Are You Asking User to Act at the Best Moment?

Paul Boag

The most compelling call to action will fail if you ask people to act at the wrong time. Unfortunately, in our desperation to convert users we often rush into asking them to act.

I wanted to buy a particularly geeky t-shirt for a conference I was attending and so decided to check out a site somebody on Twitter recommended.

When I arrived on the site, I was immediately greeted by a large overlay asking me to sign up for their newsletter. It offered me 10% off my first order if I did.

Overlays can sometimes be the worst possible way of asking a user to act.

Setting aside the fact their newsletter was obviously worthless if they felt the need to pay me to sign up for it, I was just not ready to make the trade. I had yet to see any t-shirts and so had no idea if I would need a 10% discount to make a purchase. I closed the overlay and started looking around the site.

In fact, I did find some great t-shirts on the site and wanted to buy. I was now ready to sign up for their newsletter to get my 10% off. I intended to unsubscribe afterwards, but that is another story.

However, I then discovered that I couldn’t find a sign-up form for the newsletter anywhere and there was no way to get back the overlay I was viewing earlier.

Unsurprisingly this left me irritated. I would have to pay 10% more for the t-shirt. Suddenly the t-shirt appeared expensive to me, and so I gave up and left the site.

What that story should teach us is that picking the right moment to ask users to complete a call to action is essential both for the next ask (sign up for the newsletter), but also for other related calls to action (such as making a purchase).

You see, different calls to action are often applicable at different moments in the user’s journey, and we need to be aware of that when designing a website.

It didn’t make sense to ask me to sign up for the newsletter. I had not looked at any t-shirts. It would have been much more sensible to offer me the 10% discount to sign up when I came to pay or on a product details page.

The challenge is knowing when a user will be most receptive to a call to action. To some extent, you will only discover this through trial and error, which is why continual optimisation is essential for calls to action.

However, some techniques might help. The most powerful of which is the use of cookies.

Make Use of Cookies

Cookies are a powerful tool for remembering essential information about users who visit your site. You can use them to store a wide variety of information on user behaviour. Information including, but not limited to:

  • How many times they have visited.
  • Which pages they have viewed.
  • How long they have spent on a page.
  • Whether they have completed other calls to action.
  • Personal data the user has shared.

Information such as this can be useful for picking the right moment to display appropriate calls to action.

For example, if the user has returned to the site for the second time, you could provide a prominent call to action for the product they spent the most time looking at on their previous visit.

Alternatively, if somebody made a one-off donation on a charity website, the next time they come back you might encourage them to make a regular donation instead.

But cookies do come with drawbacks. Some users block cookies entirely, while others regularly clear them, wiping all of the associated data.

Then of course there is the fact that we need a users explicit permission to use cookies to track them. That has become much more stringent since the introduction of GDPR.

Relying on cookies does require us to get the user’s permission, but no doubt you are doing that anyway.

Fortunately, cookies are not the only way of picking the right moment to ask users to complete a call to action. Even something as simple as what users are looking at can guide us.

Track What Users Are Reading

What pages people are looking at and how long they are spending on those pages can often be a useful guide as to what they are interested in. That can help us target users with the appropriate call to action.

For example, if a user is spending time reading a blog post, that is the perfect moment to ask them to sign up for the newsletter.

Alternatively, if they are hesitating to add an item to their shopping basket, a discount coupon code popping up might be the nudge they need.

But we shouldn’t just fixate on what users are doing on our site; we should also look at where they have come from.

Consider the Referral Source

How a user arrived on our site can provide us with huge clues as to what calls to action they might be open to.

The most obvious example of this is if users have arrived from one of our ad campaigns. In such cases, we should push users to a customised landing page that builds on the messages from the ad. Never send users from an ad straight to your homepage.

It is worth also looking at other referral sources. You can often tell a lot about which calls to action a user will be receptive to, based on where they are coming from.

For example, a user arriving at your website from a review site is probably further down the purchase process than somebody clicking a link in social media.

But you can go even further. If that review site focuses on value for money, the call to action might want to offer a discount code.

Another factor that you can use to pick the right call to action is date or time.

Factor in Date and Time

Seasonal calls to action are an obvious start. Prioritising calls to action that relate to an upcoming event like Christmas is almost a no-brainer. But it does highlight the need to continually optimise your site and adapt your calls to action.

Amazon have gone beyond leveraging holidays and other seasonal events to create their own day.

But sometimes even time of day can be a factor worth considering. For example, if you run a website for a food delivery company, it would make sense to show different meals at different times of the day.

On a flight booking site, you might want to favour business bookings during the day and holiday travel in the evenings. That is not to say people don’t book holidays in the day, but you may find favouring business bookings in business hours increases conversion.

Beyond time and date, also consider the device people are using, because that may well have an impact on the most effective call to action.

Take Into Account the Device

Think about it for a moment. If you visit a website on a mobile device and it overlays a call to action that involves entering a lot of data, how likely are you to complete it? I would wager, not very.

Data entry on the phone sucks, and so we tend to avoid it. So what about offering a customised call to action appropriate to the device? Perhaps you could offer to remind people to complete the form later. Asking people to fill in their email address is a lot easier than asking them to complete an entire form.

Tailor your call to action to the device the user is currently on.

Finally, be sure to take into account other calls to action.

Track Previous Calls to Action

For a start, you want to avoid showing somebody a call to action they have already completed. Nothing is more irritating than having to dismiss an overlay for a newsletter you have already signed up to! But this is also a wasted opportunity to show users a more relevant alternative action for them to complete.

Calls to action can sometimes build upon one another. Somebody who has already signed up to your newsletter is more likely to buy, and so you should be encouraging them to do that over something involving less commitment like sharing on social media.

Calls to action build upon one another as the user progresses down the sales funnel.

Essentially different calls to action involve different levels of commitment from the user. A social share is one of the least demanding, while parting with money is one of the biggest. The idea should be to move them from simple calls to action all the way through to more demanding ones. If you know what previous actions they have taken, you can present the next step in the chain.

None of this is an exact science. We don’t know enough about each user to tailor the perfect call to action for them at the right moment. But it is worth trying based on what knowledge we have, and we can monitor and improve these attempts over time.