Verbs are Your Friends – The Importance of Call-to-Action Buttons

By Sue Brady

Call-to-action buttons, or CTAs for those in the know, are the buttonsBuy Now a user clicks on from your website to complete an action. Typically, it’s to complete an action you want the user to complete, like ‘BUY NOW,’ and that’s why they are so important. in fact CTAs are probably the most important thing on the page. It’s critical to test your CTAs to figure out what will work best for your site.

Elements Worth Testing

  • Message – Does it call on the user to do something specific?
  • Appearance – Does it blend in or stand out?
  • Size – Again, does it blend in or stand out?
  • Color – Hmm, does it blend in or stand out?

The message. Text can be short or long, but make sure you include a verb. Action words will get users to take action. Funny how that works. Most experts who write about button text will say that shorter is better, and they are probably right. But you won’t know until you test it yourself, on your particular pages. And make sure you are directing the user to do something you want them to do. For instance, if your CTA is simply ‘Learn,’ a user might not understand why he should click. Retailers seem to have figured out that a button that says ‘Add to Cart’ is universally understood as the next step needed when someone wants to make an actual purchase. Your own CTA should be just as clear.

Appearance. It’s a mistake to make the user have to work to figure out where they are supposed to click. If your button blends in so nicely with the look and feel of your site, it will be difficult to find. Test something bold and different. Make sure the button is ‘findable’ without having to scroll. And also, reversed out white type works just fine against a bold button background.

Size. Big and bold. This relates back to my previous statement about making sure the user doesn’t have to work to know where to click. With a big and bold CTA button, the direction to the user should be obvious. If someone sees nothing else on your page, you want them to notice that CTA button.

Color choice. Way back when I first started working with direct response websites, I remember someone telling me that I shouldn’t use red on my CTA buttons. That advice makes sense. Red means stop and has a negative ‘feel,’ but you won’t know until you test. When I worked at AOL, where we tested everything often, orange was frequently a clear winner in this type of testing. That was many years ago, and I still see orange used a lot, but I also frequently see green and blue.

Remember, verbs are your friends. Please share this post! 🙂



“An SEO expert walks into a bar, bars, pub, drinks…”

By Sue Brady

Pub, bar, barroom

Not my joke, but it’s funny. And you marketers out there probably even snickered a little bit and perhaps have the urge to read on.

Does humor have a place in your content marketing? Using humor can help humanize your brand, create greater recall, and improve engagement.

Humanizing your brand.

Three years ago, the CIA sent out its first tweet. And guess what? It helped drive interest and followers.

CIA 1st Tweet

Some questioned if the CIA should be funny, but in the end that tweet (and others that followed) accomplished what was intended: it engaged an audience. They tweet on more serious topics now, and they have the reach they were after (almost 2 million followers as of this writing!).

Creating greater recall.

Does humor help you sell more? There are many mixed views on this. It turns out humor can help. Recall for funny and relevant ads is greater than for those without. My takeaway from the various studies I read is that if the content is important to the viewer,  humor only makes it better. That means that humor on its own won’t make for a better ad or post. Once again, the headline is that RELEVANT content is key

Consumers definitely remember funny ads and share those ads more on social media, so if you create one that works, you’ll be able to get some serious mileage from it.

Kmart’s Ship my Pants ad quickly exceeded 20 million views when its edgy, humorous approach went viral. And they quickly followed up with Big Gas Savings, another hilarious ad. The jury is out however regarding whether or not Ship my Pants created enough awareness of Kmart’s shipping service. Their goal was to move consumers from shopping at their brick and mortar stores to the much better experience of shopping with them online. I couldn’t find anything supporting that it helped sales, but it sure created a lot of buzz around a dying brand.

Improving engagement.

There is no question that humorous ads are viewed more and shared. Humor attracts attention, something all advertisers want. The Kmart examples above are a great example. Same for the CIA first tweet. Humor can engage, but it has to be really good to make the brand memorable.

Remember though: humor is hard. Humor translates differently with different audiences. As with all good marketing, understanding your audience and goals is the place to start. Your humor can work, but it has to be relevant to your audience and support your campaign goals.

Not everyone agrees with the use of humor, even where it may be appropriate. Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic Monthly 

“Ultimately, however, the sheer amount of the research into humor in advertising is another data point to tell us what we already know, which is that nobody has any clue what sort of advertising works until it works. “

Fair enough.


5 Reasons to Take Risks In Marketing

By Sue Brady

If you have financial investments, you know that deciding the level of Risk Takingrisk you are comfortable with defines your strategy. A young adult will have a higher risk tolerance than someone approaching retirement for instance, because they have longer to recover from mistakes.

But how does that translate to the business world? Risk taking when you’re spending someone else’s money is decidedly different from when you are spending your own. A former boss once told me to spend the company money as if it were my own. His point was that it’s okay to take risk, but make sure it’s calculated and you understand how much is being risked.

The really successful marketers that I know have all been risk takers.

AOL CDTake Jan Brandt for example. She was the person in charge of marketing at AOL when AOL was just starting out as a young brand. She was able to convince Steve Case that spending a bunch of money to mail the AOL software on CD roms was going to be the key to their success. She told the guy in charge of the network to get ready, the fire hose was about to open. He was skeptical…for about 5 days. And then the mail started to hit homes… and the rest is history.

There are plenty of other historical examples of how risk taking drove a company to success. And that’s the number one reason to take risk in your marketing.

Taking risks can yield large returns. In the AOL example above, Jan knew that to use AOL, you needed the software. The Internet was new enough that only a small portion of the population was connected. She needed the software to be readily available so that when someone made the decision that it was time to connect, they had an AOL rom handy. So while she took a huge risk, it was a calculated one, and the payoff was huge.

Taking a risk can help you create compelling content that prospects want to read. How? By writing something that gets folks thinking. Maybe in your corporate blog you offer a suggestion for how the government should be (or shouldn’t be) regulating your industry. Or perhaps you ask your audience how they feel about a certain topic to get them talking. You can use that conversation to help drive your next action, and then tell your readers the outcome of your efforts.

Taking risks can create success in ways you haven’t thought of. I found an old article in Ad Age that talked about the Doritos campaign from 2007. Doritos launched a contest for consumers to create an ad for the Super Bowl that the public would vote on. The Super Bowl! The granddaddy of all advertising opportunities! No one had tried that before. And it worked for them, and still works to this day. It’s a great early example of using user-generated content to drive views (Youtube hits total in the millions for these ads) and certainly engagement and press coverage. Doritos took a risk with that campaign, and it certainly seems to have paid off.

Risk-taking helps you stand-out from the competition. Taking a unique approach that differentiates your brand from everyone else’s carries risk, but if it works, creates awareness and buzz. Doing the same thing rarely gets press attention, but stepping out of your comfort-zone can. K-mart ‘Ship my Pants’  is a great example of this. That new and edgy ad campaign has over 22 million YouTube views! It got people talking!

Risk-taking can create a successful product, even when consumers don’t realize they need it. Steve Jobs is the most well known person to take this approach. He famously said that

”A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Most brands don’t have the stomach to trust their gut so fully and in the face of so little research, but for Apple, the approach paid off, at least eventually.

Think about risk when you are designing your next campaign. Hopefully your next bet will be the one that pays off. Fear not.


5 obvious things you should be doing on your website, part 2

Part 1 covered some very obvious tweaks that you can make to Bread crumbsimmediately improve your website.  Here are 5 less obvious, but equally important tips.  Remember, your website is the window into your brand’s world, but it won’t do you any good if your visitors don’t read what you want them to, or take the action you desire.

Assuming your website goals are engagement and conversion, here are some things you should do:

  1. Images. Images on a website are of course important. The key is to make sure they have the desired response. There are several things to consider:

Images of Humans. The risk with showing people is that a visitor might immediately think that they are nothing like the person on your site, so your product cannot be of interest to them. We tested this a lot during my days at AOL, and almost without exception, showing people depressed response.

Faces of your images. If you are showing faces, make them work for you. Make sure your photos of people are looking where you want the consumer to look. I’ve read about companies who have tested this and it certainly appears to be true. One example is illustrated in this KISSmetrics article . It show that when a baby’s image was moved so that rather than facing front, he was facing towards the copy, viewers tended to read the copy (and spend less time on the baby’s face).

2. The Rotator (aka sliders or carousels). Rotators look great and tons of sites have them. But they don’t work. Consumers don’t like them. This is not new information. Web experience users have been saying this for years. Here’s a good article on the subject written by Shane Melaugh, aptly titled “Why Sliders Suck” that quotes several web experts who have a lot of experience in this area. Generally, findings show that sliders are ignored or annoying, and click-thru rates are awful. He also includes a list of marketing, website and user experience optimization websites that don’t have sliders, just to further illustrate the point.

3. The text.  Break up the text. There are so many studies that have been done that prove that readers like bulleted or formatted lists, rather than straight type. Typical consumer behavior is to scan websites to find relevant information. Make it easy for your potential customers to do that. And only use text that’s necessary. Shorter is almost always better. And small, easy-to-understand words are your best choice. Unless you are writing for a highly technical audience, keep it simple.  I’ve been marketing Internet products of one kind or another for many years, and I still have to convince others in my industry that over 50% of consumers do not know what the term broadband means. We know what it means because we’re in it everyday, but the average person understands ‘high-speed Internet’ much better.

4. Search Engine Optimizaion (SEO). There are several things you can do to improve your SEO, and they are not difficult.

  • Sitemap. Make sure you have a site map on your home page. It can searchbe in the footer of the page, and it can be in smaller sized type. Basically, Google can find you more easily if you have a site map.
  • Page titles or meta tags. Each of your webpages has a title that’s searchable by search engines. Use keywords in your title, as well as your company name. You can read more about that here Link.
  • Keywords. You should have some of your important keywords visible on your home page. Don’t overdue it, but use your real estate to help make your site searchable.

5. Breadcrumbs. Consider testing breadcrumbs on your site. Breadcrumbs allow your visitors to know exactly where they are on your site. They can help with your bounce rates (rate at which users leave your site) and seem intuitively to be a good thing. There are two kinds: Path-based and Attribute-based. Path-based provides an easy method of navigation for a user because they can see where they are and easily click back to a prior page.


Attribute-based  follows various specifications a user has made while traveling your site and is more common for ecommerce sites.  The first is more common and easy to set up, the second, not so much. You made need help setting up that method because it can cause problems with search engines and duplicate content.


5 Obvious Things you should do on your Website

It’s easy to overlook the obvious. So here’s a few helpful hints to help remind you of some basics to make sure your website is all that it can be.

  1. Ask customers to take the action you want them to take.

Buy now.  Learn more. Add to Cart. Checkout.Call to actionIf you don’t tell your customers what to do, they might not do it!

2. Make it easy for your customers to take an action. The harder they have to work for it, the least likely they are to do it. I was on a well-known site yesterday and really wanted to add a photo book I’d created to my shopping cart. I couldn’t do it.  I could clearly see the quantity button and the price (I drew the green arrow in the picture), but there was no ‘add to cart’ button. I had to completely exit out and come back in through a different set of commands before I was shown the ‘add to cart’ button.

3. Make your action buttons large enough so that they stand out on the page.

4. DO NOT USE REVERSED OUT WHITE TYPE IN YOUR BODY COPY!! Yes, this is one of my pet peeves, but it should be yours as well. Reversed out white type is hard on the eyes when used on more than a line or two of type. And if your web pages are hard to read, your potential customers won’t read them. This has been tested and proven time and time again.

5. Have a mobile version of your website. Seriously, you should have done this years ago, but if you somehow haven’t, make it your next project. The time spent on the Internet via a mobile phone has surpassed the time spent on the Internet on a desktop computer (Mary Meeker KPBC Internet Trends Report).  Consumers now expect sites to be mobile friendly and will leave your site if it’s not. Plus, having a mobile friendly site helps you with your Google organic search. When a user is on a mobile phone, Google gives preference to mobile friendly sites non-mobile friendly sites.

  • Publish relevant content on your website. When a prospective customer comes to your site, they are looking for information. Make sure you have well-written content. Make it easy to understand what your company does, what your product does, what your service is used for.

Obvious tips, but so often overlooked!