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Create a Compelling Call to Action

Convert shoppers into buyers when you direct them to take the next step.

If you attract an enviable number of visitors to your online offerings but fail to convert those visits into final sales, the problem might be in the way you guide your customers into taking the next step.

Oftentimes, customers are looking for an unmistakable nudge—an invitation, if you will—to make a purchase. If the path to purchase isn’t obvious to them, they might not understand how to buy your products. A call to action is the method to use to properly and plainly guide a customer toward completing a sale. Without that guidance, many shoppers will simply give up and go away, abandoning the purchase they might have otherwise made at your online store.

Avoid losing customers at the precise moment when they’re ready to buy. Here’s the what, when and how of creating a compelling call to action that converts shoppers into successful and satisfied buyers.

What is a call to action?

Simply enough—though easily overlooked by even the most skilled online sellers—a call to action is that on-screen information that helps visitors complete the purpose of their visit. Naturally, when you’re selling goods online, the call to action encourages your visitor to “add to cart,” “go to checkout” or simply “buy now.” A call to action is like an e-commerce compass, helping your visitors navigate to make a purchase after they’ve found an item they’d like to buy.

A call to action is like an e-commerce compass, helping your visitors navigate to make a purchase

Of course, you’ll need to precede the call to action with a reason for action—that is, successfully guiding visitors to your goods, tempting them with compelling images, and assuring them with descriptive and enticing information about the goods. Once they’ve found what they want and are excited to own it, the call to action helps them make a purchase.

Of course, you can create calls to action that don’t necessarily involve a direct purchase being made. Calls to action can be used effectively to help visitors “learn more” about your store or items, or help them stay informed about what you’ll be offering next when they “subscribe now” to your regular mailings. Calls to action follow the successful establishing of a need or want in the visitor’s mind, helping them to take action to transact with you.

When do you present the call to action?

For best results, put a few points of navigation between your shoppers and their ability to respond to a call to action. They can “search” from your store’s main page, they can navigate to individual item pages to “learn more” about items and, hopefully within a third step, they can “buy now.” Keep the navigation short and sweet, (and try to offer return customers the ability to “buy now” without so much navigation, such as from an item listing page, before they need to drill deeper for details that they might already understand).

If you can provide an easy path to find items and learn about them, you should be able to present a call to action button, link or “add to cart” form within about three clicks of their mouse. Of course, to help customers who might still want a bit more information before committing to a purchase, you can also offer additional links to “learn more” or “see more photos” on the same page as the call to action that initiates the sale (use pop-up windows for this rather than navigating the shopper away from the “buy now” call to action page, otherwise, they might get lost while trying to backtrack).

How do you create a truly effective call to action?

The answer to the “how” question when it comes to calls to action is twofold:

  1. How you make a statement of the action you’d like the customer to take, and
  2. How you visually present that call to action.

For starters, consider the statement of the call to action. Like its name implies, a call to action plainly indicates a call and some action. With that, it’s best to use strong verbs that encourage a shopper to take action while also giving them the confidence and reassurance that their actions taken will provide them a reliable result—a purchase! Use simple but powerful verbs like shop, buy, order and so on.

It’s best to use strong verbs that encourage a shopper to take action, like shop, buy, order and so on

Regarding the matter of how to visually present the call to action, use those great action words in easy-to-find buttons the customer can click to initiate the action. Buttons labeled “Buy now,” “Order today” and “Go to checkout” are your best bet since their action is easy to understand.

Many sellers find success in presenting their call to action buttons in a yellow or gold color (depending upon the overall page or site design) with text presented in a simple sans serif font like Arial, Verdana or Calibri (again, make it work with your overall design, but choose fonts that are free of so much decorative elements that they become hard to read).

Call to action buttons are usually either at the top or bottom of a page or column (sometimes both), centered above or below supporting item text. Be sure to have plenty of clear space around the button so it’s visually easy to find, not obscured by clutter crowded around it. And if you want to offer additional helpful information from this point, consider adding active text links below your buttons that will spawn pop-up windows to help shoppers “learn more,” “see more like this” or “ask a question.”

Be sure to call to action often

Although you don’t want to overwhelm visitors with too many calls to action when navigating your site or store, it’s still good practice to include calls on every page. Consider a “Search” on every page, easy navigation to “Go to main page,” and ever-present assistance in the way of “Contact us” or “Want help?” so a visitor never gets lost while shopping.

Calls to action can be a shopper’s best friend and, when presented properly, they’ll become your best asset to convert more shoppers into buyers.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • F Maughan

    Honestly are you saying buyers are stupid ,thick or just ignorant.You are making selling so much more complicated than it is.My customers just ask me if unsure about something and i answere them !
    Maybe i have more intelligent buyers than you are used to

  • Kittys_jewelry

    Well… we sell mainly on Yardsellr.com and because of THAT, people as of late, are not liking having to join Yardsellr to purchase our items.  They say “it is too complicated”.

  • Schmoop

    Are these “buttons” actual links, or just highlighted words that draw attention?

  • marylikestosew

    Too repetative. “Call to action” over, and over, and over = uninviting and boring.
    Customers know how to decide and buy.
    Great descriptiona and photos are enough.



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