What happens after the call to action?

The ultimate goal of every website is that users will complete your call to action. Whether that objective is to place an order, complete a contact form, sign a petition or subscribe to a newsletter, we obsess about how to encourage users to take that step. But what happens then?

The most popular post I ever wrote was on calls to action. It consistently out performs anything else I have written despite being over 3 years old.

This is not surprising really, calls to action are the heart of our website. We all know how important they are and we will do anything to make them as effective as possible.

The problem is that as we encourage users to take action, we often forget to consider what happens next.

Let’s begin by looking at reassuring the user.

Reassure your users

Have you ever been on a site where you placed an order or submitted a form and were left wondering if it went through successfully? Too many websites fail to reassure users that the process has been completed.

Make sure your site confirms in no uncertain terms that whatever the user was trying to do has been done. It may seem obvious and you may think you have done it, but I encourage you to test the experience with a real user and make sure they agree.

Transmit download screen
Panic make it abundantly clear that the user has successfully completed their call to action for downloading Transmit.

Be careful how you confirm completion of the process. Sending an email is not enough. Users are not currently looking at their email and so will still be left wondering if they are done. Also email can get lost in spam filters.

Even confirmation on the site itself needs to be done with care, especially if the call to action is completed without page refresh. Users can easily miss a notification saying there action has been completed if they are looking at the button they have just clicked. Always include notifications in the same place the user was last interacting.

As well as confirming when something has been completed successfully you also need to consider what will happen if something goes wrong.

Handling errors

A major reason for users failing to complete a call to action is that they encounter an error. Whether that error is of their own making or a bug in the site, it still amounts to a wasted opportunity.

You will want to compensate for common errors. For example if your call to action requires a user to complete their postcode, don’t make them format it in a specific way. Do the formatting at the backend. This will significantly reduce the number of people experiencing problems.

Where errors cannot be prevented, make recovery as easy as possible. When filling in a form make sure data is not lost when an error occurs. Users are unlikely to persevere if they have to enter the entire form from scratch.

Example 404 error page
404 errors are one of the most common and yet many 404 error pages are more concerned with looking pretty than helping users.

Also, offer people an alternative way of completing a call to action if they are encountering errors. Give them a phone number, allow them to send an email. Do whatever it takes to keep them moving forward.

Finally, as with completion notifications, make sure the user sees errors. Always place them next to the problem area or where the user is currently looking. In usability testing I have seen too many users staring confused at a screen because they haven’t spotted something has gone wrong.

Ultimately it boils down to ensuring users spot errors and providing help so they can recover from them. Talking of help…

Accessing help

Whether the user has successfully completed a call to action or not, it is important that they can get help afterwards.

Too many sites do their best to make it hard for users to contact them, offering nothing more than FAQs. Others limit communication to email. Unfortunately users are impatient and often unwilling to wait for replies.

Wiltshire Farm Foods help page
When we built the Wiltshire Farm Foods website we were very aware the elderly audience may have questions and want to speak to a real person.

Offering a telephone number or live chat system goes a long way to reassuring users about their decision to complete a call to action. The last thing you want is for them to regret their choice.

Avoiding buyer’s remorse

Have you ever bought something and then regretted it afterwards? Did you have a feeling that you made the wrong decision?

This is referred to as buyer’s remorse. It can occur whenever you make a decision that cannot easily be undone. You start second guessing the decision and feeling a sense of anxiety.

This sense of buyers remorse can apply to a range of calls to action, from purchases to handing over personal details for a newsletter subscription.

Small things can trigger this feeling and makes it more likely users will cancel their order and undo the decision they originally made.

Its important that you put a lot of consideration into how you will reassure the user. This maybe emphasising the benefits the user will receive from completing the call to action or offering a small thank you gift.

The trick is to exceed the users expectations rather than merely meeting them.

Going above and beyond

Ultimately the best way to follow through on your calls to action, is to exceed expectations and offer exceptional service.

That is what companies like Zappos do so well. With their 365 day free return policy, they go above and beyond the industry norm.

There are so many opportunities to go beyond expectations. Some ideas could include:

  • Offering a customer support line that picks up straight away rather than leaving you on hold.
  • Having 24/7 live chat support.
  • Paying for postage on returns.
  • Giving subscribers to your newsletter exclusive content or gifts.
  • Personally thanking people when they recommend you on social networks and rewarding them.

Even when you make mistakes, there are opportunities to exceed expectations. Take for example Jawbone. When they first released their Jawbone UP it had a serious fault that caused problems for a huge number of users.

Jawbone UP refund page
When Jawbone had problems with their UP product, they far exceeded their users expectations with an impressive return policy.

Not only did Jawbone offer a full refund they also provided unlimited replacements if your Jawbone broke. All with no requirement to return it or even prove the device was broken.

Unfortunately few companies endeavour to exceed user expectations. In fact many fail to even meet them.

Avoid unwelcome surprises

All too often completing a call to action leads to unexpected consequences. One user signs up for a newsletter expecting an email once a week and find themselves spammed daily. Another decides to buy a product only to be stung with a delivery charge they hadn’t expected. The sad truth is that many websites hide surprises in the metaphorical small print.

ASOS delivery information
ASOS do a great job at clearly explaining the cost of delivery before the user goes to make a purchase.

You will quickly lose any goodwill that lead users to complete a call to action if you aren’t entirely transparent up front. This is particularly important with delivery.

Delivering

If your call to action involves delivering a product of some kind (whether physical or electronic), it is important to handle that delivery process with care.

First, bear in mind my previous comments about unwelcome surprises. So if you have to charge delivery for your item, make sure you are very clear about that upfront. Don’t wait until the user has filled in all their details before dropping that bombshell on them. Yes, they are probably less likely to drop out once they have bothered to enter their details, however you will royally piss them off in the process.

Second, think about timescales. When a user completes a call to action they not only want to know what happens next, they also want to know when it is going to happen.

For example, if a user completes a contact form they want to know how quickly somebody will be back to them. If they have purchased a physical product, they want to know when it will be delivered.

Basecamp Support page
If you open a support ticket with Basecamp it clearly indicates how quickly you can expect a reply.

Its even important to be clear about delivery with electronic goods. Will the product be delivered instantly or will they need to wait for it to be manually approved?

If items are not delivered to the users expectations then you lose their goodwill. You will need that goodwill if you wish them to complete future calls to action.

Secondary calls to action

Website owners rarely consider what users should do once they complete the primary call to action. The presumption is that the ‘transaction’ is done and so the user is left to their own devices.

For example, on an ecommerce site the order confirmation page often contains nothing more than a ‘continue shopping’ link. Why do I need a link for this? Why would I want to continue shopping when I have just finished? Surely there is a better secondary call to action to put in here?

A call to action to follow on twitter
If a user has just bought a laptop from you, now is a good time to ask them to follow you on Twitter.

Instead of leaving users hanging at the end of the process, direct them towards a new call to action. For example, if they have just signed up to a newsletter suggest they might want to consider following you on Twitter. If they have just placed an order suggest they signup for the newsletter to get exclusive discounts.

There is always something else users could be doing. You just need to ask. But, what happens if the user doesn’t complete the primary call to action properly.

Recovering from false starts

Recently my son decided he wanted to give some of his birthday money to charity. Together we used my iPad to donate to Charity Water. Unfortunately we could not donate on their website via an iOS device, so decided to do it later.

The next day I received an email from them thanking me for my attempt to donate and encouraging me to complete the process. They had collected my email address, recognised that I hadn’t followed through on their call to action and intervened.

Charity Water followup email
Charity Water follows up via email if you fail to complete their donation process.

This is a great example of encouraging users to complete a call to action they started, but didn’t finish.

The lesson here is to get people’s contact information early. This would enable you to follow up on a range of calls to action from abandoned shopping baskets to incomplete contact forms.

However, even if the user has given you no information you can still help them recover from false starts. If they are in the middle of a call to action process, remember their information if they drop out. That way if they return later to finish their purchase or contact us form, they don’t have to start from scratch.

Conclusion

The message here is a simple one; don’t see a call to action as the end. It is only the beginning of your relationship with users. When a user completes a call to action they are trusting you. They trust you with their time, money or personal details. Don’t let them down and give them a great user experience at every step.

Download this post in printable PDF format. Go on try, it looks smashing ;-)

  • Superb well written article, thank you.

  • Useful stuff Paul! Oddly enough I was just facing this very topic with one of our clients’ homepages yesterday. Further to your point 10, I included a tiny message (in a handwritten typeface) next to the action button, that informed the user that hitting the button and completing the subsequent form, was a mere 30 second process – encourging clicks and putting lazy peoples minds at rest… ;)

  • You know Ted, making an effictive call-through is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman. First you lay the groundwork, maybe offer a little extra. Make sure you have a small number of distinct actions. Use active, urgent, language. Get the position right. Then make it big, and carry the call through!

  • Phil

    yeah, I’m totally with Stewart Curry :)

  • Great post Paul, the idea of “Call to action” on a website is a concept I am trying to push to my smaller clients at the moment. This is a good resource which hopefully will help get the idea across to them.
    Cheers

  • Lmao @stewart
    That’s one way of putting it :D

  • Wow that is a great post! I just discovered your blog with Smashingmagazine Twitt. Keep up the good work!

  • Good post. As a matter of fact, the folks here at PBwiki are considering removing the Buy Now button in the next restructuring of the Web site. Would love to hear any additional thoughts on how to optimize our site.

  • This is a good resource which hopefully will help get the idea across to them. thanks

  • penkapp

    Good stuff, Paul. From my experience:
    1) a small number of distinct actions
    2) whitespace
    3) carry the call through
    are the top three if I had to rank them. Without carrying the call through, visitors are left disappointed and will either not come back or notify others not to bother. Doing a poor job of satisfying the latter can instantly kill your site traffic and any possible related revenue.

    • I would highly recommend having only one call to action visible at any one time. More than one adds confusion and leads to less actions being taken overall – as a general rule of thumb.

      Great article. Thanks for sharing. I’ve taken inspiration from this and created my own post on effective call to actions – and linked back to you (effective call to action).

  • Matthijs

    Excellent advice. One point I’d like to add: if you have a call to action somewhere, make sure it is 100% obvious to a visitor what will happen if they react to that call to action.
    So often I come across potentially interesting offers, I’m at the point of clicking the call to action button or filling in a form (or something like that), but what stops me is that it isn’t clear what’s going to happen next.
    Do I have to go through a long and tedious sign up process? Am I buying something immediately when I click this? What will they do with the personal info I’m filling in? Etc etc
    A big “Sign up now!” button is nice, but only half the story I think.
    (this is just personal experience by the way. Maybe the marketing guys have found out that my concerns don’t apply to the general public)

  • beautiful examples btw.
    nice refresher course..the challenge is to design sites that use these design principles AND keep all of your web designs from looking the same. Our challenge is designing thousands of websites and making each one unique while sticking to these great tips.

  • Made information be felt close to voip

  • Inerxia

    Excellent!
    Thats why the little “Share this” icons doesnt work for blogs, they are so many options and services…
    Thanks

  • Joy

    Fantastic article. Thanks! You just gave me ideas for my next blog update. :)

  • Hmmm… just last night my friend and I decided to launch the “Brass Balls Radio Anti-Ethanol Movement”, to save the (tequila producing) agave farms of Mexico. I do believe we shall implement some of these ideas as we launch our “Save Agave, Fight Scurvy!” campaign.
    Thanks.
    Wendy

  • Very useful article, thanks a lot :)

  • Thank you for this nice detailed article. I will try and use this for every project from now on.

  • very nice thank you

  • Jeremy

    I enjoyed the article. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • Fantastic and well documented article. It really is true in the world of business or communication, that if we focus on our audience then we will get greater returns. What firefox, wordpress, and others have done by focusing on the call to action is brilliant. I would love to see more websites do the same.

  • Great post. I’ve been thinking about incorporating a call to action on my site for some time. I am not a large company, with a software type product, but a PR pro and social media guide selling my services to non-profits, small businesses and speakers/coaches. I think those selling services have to make extra sure we are giving enough value and being authentic, that folks can believe in your expertise enough to sign up, contact you or whatever your call to action ends up being. I think customer testimonials are very useful for helping build the authenticity of a brand as well.
    Thanks for the good info

  • Sorry to comment twice, but after re-reading comments, I agree with Matthijs above. Try and use language that gives the potential customer a clue about what will happen when they take the suggested action.
    I was just reading a Copy Blogger post (http://www.copyblogger.com/increase-blog-subscribers/) that by changing a word or two increased his entry level jobs blog RSS subscriptions by 254%. He changed the word subscribe to RSS feed to Get Jobs by RSS. Because a large percentage of people equate the word subscribe with paying money, the way subscribing to a magazine costs money, that perception created a barrier to sign-ups. Changing the words clarified the results of the all to action and increased responses dramatically.
    I have suggested to my small business clients that we us the words sign-up or free subscription as some of their clients/customers are unfamiliar with RSS feeds, what they do and how they work. The RSS feed button is something that many tech-savvy folks take for gratnetd, but that many potential customers may not.
    I personally hate clicking a link, filling out a sign-up form, and THEN finding out that there is a cost or charge. If I know it up front, I’m more likely to buy in (pun intended).
    We need to be sure to step outside of our own preconceptions and think like our potential customers. Use their language, not our jargon.

  • Dan

    Thanks for posting this, extremely useful for designers.

  • Very useful post, very well written!
    I agree with Cathy, I think you will need to consider your audience and make the call to actions work for them rather than for you. After all, they will be using your site.

  • Thanks for the mention Paul. Useful guide.

  • Well written and extremely useful article with good selection of examples. Thanks a lot for this guideline.

  • Great tips. I like #3. It’s what I call the “Entropy Factor” Don’t let it get out of control.

  • Really good stuff. This article will the standard by which I judge my future websites.

  • I like the idea that EVERY website has a call to action – even if it isn’t obvious.
    But one major point about CTAs that I would suggest is the need to TEST. If you are using instinct or “gut feeling” to guide your choices about what makes a better Call to Action, then you aren’t listening to what the visitors are saying. You need some kind of testing platform to find out the actual affect that your changes have on the success rate of your call to action.
    Thanks for the articles and podcasts!

  • Very well written. I was just talking to a client and I stated they needed to ask themselves one question : What do you want your website to do? A website is designed to do one thing and one thing only: exactly what you want your site visitors to do. You are also aware that a website is a marketing strategy. Any solid marketing strategy is supported by other strategies.
    More sign ups for your email list
    More RSS subscribers
    Higher conversion rates from visitors to customers
    Email inquiries about services
    Maybe not in that order but the bottom line remains websites are no longer just a face on the Internet, it has to be designed to do something. Thanks for putting this together.

  • Brilliant post. Focus is everything, really
    Our multitasking brain often makes us forget of it
    but it is always good to remember !

  • Extremely useful, easily digested list with fab illustrations. I will be applying the details to my evolving garden design website. Many, many thanks for sharing!

  • How about those sites that already been doing well without having these ideas what little changes shall be made?

  • Very useful post, very well written!
    I agree with Cathy, I think you will need to consider your audience and make the call to actions work for them rather than for you. After all, they will be using your site.

  • Thank you – I have tried a couple of these techniques and I noticed an immediate improvement so I’m back for more.

  • Some good stuff there – I didn’t really know what a “call to action” was supposed to do before reading this! As I’m not selling things directly, I can’t use some of these, but I like the idea of having one on every page – perhaps a different coloured banner at the bottom with “Contact me Here”…

  • I have to admit I was making a lot of mistakes with call to action… Well thanks to you i know what to do now. Thanks for a great tut on this.

  • This is article is really useful and covers just about all I needed to know before creating effective ‘Call To Actions’.

    Looking forward to implementing them more efficiently as a result.

  • hey, this article of yours is EXCELLENT, i bought a book on call to action, and there was soooooooo much WAFFLE. Your article was straight to the point and is clearly written, and your examples were really good. I’m now addressing my website with your ideas. By the way love your website theme too.

    Great stuff

  • Thanks for all of the great advice! I am trying to build calls-to-action into our company blogs and want to be as effective as possible. Lots of good advice here!

  • Call to action buttons can be intimidating if you’re not sure where it is going to lead you. A proper description is needed, but the appearance of the button surely helps too. It feels more secure to click something green or blue since the colors seem ‘safe’. A big red button creates the impression that I’m about to execute something big and there’s no turning back once I click it.

    Thanks, that’s a nice article.

  • Tim

    With regards to #4 “Use active Urgent Language”, I have been reflecting on this over the last few days – so your article is very timely Paul! – and I think “Today” is another very good word that can be used …

    As in, “Order today to receive your free gift”, “Call us, and start enjoying the benefits of … today”, and so on.

  • I totally agree with Poker guy. You have to take the human mind into consideration while designing this kind of functions.

  • Very good article. I just came across this with a quick google search on ‘call to action in websites’. This was exactly the insight what I was looking for. kudos.

    3 was perfect for the project I’m working on and my client was please with the idea.

    • You need to start thinking about your site design with personas in mind. Even if these are just short descriptions or notes for yourself, we always need to design with the end user firmly in mind from the outset.

  • excellent, well constructed article. the understanding of the concept of negative space can not be underestimated.

  • Thanks for your informative article.

    I will try to develop a call to action strategy for my next web project.

  • It’s funny, I’ve been reading a ton about calls to action and have even paid people a lot of money to learn from them.. and i see screenshots of some of the same websites they use in their example on this page! :)

  • Exactly what I was looking for to convince my boss to use the word “call” in front of our phone number.

  • Exactly what I was looking for to convince my boss to use the word “call” in front of our phone number.

  • Thanks a lot. This article has greatly benefited me. 

    Regards

  • Paul,

    I enjoyed this article. Very informative and visually appealing. The key to effective call to action is to follow the techniques mentioned above.

    Best,

    Stacie Walker

  • Anonymous

    very helpful….thank you so much for sharing!!!

  • We have been doing some call to actions on our homepage having read your great post. However some inpuit would be great as to making them better… You can view them here: http://umbrella-host.com i hope thats ok!

  • Paul, years down the track, I find that I can still recommend this article to my colleagues. A timeless article. If I could add just one point 
    (a bonus, perhaps)  it would be split testing the call to action on the page.

    I was absolutely convinced at one stage that “Switch to ClientName” was the perfect call to action for our client, but it turned out after we tested it, that it decreased conversion rates by like 80%. Sometimes it pays to try a few different ones out (based on varying the techniques you’ve outlined here) to see what works.

  • Came across this site: http://www.samplesaleavenue.com that has a (in my opinion) eye-catching call to actions on the home page for each post listed… The CTA is revealed on hover. Very cool :)

  • Adam Leviton

    Thank you for explaining the strategy behind CTAs, and not just “how to make a pretty button.”

  • Really love your site Paul… While I won’t pander by enumerating all the things that you obviously thought were good ideas; I cannot resist giving kudos on the Estimated reading time. That single addition, earned you my subscription click.

    Sorry for the off-topic comment- but this is where I happened to be when I felt the impulse to say “Well Done!”

  • Thanks for a great post. I’ve been banging on about call to action for years but many folks in small businesses just don’t seem to get it.

    • That is fascinating. I cannot understand why any business owner would not interested in calls to action. What do they answer when you ask them their reason for having a website.

      • It’s a good question and much of it has to do with the sectors I work in (accountants and lawyers) where having anything other than a stuffy ‘same as the rest of them’ website is seen as a little too extravagant.
        With one client  I suggested having a large sidebar button prompt to join the newsletter in exchange for a free business assessment tool and the client’s response was “that doesn’t sound very professional and we’re not giving anything away for free”.

        Occasionally, hitting your head against a wall is less painful…

  • Ian McManus

    One question I have is how do you know the right amount of calls to action?  My client has 3 on this page above the fold, and I’m not sure if it’s too many?  
    http://southfloridapropertygroup.com/condos/four-seasons  — any thoughts on this?

  • brianjordan05

    Thanks for all of these useful information maybe I can add some call to action with my reviews too. I’ll try all of your tips here. Especiall for my pentax k20d review.

  • Thanks Paul. I once saw a call back feature on a website (wish i could trace the website). Upon clicking on the button it dialled the customer service desk. It had powered by Oracle. But i can’t find that specific solution on Oracle. Can you help? I need it on my website. http://www.iamloyal.co.uk 

  • bgrggfe

    Do you know who is the prolocutor star of Louis Vuitton Handbags Online  now? It is the Sofia Coppola, she is well-know with the director of movies. Of course she like the LV very much ,especial the Louis Vuitton Wallet,but she never buy something from the Louis Vuitton outlet store, because she always get freely and show the newest louis vuitton items .

  • Very use full information about how can improve home page call to action ! ! 

  • Bernadette Brennan

    Thanks, great blog on call to action. Very succinct and the visual examples really helped to get your point across. Am about to try and put it into practice on my website as I think it is lacking a strong enough call to action. Thanks. http://www.premierhomefinders.com.au

  • OK, finally got the call to action button up on my website and in 24 hours have already gotten an enquiry. Wish I’d done it sooner! THANK YOU. http://www.premierhomefinders.com.au

  • Probably one of the most succinct articles I’ve read on creating effective calls to action.

  • Great break down of user behavior.

  • contentverve

    Interesting article with a lot of good pointers. As goes for CTA position, my experience is that the best practice “always have the CTA above the fold” can backfire big time. I just published a case study where moving to CTA to the bottom of a long landing page generated a 304% lift in conversions. You can check it out here: http://goo.gl/hBQtr

  • Thank you for the informative and useful information. Thank you for sharing.

  • karan singh

    Call to action is over finale destination to attract the user`s, we need to optimize our add or landing page according to user thought , we just analyse the requirement and thoughts of client and display our features on call to action.

  • Great article!

  • James

    The challenge you still have with well written CTAs, is the webpage is static. Sometimes visitors need something more dynamic to hone their focus in on for a desired call to action like what nudgein.com does.

  • pete

    Very insightful info. However, quite a lot of authors also offer their own concepts on how to write an effective call to action and although most of the information you find helps you learn a thing or two, it would have been great if there were some extensive examples of several ‘call to actions’ which have been written for different purposes. Like for instance how some examples of call to action meta tags that can be used in Internet Marketing articles. This would give any beginner a good idea of how to write their call to action.

  • Soluweb

    I have just discovered this website and have found a lot of valuable information, thanks for sharing.

  • So I am working on a followup to this article. It is going to be an in-depth video course unpacking the techniques used by some of the biggest websites in the world. I am really going to delve into creating an effective call to action. If you want a sneak peak check out the page I have put together. – https://gumroad.com/l/Calls-to-action

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