Getting people to visit your website presents its own unique challenges: the right keywords, top-notch website infrastructure, modern design, exceptional content, responsive architecture and consistent promotion are all part of the mix. But what happens when someone gets to your site is really where the action starts. Calls to action, or CTAs, as many marketers call them, are some of the most important elements of online marketing and lead generation.

We generally use the term “call to action” to describe the instructions we give website visitors to guide their behavior. Note that CTAs are not limited to websites: Your emails, fliers, Facebook posts, advertisements and conversations all include calls to action whether conscious or unconscious. Calls to action can be as simple as the links in this post, a request to tweet this, or something more direct, like a forced lead capture pop-up requesting a sign-in to read more.

We’ve all experienced the situation where we’ve willingly given our personal information in exchange for access to content or some newfangled app that we just had to have. Those are all different variations on a theme: the offer of value, real or perceived, in exchange for personal action.

The reason this is so important is because in business, as in life, things don’t happen just because you want them to. You need to ask for what you want and align your actions to make it possible for your dream to become a reality. Now, you just can’t go around demanding that your website visitors do what you want, but with an understanding of your audience you can create a clear vision of the actions that would be the best fit for their desires and your business.

Understanding the customer is key here: It’s the only way to tailor your communication to their needs. What are they searching for? What motivates them? And more importantly, what will it take to earn their trust and get their permission to interact with them?

That’s where the CTAs come in. Once a visitor starts engaging on your website, they are providing valuable insight into their interests and motivation. Using Google Analytics, you can learn a lot about your visitors even without knowing exactly who they are. When they give you their contact information, they are giving you an opportunity to communicate in a more personal and direct manner. This opportunity is the first of many tests that you will have to pass in the consumer’s eye.

Remember: Don’t come on too strong, you haven’t earned it yet.

For more insight into CTAs, we’ve put together a visual guide outlining 14 tips for calls to action and why they’re crucial for your online marketing.

Let us know what’s working for you. What are your most successful calls to action? Are there any you have been reluctant to try? Lastly, if you’re willing to share, post a link to an example that you find exceptionally effective. (Again, another call to action.) You get the idea, now leave a comment!

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