Top 10 tips for improving your calls to action

This week on the Boagworld Show we look at my top 10 tips for improving your calls to action.

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This week’s show is based on a blog post I wrote about calls to action. If you would prefer a more condensed version of the topics we covered I recommend reading that.

Paul Boag:
Hello and welcome to boagworld.com. This is Episode 2 of Season 10 and joining me as always is Marcus Lillington. Hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Hello, Paul Boag.

Paul Boag:
I don’t know why I always saw to need to say your surname at the beginning, but I do.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Well, I like to keep a certain level of formality with our listeners.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
I don’t want them to…

Marcus Lillington:
It’s right and proper.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I mean, I hate it at school. You know you have schools where the teacher says “call me by my first name,” piss off. That’s not right! A certain level of formality is required on such occasions. So now on, listeners have to refer to you as Mr. Lillington and me as Mr. Boag.

Marcus Lillington:
Mr. Boag? When I was at school, you got called by your surname.

Paul Boag:
Oh you did? Right, as a student.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, but not really. The sports teachers used to do it. I wasn’t that public school. I think if you went to public school, then yes, you were “Smith” and whatever. I can’t think of another surname other than Smith.

Paul Boag:
Jones.

Marcus Lillington:
There is another one.

Paul Boag:
Smith and Jones, yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So I – yes, I just like a certain level of formality. Hey, I hate the world.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh shut up.

Paul Boag:
No, I do today. I’m having a real usability crisis, I want to share with you.

Marcus Lillington:
This is so not going to be of any significance at all, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
It is – it’s a serious issue. So I’ve just – I just bought a new TV for a start.

Marcus Lillington:
Show off.

Paul Boag:
It’s so gorgeous. 55 inches of gorgeousness. It’s 3D.

Marcus Lillington:
3D is rubbish.

Paul Boag:
Well, yes. Okay, I mean to be honest, it’s quite hard to buy a TV these days that isn’t 3D. So I didn’t buy it for its 3D, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised, it’s actually quite a cool experience. I quite like it. And it’s got smartTV and all the silliness that goes along with that. But I have now once again got into the world of bloody hundreds of remote controls. So I bought one of those universal remote control things. I basically wasted half of today trying to set the bugger up.

Marcus Lillington:
I remember when I got… I recently got an updated Skybox. Got the HD one and thought now I’m going to get the volume button working on this. And it must have taken me half an hour.

Paul Boag:
I no. Could you imagine …

Marcus Lillington:
It does work now though.

Paul Boag:
Can you imagine configuring four individual devices to work with one remote control via the worst website interface I’ve ever used. And at the end of the process it downloads a settings.bin file that you then have to drag on via USB… it’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s because it was cheap. I didn’t want to get one of these Harmony fancy gismos that cost – I can’t justify £100 for a remote control. It’s just wrong.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I mean for the TV, I just use the Sky one. It does everything I need now. I sometimes have to use the TV one to tell it to look at the Skybox. Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I do, and that’s it really.

Paul Boag:
Yes, but then I’ve also got Apple TV and I want to control that as well.

Marcus Lillington:
That lives upstairs.

Paul Boag:
Yes it all just gets more complicated.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So our lives are just too complicated. First world problem and all that.

Marcus Lillington:
Paul, but Paul tell everyone. You’re a winner!

Paul Boag:
I couldn’t care less, that I’m the winner over this particular issue.

Marcus Lillington:
Paul, you’re a winner!

Paul Boag:
Well, you know how much I can pay, so what happened was, at the beginning of this World Cup football thing, is that right? Is it called a World Cup?

Marcus Lillington:
You know it is.

Paul Boag:
I got that right, good. Wasn’t the Euro Championship or something …?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
No, okay. So in the World Cup, everybody at Headscape decided to do a sweepstake, that I was forced into against my will.

Marcus Lillington:
Sweepstakes on this kind of thing are fairly normal, Paul.

Paul Boag:
No, it’s just I’ve no interest in football, and you want to extract ₤5 from me?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
For something I don’t care about. It’s just offends me. Why should I… it’s not like I made you… I don’t drag you along to some Sci-fi convention or anything, make you line up to dress up as a Klingon or something.

Marcus Lillington:
You do that sort of thing, do you Paul? Is this confession time now?

Paul Boag:
It’s true. I would love to go to Comic Con, but I wouldn’t dress up as a Klingon.

Marcus Lillington:
No, that would be really sad. Sorry, if anyone who does that sort of thing, but it’s very sad.

Paul Boag:
Yes. So you literally stole …

Marcus Lillington:
Your arguments aren’t holding up at all.

Paul Boag:
You literally stole money from me.

Marcus Lillington:
We didn’t steal money from you.

Paul Boag:
You might as well have beaten me up to take it off me.

Marcus Lillington:
We invited you to join the sweepstake.

Paul Boag:
No, the amount of emotional blackmail that went on that day was beyond belief.

Marcus Lillington:
But anyway you picked Germany.

Paul Boag:
I did pick Germany.

Marcus Lillington:
Germany was picked for you, out of the hat, and you’re the winner. Paul is the winner.

Paul Boag:
I’m the winner. It is true. Well I imagine that Germany football club is the winner.

Marcus Lillington:
Germany football club. Excellent, yes.

Paul Boag:
Yes. They’re the winner, aren’t they?

Marcus Lillington:
Because they beat Argentina football club.

Paul Boag:
It’s like I never understand this. Yes, we won! Well, no you didn’t. You in no way contributed to that match whatsoever. So people say, oh my club won last night. It’s not your club. It’s nothing to do with you. You’re a spectator, at most, you’re a fat slob sitting on the couch, pretending that in some way you’re an achiever because of a random club that you selected happened to win a game. Now how in anyway are you contributing to that? How does that make me a winner?

Marcus Lillington:
Sorry, there were so many odd statements going on there. You lost me.

Paul Boag:
I want to know how me drawing a name out of the hat makes me a winner? Because I did nothing. And as for football supporters, how they can take any credit for the fact that their team won, as if it is their team, it’s ridiculous.

Marcus Lillington:
You won money Paul …

Paul Boag:
I did.

Marcus Lillington:
… in answer to your first question. And I guess if you support a football club, like a city football club like, I don’t know Arsenal or Manchester United, then I guess you pay to see its TV channel and/or pay for tickets to go and see it live, therefore you’re supporting the club, therefore you have some sense of ownership.

Paul Boag:
Okay. There is a degree of logic in that. I will accept that. Anyway …

Marcus Lillington:
You’re a winner Paul. You’re a winner.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I’m really excited. What really pisses …

Marcus Lillington:
Don’t be such an old misery.

Paul Boag:
What really pisses me off, if I’m truthful about this whole experience, is because I was so indignant about being dragged into this I made some rash statement about “I’ll give the money away if I win.”

Marcus Lillington:
No, you said, well the last thing you said was that you’d buy us all a drink. That went down really well.

Paul Boag:
I know. So now I’ve won, I have to follow through on that, don’t I?

Marcus Lillington:
You don’t have to. It’s your money, do what you like with it.

Paul Boag:
I’m going to take ₤5 back. The original ₤5 that is mine, I’m going to take back and I will buy drinks for people with the remainder. There you go.

Marcus Lillington:
Whatever you want to do, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Do you want to know something really exciting that’s going in my life?

Marcus Lillington:
Go on then.

Paul Boag:
I have an intern.

Marcus Lillington:
I know you have an intern.

Paul Boag:
She is sniggering behind me now, because she can hear me talking. It’s the best thing ever.

Marcus Lillington:
Is it… does she bring you drinks of water and things like that, Paul?

Paul Boag:
She hasn’t brought me any drinks, no.

Marcus Lillington:
And food.

Paul Boag:
No, no food.

Marcus Lillington:
And does all the shitty jobs for you.

Paul Boag:
She does all the shitty jobs for me, yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, there we go, we’ve got to the bottom of it.

Paul Boag:
Yes. So she is doing all my editing for me. It’s great. It’s wonderful. I don’t need to do anything. And she is having to try and extract information at Chris Scott, which obviously at the moment is impossible, because he is: “oh no, so many deadlines; the world is going to end.”

Marcus Lillington:
What is she trying to get out of Chris?

Paul Boag:
Oh information from… I’m going to get her writing case studies.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh right yes, there are two to be done.

Paul Boag:
Because you forget that… you see – Katie is the intern, that’s working with me, and she is a proper writer. Not a pretend writer.

Marcus Lillington:
Like you.

Paul Boag:
No, pretend writer like me. She writes for the TV Times.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Did you know that? I think that’s so funny.

Marcus Lillington:
I didn’t know that.

Paul Boag:
Why do I think that’s funny?

Marcus Lillington:
Because you don’t, probably.

Paul Boag:
Because I don’t. She gets paid better than I do for writing articles, do you know that?

Marcus Lillington:
No, I didn’t Paul.

Paul Boag:
That is outrageous.

Marcus Lillington:
Can I suggest that you get ahead to talk to Pete and not Chris. We’re recording this out loud, aren’t we.

Paul Boag:
I can’t get past the fact that she is paid more for… she writes 400 words and gets paid more than I do for writing 1,200.

Marcus Lillington:
Why is she your intern then? I don’t know.

Paul Boag:
I’ve no idea. I think I should be working for her.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. There you go.

Paul Boag:
Anyway …

Marcus Lillington:
I have to add one more thing before we actually do anything useful, vaguely useful.

Paul Boag:
I’ve given up on it now.

Marcus Lillington:
It is that I had an interesting email this week, which was about the top 10 Boagworld themes that have been written over the years.

Paul Boag:
Oh yes, I saw that.

Marcus Lillington:
They were rated. I’m not going to go into it. But it started me thinking about, I wonder how many I’ve done. I haven’t looked yet. So I’m in the office today and I need to access my hard drive, which is at home. But I’ve already started by going back. I kept this previous week, which obviously those are people have heard, I’ve kept the intro and outro rock music, but I’ve gone back to the old divider. And I think I might randomly pick different musical themes over this series.

Paul Boag:
Oh, I like it. And then people can vote at the end.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Now they won’t vote. I mean who cares really?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. I don’t really, but anyway it got me thinking that I wonder how many I have done. He made out that there were 10, but I don’t think there were 10.

Paul Boag:
No, it can’t be. Well… I suppose if you go right back to the classic episodes, there might be.

Marcus Lillington:
There might be four, I’m thinking, but I’ve got to go and check it now.

Paul Boag:
Because at the very beginning I used some dodgy piece of podsafe music I downloaded from somewhere, that wasn’t created by your own excellent hand.

Marcus Lillington:
That was the only one though. And I haven’t got that one unless I actually go back and download the original podcast, which I can highly recommend anyone does.

Paul Boag:
No, they’re terrible. So should we talk about this week’s show?

Marcus Lillington:
We should do.

Paul Boag:
We’ve been talking now for over 10 minutes.

Marcus Lillington:
About complete rubbish.

Paul Boag:
About nothing.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So this week, we’re going to… let’s be honest, right. This week I’ve been lazy, okay, because I’ve got so much on at the moment. Are you still there, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, sorry. I was just nodding off.

Paul Boag:
I’m not used to you going that quiet. Because I had so much on, I’ve just used an old blogpost as the basis for today’s show.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, if it’s good and it’s useful, that’s fine.

Paul Boag:
Do you know, it is. It’s the most popular post on my entire website.

Marcus Lillington:
Paul that’s kind of fair enough then, although that assumes everyone’s read it.

Paul Boag:
And it’s also number one on Google for the search term “call to action”. There you go.

Marcus Lillington:
Really? How exciting.

Paul Boag:
So it’s a good, it’s a really good post. And as you’ve guessed, it’s about calls to action. We’re going to talk about the 10 techniques for creating an effective call to action, which makes a lot of sense. I think it’s a really good thing to focus on. It’s something every website has, every website has a call to action. It doesn’t really matter whether your website is a personal website or a company website or a charity or a university, they’ve all got something that you want users to do. So that’s what we’re going to talk about, how to create those good calls to action. How to basically manipulate people into doing what you want them to do, which as you know I’m a huge fan of. Should we kick off with our very first technique, our top 10 techniques for creating a call to action? Here is number one.

Lay the groundwork

Paul Boag:
So the first thing I want to talk about is laying the ground work. So we’re talking about before you even get, before the user gets to the point of doing a call to action, you need to lay the ground work. And that’s the first part and the first piece of advice I’ve got about creating a successful call to action, is to lay the ground work. So before the user is willing to complete a call to action, they need to recognize their needs. Whenever I start talking about this it always make you think of infomercials. Have you ever seen? You must have, back in the day when you toured around America, you must have seen the late night infomercials on American TV, I just love them.

Marcus Lillington:
Covering what, what sort of thing?

Paul Boag:
The kind of… things like blenders, because I’ve just come back from America.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, yes, yes. The kind of …

Paul Boag:
“This blender can blend concrete!” Well why do I need it to blend concrete?!

Marcus Lillington:
They have, and basically they’re more like TV shows these days, aren’t they? They have them on over here as well. A good friend of mine enjoys watching them. I can’t think of what the networks are called that show them.

Paul Boag:
Teleshopping networks.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, but basically it’s like whole – half an hour program, which is basically just to sell this gismo. And it’s all interviews, and like you say it’s doing very weird things.

Paul Boag:
Yes, but what I really like about, they’re actually – they’re huge fun to watch. And they do kind of convince you. It is quite remarkable, you think “well this is a reasonable product.” You start full cynical going, “I know it’s a load of rubbish.” And then by the end you’re actually going “it’s actually quite good, isn’t it?” But anyway that’s perhaps just my weak mindedness. Jedi mind tricks would obviously work on me. But if you actually look and analyze what they do, they do something that’s quite interesting and is relevant to what we’re talking about, which is they first will identify a problem and then they present a product that solves that problem. So for example, let’s take a company like Skype. Skype, they’ve identified a problem which is keeping in touch with relatives around the world which is very difficult and very expensive. And they provide a solution to that in the form of their VoIP software Skype. So their whole website and the way that they approach things is to highlight the problem and then provide the solution to that. And I think that it’s really quite important, that I think too often people jump into their calls to action without really first demonstrating the need. So a great example of that is social media. How many sites do you go to that say follow us on Twitter. Well, why?

Marcus Lillington:
I was having a very similar conversation actually this week about a campaign site where priority number one was to ask people to donate. And I said you need to explain to people why they might want to do that first. And yes, the same applies.

Paul Boag:
So charity is a really good example of that, where, you know there are charities, I mean, we’ve done it before when we worked on charity websites, you go along and you go to the donate and it tells you specifically if you give ₤10 it has this effect. If you give ₤20, it has this effect. And I think that’s very powerful because it’s a call to action, but its presenting what you’re going to get back is you’re selling the benefits the whole time. What are the results of you taking this action? And I think social media is a really good example of that, and you need to give people a reason to sign up to your Twitter account or a reason to follow you on Facebook, something compelling. And ideally you need to solve a problem for them. Anyway, that is number one. If we go at this rate, we’re never going to get through the show. So number one, way of improving your calls to action is to lay the ground work.

Offer a little extra

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
We could just do 3, instead of 10.

Paul Boag:
No, because it’s supposed to be top 10 for the top 10.

Marcus Lillington:
But rules are made to be broken, Paul.

Paul Boag:
No, I can’t yet – but I can’t break it on the second episode.

Marcus Lillington:
We could just deliberately one week just do nine and make out we did 10, that’s funny.

Paul Boag:
Yes, nobody will notice will they.

Marcus Lillington:
No, nobody would notice actually, and it wouldn’t be funny at all. Anyway, carry on.

Paul Boag:
So that’s one up. My next technique on my top 10 techniques is to offer a little extra, something to sweeten the deal to encourage the user to complete your calls to action. So that could be a discount, an entry into competition or a free gift. And in the 2008 Obama election campaign, they did the best thing ever, which is if you made a donation of $30 or more, they gave you a free T-shirt. And on the front of this free T-shirt was a bloody big advert for the Obama campaign. That’s just genius. It’s like, well, if you give us this is money, we will give you something back that happens to be a massive big advertisement for us. I just think that’s really clever.

Marcus Lillington:
Hopefully it was a nice T-shirt as well. But it was really, really cheap, wasn’t it?

Paul Boag:
It was probably cheap and nasty. And so that was the – but the idea of providing some kind of incentive is a really powerful way of getting people to sign up with you to agree to do. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be something like a free gift or even a discount, it could be access to certain information. Or it could be all kinds of different things, just to sweeten the deal a little bit. And again, you can go back to infomercials as a great example of this, that they do – “but if you buy in the next 10 minutes, you will get this, this and this as well.” And obviously that was all included in the price to begin with, but it looks like it’s sweetening the deal, it looks like it’s giving something extra. So that kind of thing works very well. So that’s number two, offer a little extra.

Have a small number of distinct actions

Paul Boag:
Okay, so number three, have a small number of distinct actions.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ve got to go back to number two again.

Paul Boag:
I knew you’d do this.

Marcus Lillington:
I was looking at something else, then I was thinking about it and then I thought you’ve got to be careful when sweetening the deal that you’re not over doing it, that you’re not… it’s obviously you’re manipulating people, I guess that’s my. I have this – I hate it when you get on Booking.com and other holiday type sites saying there is one person about to buy this thing and if you don’t sign up now and it just annoys me.

Paul Boag:
Yes. There is a line, isn’t there?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. I mean, but some people think that’s great, but you have got to be aware of who your audience is I suppose.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Now I will accept that. Now you can edit that, so that comment appears in the last section.

Marcus Lillington:
No, I won’t. No, no, no.

Paul Boag:
Yes, yes, yes, come on you’ve got to do the job properly, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
So yes, you were talking about having a small number of distinct actions I believe, Paul.

Paul Boag:
I was indeed. So is it, I think the trouble is on a lot of sites we tend to have so many different calls for actions, don’t we? Sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, buy this product, all these things competing with one another. And if you have too many, the user becomes overwhelmed. And there is a really famous study of this involving supermarkets, right. So they created a shelf in a major supermarket and they did two different approaches with the shelf. Approach number one, they filled up that shelf with as many different varieties of preserves, jams, you could possibly want, every different flavor under the sun. And then they ran the same experiment again, but this time they only had a relatively small number of varieties on there. And what they found is that people bought considerably more if you only had a limited number of varieties, because basically people were suffering from something called choice paralysis. There was too much choice, too many things they could do, and so they ended up doing nothing.

Of course the other big danger is that, if you have multiple calls to action that people end up doing one of your calls to action that’s less valuable to you than another. So a classic example is with charity websites again, where they have “make a donation” or “buy something from our shop.” Now, so people end up buying something from the shop, which is all well and good – the percentage of the profits go to the charity, but they’re not making as much money on it as if they somebody would actually give them a donation. So you’ve got to be very careful that your secondary calls to action don’t end up cannibalizing your first. You see that all the time. And again social media is a great example of that, that you can end up with people thinking that liking something is good as doing some other calls to action. Which obviously it’s not, from the company’s point of view. So reduce the number of calls to action that you have, because that will reduce the amount of mental effort people have to put in to picking the right one. And of course that number of appropriate actions will vary from site to site. However, it is not actually so much the number of actions that is a factor in it, but the other element to it is the distinctiveness of the actions. So take for example there is a Wiki site that has three calls to action. Create a Wiki, view a demo, and buy now. Those are the three options that they’ve got. And although three is not an unacceptable number, there is not a clear distinction between create a Wiki and buy now, what’s the difference between the two?

Marcus Lillington:
I’m confused, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Just shut up. You’re being sarcastic, but it’s true isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Of course it is. Yes.

Paul Boag:
If you create a Wiki, surely you’re going to have to pay for it, because there is a view a demo option, the view a demo is the demo option. So if you create a Wiki, you’re going to be paying for it. So I’m… if they’re not really distinct actions, then users are left confused.

Marcus Lillington:
Micro copy Paul, is what it’s all about.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
High quality micro copy. Well in this case just have two options.

Paul Boag:
Exactly. So a better approach would be to push the buy option later in the process and have “create a Wiki” or “view a demo” and then they will come across the “buy” when they get to it. So that is, that’s the key. It’s about having a small number, but also each of those being distinct.

So I just want to make sure, Marcus, that you don’t want to go back and try anything else about that last one?

Marcus Lillington:
Not yet.

Paul Boag:
You sure? I’m giving you this chance now.

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe in a minute or two. No, I have nothing to add.

Paul Boag:
Okay, that’s good. Should I go into number four then?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Use active urgent language

Paul Boag:
So that’s using, that’s about using urgent language, active urgent language. And this comes, you have to be bit careful with this, because this is …

Marcus Lillington:
Buy now.

Paul Boag:
Yes, all that stuff. Buy, cool, register, subscribe, donate. And again, this comes back to what you were saying earlier Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Clearly. Clear I would say rather than urgent.

Paul Boag:
Clear. Oh okay, no urgency, the time limitation. Things like “offer expires on the 31st of March” or “for a short time only” or “order now and receive a free gift.”

Marcus Lillington:
If those things are true, then fair enough. But if you’re using them as a way to make people sign up, which is what I always – going back to my annoyance over booking sites, because I don’t believe them when they say “someone is about to buy this”. I think how do you know?

Paul Boag:
Well, I mean the best example of it that I can think of is DHS. Is it DHF, in Britain which sell sofas and furnishing? They’ve always got a sale on.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it’s permanent sale. There is one day of the year that they don’t have a sale on, probably for legal reasons they have to not have a sale on, it’s probably Christmas day isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Probably. So you just don’t believe it, it becomes worthless. It’s like the boy that cried wolf isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
So, but you can do some clever stuff with it. For example, I’ve seen a workshop once that creates a sense of urgency by offering a discount to those who sign up early.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh yes, I mean conferences have been doing that for years.

Paul Boag:
Exactly. Or say the first 10 places get a discount, because often it can be, sometimes it could be time based, it can be based on limited supply or whatever else. But it is providing that kind of that sense of urgency for people to act quickly. So yes, that’s another good tip, which brings us on to Number 5.

So picking up a bit of momentum now, this is good.

Marcus Lillington:
But we’re stopping and we will talk about something else for a bit.

Paul Boag:
Yes, it must be time to slow down now, mustn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
What’s the next one, Paul?

Get the position right

Paul Boag:
It is get the position right.

Marcus Lillington:
What does that mean?

Paul Boag:
So it… it’s fairly obvious. Position on the page.

Marcus Lillington:
All right, make it big and in the middle.

Paul Boag:
No, I will… make it big is a different one that comes further down my list.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
But make it in the middle, yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. We separated big in the middle into two posts.

Paul Boag:
Yes, because I have to get 10 out of this list!

Marcus Lillington:
Right, okay. This will be a quick point this one then.

Paul Boag:
So it’s place it high on the page, place it in the center. There are some great examples of content that I think, I hate to say put it above the fold, because obviously there is no such thing as the fold, but certainly put it high on the page is a significant factor in it.

Marcus Lillington:
But that can go against the previous point about ensuring the people understand why they should be taking the calls to action. You put it too high and in the middle, then it’s the first thing on the page and then people would go “why should I donate” because I don’t know why I should donate. There is a balance isn’t there?

Paul Boag:
Marcus stop complicating things. Now you’re absolutely right. Of course, you do, these some of these points you know you have to weigh against one another and make the right decision. Talking about above the fold, I was deeply upset yesterday. I really had to bite my lip, because Katie talked about the fold and I have to resist the urge to rant uncontrollably. I did very well.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, if you… it does exist as long as you kind of describe the situations while you’re describing it, that makes sense. There is a fold on my screen, I’m looking at it now that there is an area if I’m looking at a page on a browser in, on my laptop, there is a point where I can’t see the content anymore.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Well, that depends on whether you’re running it in a window, it depends on the resolution of your …

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, but I mean to say it doesn’t exist isn’t true, just it changes is true.

Paul Boag:
I don’t think the word, I don’t like the word fold, because it comes from a newspaper and the newspaper has this specific fold point.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
While this is a point where things start to scroll. It doesn’t sound as snappy.

Marcus Lillington:
No, it doesn’t. Although there are some really nice things you can do with responsive design as Dan and Ed did on the new Headscape, Boagworld site where the content changes depending on how deep the page is, for want of a better term. So it’s not just left and right, it’s up and down.

Paul Boag:
You know I hadn’t noticed they’d done that. I mean I know that they done on client websites before, but I hadn’t noticed they done it on Boagworld.

Marcus Lillington:
Font sizes change, basically. There is a point when it can’t do it anymore obviously, but just for the first few… I can’t think of the right word, but as you’re making it slightly smaller than what you would describe as a standard view window, it just makes it the typeface slightly smaller, which is cool.

Paul Boag:
It is very cool, but nothing to do with the point that we were talking about.

Marcus Lillington:
No, I can’t remember what that was.

Paul Boag:
Get the position right.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh yes, that’s it.

Paul Boag:
What I suppose it is vaguely, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Didn’t we do that with EDF, we were having a problem on… so this is an environmental charity that we’re working for, and we had a problem where the call to action was getting pushed below the fold. So what you did is, if the resolution was particularly low then things were repositioned so the call to action was pushed back up.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it was basically it was all of the laptops they had at the time within the organization, were the machines that all the senior managers had, those small kind of dinky little laptops. And it so happened that the design when you viewed it on those particular screens, made it look like there wasn’t any content below where you could see. That was the main problem, because obviously if you can see something is cut off then you know that you need to scroll down, but it just fitted perfectly, you could just see a kind of carousel design basically and then it looked like just the right amount of space below it before you… of blank space if you like. So we had to come up with a solution, which was as you just described the layout changes at a particular depth of screen.

Paul Boag:
That’s so funny. That really amuses me, because I’m pretty sure Ed was the first person to ever do vertical media queries, because this was a long time ago, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
When Ethan was only first talking, Ethan Marco, and was only first talking about responsive design. And I love the fact that he created it just to keep a handful of executives happy.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
An entire new technique that was created simply because of that, that’s just wonderful. All right let’s move on to Number 6.

Use white space

So the next one is blindingly obvious if you’re a designer, but I think clients so often miss this and it’s the fact that if you want something to stand out, if you want a call to action to standout, put lots of white space around it. This is where the power of white space really comes in, because if you have got empty space around a call to action it screens out. In the same ways when you go to the Google homepage, you couldn’t miss the search box, because there is nothing around it, you just cannot go away from it. So it’s not just the position of your call to action that matters, it’s also the space around it. The more space around a call to action, the more attention is strong to it. So the more you clutter up your calls to action with surrounding content, the more likely it is to be lost in the noise of the page. And obviously when I say white space, I don’t literally mean white space; I’m talking about clear space, space space.

Marcus Lillington:
Stuff with nothing in it.

Paul Boag:
Yes, exactly, it could be a color or a very subtle pattern, but certainly not other content elements. So there you go. So use white space, I don’t think there’s anything else to say about that one.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Use an alternative colour

Paul Boag:
Talking about colors, another really good thing you can do with calls to action is to use an alternative color. So color is a great way of drawing attention to your elements, especially if the rest of your site uses a fairly limited palette. So if you, the majority of your site is going to be used is a blue, then using a bright orange button is really going to stand out from that. So there is a Mac application called Things, that does this. And not that I’ve looked at their site particularly recently …

Marcus Lillington:
So it’s probably nothing like that, isn’t it? We can have a look now.

Paul Boag:
I wrote this article a long time ago, it’s not actually, I’ve just looked. There is nothing.

Marcus Lillington:
They’ve gone all kind of animated-y, or not, illustrated-y.

Paul Boag:
Illustrative, really. But anyway, the site used to be almost exclusively blue, but then there were these two massive, not massive in size, but in contrast, orange buttons that were for download and make a purchase. And actually I think they’ve kind of lost that a little bit on their current site I think.

Marcus Lillington:
Definitely.

Paul Boag:
It’s not got that punch that it once had and it’s harder to spot the calls to action. So you contrast, color contrast is a really great way of grabbing somebody’s attention and drawing it to a button. I have to say mine because otherwise someone will tell me off, you can’t rely on color alone because obviously a lot of users are color blind, so you’re going to need to kind of combine color with other techniques that we’ve talked about as well, in order for this to work. Okay let’s move on to number 8.

Make it big

So this is your one, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Make it big.

Paul Boag:
Make it big. Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Make it big; put it in the middle, end of episode.

Paul Boag:
It’s the American approach to Web design. Make it big.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, I know we’re taking the mick a bit here, but I’m a massive fan of keeping content on a page to a minimum, step people through, which basically is “make it big.”

Paul Boag:
Yes. Absolutely. I mean as Web designers we often get annoyed when clients ask us to make things bigger. But I think okay, it’s true that size isn’t everything. But I do think that making it large does make a difference. So it’s a big part of it and I think we often, we want to be subtle in our design, don’t we? But actually subtle is not everything. I mean a great example of this that I really like is the Firefox website. If you go to mozilla.com, it’s got the frigging massive button, “download Firefox.” No messing around, right in the center of the screen, lots of white space around it, color contrast, job done. And I do think sometimes as designers we’re trying be too subtle and too clever, when we should just put a bloody big button there.

Have a call to action on every page

Okay so we come on to number 9 now, nearly made it, Marcus, aren’t you proud?

Marcus Lillington:
You’re doing so well.

Paul Boag:
I know! So number 9 is have your calls to action on every page. There seems to be this thing about people having calls to action on homepages, and then people kind of lose interest on the rest of the site, which I find hugely bizarre. But every page I think on your website should have some form of call to action to lead the user on. If the user reaches a dead end, then they’re going to leave without responding to your call to action now. I’m not saying it needs to be a main call to action on every page of the website, I’m not saying you should just shove it in at the header or the footer. What I’m saying is that every page should lead you on in some way to the next thing.

Marcus Lillington:
No dead ends.

Paul Boag:
No dead ends, yes. So you can have small directions on some pages that lead the user gently on towards your ultimate goal, but it should always lead you somewhere. 37signals used to do this in a really good way on their website. They used to have calls to action to take a tour or sign up for a basecamper site account on every single one of their basecamp pages. And it left you in no doubt what you was supposed to do and where you were supposed to go next and what the ultimate aim of that site was. And I actually think more people should be taking that kind of approach and thinking about every page and what the called to action is.

Carry the call through

And so we come to point number 10, is it just me or does it feel like this podcast has been going on for days, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
Days and days, over a week actually.

Paul Boag:
Do we confess our sins at this point?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes we can give – you were apologetic, but I’m sure you didn’t do it deliberately Paul. Paul chopped off this bit of the recording.

Paul Boag:
Yes, so we’ve had to revisit it.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
It probably comes down to the fact that the app crashed because I’m using Yosemite, the new operating system.

Marcus Lillington:
Of course, that’s exactly what it will be. So it’s your fault.

Paul Boag:
So it’s my fault and you can be pissed at me. So there you go that cheers you up. So anyway we come on to the final point in our extensive list of calls to action, and how to do good calls to action. The final one comes about carrying your calls to action through. I’m amazed how many sites have really strong calls to action on them, and then you click and you go through to that call to action and it actually just kind of dumps you. It’s interesting, I’ve been reviewing a higher education website, haven’t I Marcus, you’ve been making me do work, which is disgraceful. And as part of that they’ve got this big call to action on there on every page – well, it might be every page or the home page anyway, which is “attend an open day.” And you click on this “attend an open day” and instead of telling you about this open day, it literally just takes you through the registration form. There is no kind of additional information, no explanation, nothing. Just here is a registration form, sign up.

And you see that quite a lot, and I think it’s really important that you kind of follow-through more thoroughly with a landing page or whatever is required to make things clear as to what you’re trying to do. But when you inevitably come to that point of the user filling in their details, I’m also horrified at how many fields, many sites like you to fill in. “Sign up for our website,” or our newsletter or whatever. So why do you need to know what sector I work in for me to sign up for a newsletter, or my dogs inside leg measurement or whatever bizarre thing that they seem to try and collect these days. I think it’s basically because marketing people like to build up demographic information. Which is, it’s kind of fine, now I can understand the desire to do that, but people end up dropping out of the process because they can’t be arsed. If you do want to do that kind of thing, I suggest waiting until the end of the process. Get the minimal information you require and then ask for some additional information you really need it. That’s kind of my attitude.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, yes absolutely. It makes a lot of sense, it’s a bit like a donation process isn’t it. Or if you’re signing up to become a member of something, don’t ask people for an additional donation until they’ve signed up.

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s a good one.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely, because you’re just looking like you’re taking the piss basically, aren’t you.

Marcus Lillington:
What I’ve found a fair amount, particularly in the HE sector, is if you’re asking people to apply for something or sign up for something, you tend to find – oh there is a noisy plane going past, my window is open for a change, because it’s so hot.

Paul Boag:
It is so hot.

Marcus Lillington:
Which makes a change for us moaning about the cold and wet weather, it’s really hot in the moment. Anyway, what was I talking about? –Oh yes, you tend to find that there are certain courses that fit the bill nicely with “apply for this” and then you get taken through to the well designed, good usability, process of signing up or applying. But you will find that some courses don’t fit that. So rather than dealing with them sensibly, they just fire you back to the sort of homepage or landing page for courses, and you feel completely lost.

Paul Boag:
So one I just came across recently, again the same site I was mentioning a minute ago. You go into some of the course pages on that website, and they’ve obviously tried to introduce some kind of consistency in the sub navigation, so each course has the same sub navigation down the side of it, except… and one of those options is “how to apply” and another one is “apply now”. Unfortunately on some courses there isn’t that information because they haven’t been supplied or it is impossible or whatever. And so instead of removing the options, they’ve just made them unclickable. So I sat there going “Why isn’t this working? Oh, it’s because I’m using Yosemite, and it’s buggy.” And then eventually worked out, no, no it’s the site has a link that doesn’t link anywhere. So that was a particularly weird one. You get all kinds of peculiarities, don’t you, and you’ve just got to follow through and finish off, otherwise you’re wasting your time, not you really? So that is our top 10 tips for effective calls to action. Marcus, do you a joke to finish off the show with?

Marcus Lillington:
I do have a joke, and obviously Paul you know the punch line.

Paul Boag:
Oh yes, you’re just going to do the same joke? I would have thought you’d at least find a new joke.

Marcus Lillington:
No, because this is a good one.

Paul Boag:
Okay, go on then.

Marcus Lillington:
You have to pretend not to have heard it before.

Paul Boag:
Well, let’s be honest. I’m almost certainly completely forgotten it as I barely can remember my name from day-to-day.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. A man takes his cross eyed dog into the vet and asked him what he could do for poor old Rover. The vet says, I’m going to have put him down. The man exclaims “why, because he is cross eyed?” No the vet says, “because he is heavy.”

Paul Boag:
I had forgotten that, and it is a good one. I like that.

Marcus Lillington:
That is good isn’t it? I said that to my wife and other people and they go “eh? I don’t get it.”

Paul Boag:
* So it must be my razor sharp intelligence. Hey, so I’ve got a little treat for the listeners when we – before we finish up. So as people probably know I’ve been involved with the Future Of conferences for flipping years. And on the 29th of September to the 1st of October this year, there is a Future of Web Apps, London and they are really changing it around, they’re doing lots of new stuff and they’ve got lots of tips and tools for developers and they’re talking about APIs and tool kits and lots of techie stuff that to be honest, I don’t understand. But because I love the guys of Future Of so much, I decided to do them a favor. And I thought using our massive audience of six people that listen to the show, I thought I’d get the word out for them about this conference. So there is a 15% discount if you want to attend the conference using the code Headscape15. We don’t make any money out of this. I’m doing it purely out of the deep love that I have for the guys at that conference. So if you fancy going along and checking it out, then you can use that code. I will put a link in the show notes to the Future of Web Apps, so that you can get to it that way, but a quick Google would do the job as well. So if you’re in London, and you can do a conference on the 29th of September, then definitely check this out, it is worthwhile looking at. And yes, they normally have some great speakers and interesting subjects and stuff. So there you go. Okay, I think that wraps up this week’s show. I wish all shows were as short as this for us recording them. Barely have we started that we’re now finishing.

Marcus Lillington:
Indeed.

Paul Boag:
Perhaps it’s just the way to do it. Perhaps we just record a little bit of the show each day. That won’t be in any way disjointed.

Marcus Lillington:
No or difficult or painful or annoying.

Paul Boag:
Perhaps that isn’t the best way to do it. But anyway, I can guarantee that next week’s show is going to be a good one, because we’re about to record it. And I’m in such a happy jolly mood today. And it’s going to be our top 10 books that every Web professional should read. So check that out next week.

Headscape

Boagworld