October 1, 2009

The Four Rules of SEO and Writing Calls to Action

90% of your site’s success is determined by two things:

The first thing a visitor reads—the headline.

The last thing a visitor reads—the call to action.

Which might be why search engines treat these pieces of text as significant: it’s not that they tel you what a site is about, but that they’re the part of a page writers can least afford to write badly. That’s not a disadvantage. Your call to action can bring in more users and conversions, if you follow the rules.

1. Text, not images: the best-looking calls to action are big, flagrant buttons and widgets. Loud colors, designs built to stick out from the rest of the page, placement overlapping page borders or crowding out body copy: these all work, but it’s always worth it to spend a couple hours writing your call to action in HTML and CSS, not as an image. You can tell search engines to associate hidden text with a visible image, and they can tell you they will. But this is easy to abuse, and they know it, so spend extra time on HTML-izing it.

2. The product, not the deal: unless you’re the low-cost provider and proud of it, this is generally useful as a guideline. But for SEO, it’s a requirement: search engines will index your call to action, and if you put it in header tags, they will treat it as significant. So “buy widget,” not “get discount.”

(A dubious exception: “free {product}” is an offer people search for. But it’s an increasingly ineffectivr marketing technique. If they got to your site searching for “free,” expect them to leave when you ask for a credit card.)

3. Don’t dilute your impact with redundant calls to action. A page that makes the same pitch three times is a page that will turn off more readers than it brings in. However, if you’re going to use related calls to action (“Read this book!” or “Attend this seminar!” or “Buy this DVD!”), more than one per page works.

4. Calls to action are your SEO secret weapon, if you use them right. Searchers use keywords to express intent. Guess which search query leads to more sales: [income taxes past history], [past income taxes], [filing past income taxes], [file past income taxes].

The command converts best. The “filing” search is nearly identical, but gerunds are toxic to ambition. Since [file past income taxes] happens to be a solid call to action, using it will enhance rankings for a good search term and get more visitors to convert. It also provides a nice symmetry: your headline tells readers the page is about the topic they searched for. The body copy confirms that you can perform the service they want. And the call-to-action tells them that they can accomplish the specific goal they had in mind.

If you build your site around using calls to action for SEO, your structure is going to look a little like this: the headline and title tag will be generally related to whatever you’re offering; the body copy will be sprinkled with long-tail keywords in the subheads, and features / benefits in the bullet points. Your call to action (a larger header than the subject subheads) closes the deal.

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I’m currently the Co-Founder and CEO of a startup providing equity research and M&A due diligence to investors analyzing online businesses.

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    If a call to action is not consistent then your whole site just looks dull and even it makes visitors feel insecure. The best way is to keep everything in a proper way with harmony.