Your website absolutely needs an effective call to action if you want to engage your audience and convert visitors into customers. But what does that mean and how do you make it happen?

Your website absolutely needs an effective call to action if you want to engage your audience and convert visitors into customers. But what does that mean and how do you make it happen?

It may sound like jargon, but a "call to action" really is exactly what it sounds like. Found on a website, banner ad, email or elsewhere, it is a statement tailor-made to inspire a behavior. That is, a line in your text or a button on the page that encourages a viewer to do something, whether it's click for more information, fill in a form to get in touch or download an ebook to learn more.

How do you make the most of your call to action? Are there CTA best practices? There are a million whats, wheres and hows when it comes to designing an effective, engaging CTA.

Let's start with some call to action basics:

What is a call to action?

A call to action (CTA) is an element on your website that invites the viewer to take action. It can be presented a few ways, in the form of text, an image, or a button. Your CTA should describe what action a visitor should take, guiding them to the next step. What's your goal? What do you want people to do? CTAs aren't just for sales or calls; they can encourage downloads, sign-ups, join newsletter mailings and more.

Why is a call to action important?

What action do you want website visitors to take? Your website has a purpose - to gain customers, share information, build a network - so your call to action should lead visitors to that goal. The point of a CTA is to provide website visitors with a clear, obvious guide of what to do next. You CTA (CTAs if you have more than one) should lead a viewer through logical stages toward the goal. CTAs can also be used to measure your website's effectiveness, as they provide great statistics for analysis.

Tips for an effective CTA

Eye-catching design: Use contrasting or vibrant colors to make your CTA stand out from the rest of your website, guiding the viewer's eye. The text or button should be sized and located strategically to draw attention and be obvious to some skimming over the screen.

Engaging copy: The words you use are just as important as the design. Your call to action will be a call to nothing if the language is boring, vague, or too jargon-y. Use descriptive words, enthusiastic punctuation(!), and, if appropriate, try to have fun with it! Think "Sign up before it's too late!" rather than "Fill out form."

Clear results: What happens when a viewer clicks? Don't make it a mystery. Let visitors know exactly what they can expect on the other side of that button. Your CTA should be descriptively worded (see above) and can have some text beside it explaining. For example, if your CTA is "Get in touch!" then you can have some info explaining that by filling out the form on the next page, they can expect to have a representative call them within 24 hours.

Demonstrate value: Why should someone follow your call to action? Let people know what they will get out of it. With a CTA of "Get your ebook today!" it should be clear that, by downloading your ebook, a person will learn key facts and effective tips for accomplishing something great.

Make it look easy: Eliminate barriers to entry. No one likes to click on a CTA only to find a rabbit hole of seemingly never-ending forms and landing pages and questions. Tell people up front that taking action is easy!

Other things to keep in mind

Do you have multiple goals for your website's visitors? Maybe they can call to "Get started today!" or "Request a brochure!" to learn more before deciding to work with you. You can have more than one call to action! Just make sure the distinction between the Primary and Secondary Action is clear, using simple language and making results clear. You can also use size and placement to indicate importance, with higher up and larger items drawing the eye first.

Implying urgency is a great way to encourage engagement with your call to action. It's the difference between "Sign Up" and "Register now while supplies last!" Be truthful, but use your CTA to show that customers don't want to wait another minute before taking the leap.

Show personality! Your call to action is a chance to have some fun and show off who you are behind the business. Get creative with your language, while staying focused on the goal. Just be sure that playful language is in line with the overall tone of your business and brand.

A well-crafted call to action is key to moving potential - and current - customers through your site and towards engaging with your business in a more meaningful way. Designing and implementing an effective CTA doesn't have to be hard! Just follow these few simple rules and you'll be well on your way to inspiring your website visitors to take the next step.

Elizabeth Vincent is a senior copywriter with Propel Marketing. Propel Marketing is an online marketing company providing digital solutions to local small- and medium-sized businesses. www.propelmarketing.com