Person Finder,” and so forth. Calls to action are no place for subtlety or word play. Be direct and straightforward.
2. Solve a problem
Example: Save Darfur’s “Protecting Civilians in Libya: How You Can Help”
One of the number one tips given here on ProBlogger is to be useful, and it’s possible to be useful even when making a call to action. In this case, the readers of the blog are activists who are likely looking for ways to make a difference. This post asks readers to “take action by writing a letter to the editor” but also explains how to take that action, going as far as providing a sample letter to the editor. Don’t focus so much on your own desire to have readers take action that you forget to be helpful.
3. Know when and where to ask
Example: Mashable’s “Join Mashable for Two Days of Events at SXSWi”
Here, the call to action (to register for one of the blog’s SXSW events) is placed in the headline, in the RSVP section, and at the very end of the post. There’s no wrong place to put your call to action, but putting it at the end of your post often works better than putting it near the beginning because they’ve finished reading your post and are ready to act.
4. When the goal is interaction, offer some options
Example: The Smoking Jacket’s “Smoking Poll: Would You Watch Two and a Half Men if Charlie Sheen Returned?”
You know that most of your readers are lurkers, but how do you lure them out to become an active part of your community? Asking them to vote in a poll or take some other similarly simple action is a good way to help them get their feet wet. In this example, the bloggers directly asks readers to vote in the poll and state their case in the comments.
5. Create visual interest.
Example: Mental_Floss’s “The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The West)” [March Madness]
Drawing attention to your call to action is imperative. After all, if no one sees it, no one will act on it. In this example, Mental_Floss tries to get readers to follow its Twitter account but rather than putting it in the sidebar or using a standard Twitter button, it has created an impossible-to-ignore, colorful button at the bottom of the post itself. Use bold text, colors, buttons, or large fonts to draw attention to the action you want readers to take. Facebook “Like” buttons and retweet buttons are so ubiquitous these days, many people tune them out. If those actions in particular are important to you, find a unique way, such as the one in this example, to present them.
6. Provide an incentive.
Example: The Consumerist’s “Make Your Voice Heard On The AT&T/T-Mobile Deal”
I hate to break it to you, but very few readers who aren’t your mom will do what you ask out of the sheer goodness of their hearts. You’ve got to make it a win-win situation. In this example, The Consumerist wants readers to share their opinions but sweetens the deal by letting its audience know that those who contribute will have an opportunity to have their “voices heard” and possibly be chosen for inclusion in press materials. Before you ask others for anything, ask yourself what they’d get out of it. If the answer is nothing, don’t ask until you’ve found some value for your audience.
7. Set a single goal
Example: PopWatch’s “Elizabeth Taylor: What’s your favorite role? ‘National Velvet’? ‘Cleopatra’? ‘Virginia Woolf’?”
Determine what you want your post to achieve then make a single call to action. Don’t ask for too many things at once. If you want people to buy your ebook, ask for only that. If you want them to attend your seminar, ask for only that. In this case, the post’s goal is to get readers to share their opinions via a poll and the post’s only call to action is that. Set a goal for every post.
8. Use deadlines
Example: For the Love of Dog’s “Photo Contest: Bizzy go Braugh” [St. Patrick’s Day]
In this post (which, by the way, features a dog in a leprechaun outfit, including beard), the blogger makes it clear that readers must take action by sending in their caption by March 23. Deadlines create a sense of urgency that makes people want to act faster. Use one if it makes sense with your particular call to action.
9. Keep it simple
Example: Digital Photography School’s “Buy Captivating Color for a Chance to Win an iPad 2”
You’re a blogger, so I don’t need to tell you how short people’s attention spans are these days. The easier the action is, the more likely they are to take it. Compare the example above, wherein people are automatically entered into a contest to win an iPad 2 simply by purchasing an ebook, with an iPad contest post on another blog (for the sake of keeping things positive, I won’t name it), which required readers to follow a particular Twitter account, tweet a long and very specific message, find the exact URL for that tweet, then come back to the blog and post the URL in the post’s comments. It’s obvious which call to action is likely to be more successful. Don’t complicate things.
10. Ask for what you want
Example: TV Squad’s “Watch Stephen Colbert (and Taylor Hicks!) Sing [Rebecca Black’s] ‘Friday’ With Jimmy Fallon”
I saved the most basic tip for last and it applies to all of the examples above as well as every call to action you make: ask for what you want. This example post ends with “Tell us: Whose version of Friday do you like better?” It is a specific, simple call to action. Don’t assume that readers will comment, that they will tweet your posts, that they will buy your products, or that they will take the actions described in your posts if you never ask them. Be clear, direct, and make it a win-win and you’ll see results.
Now I’ll follow my own advice. My call to action: If you’re a ProBlogger reader who has never commented before, take this opportunity to introduce yourself and say hello in the comments today. I’ll check back all week because I’d love to meet more of you guys.
Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, a site that curates the best of the blogosphere, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.