The Web is task-focused. The best Web sites get to the point. They ruthlessly eliminate waffle and happy talk. They focus on helping people complete key tasks as quickly as possible.
The truth is, the Web is a selfish place. People don't have time. They scan pages looking for something specific. Most people have absolutely no interest in links such as "What We Do" and "Who We Are." They only care about what you can do for them.
Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg are among the smartest people I know when it comes to making Web sites work. Call To Action is their new book, and it's an excellent title.
The primary focus of Call To Action is e-commerce, but the key messages are important to anyone running a Web site of any variety.
"Virtually all Web sites have a persuasive purpose: to get someone to subscribe, to register, to inquire or to buy something," Jeffrey and Bryan write.
This is an absolutely central point for any Web manager of an intranet, university, government or commercial Web site; the crucial measure of success is the actions that have occurred.
You might be a charity. What do you want your Web site to do? Let people easily donate money. Let people know how they can help out.
You might be a government department. What do you want your Web site to do? Help people renew their driving license. Let them apply for a grant.
What are the three most important things that your Web site lets people do? Focusing on the task, on the action that you want people to take, is a great way of achieving clarity. It allows you to cut through the filler content and get a laser focus on the killer content.
When someone arrives at your homepage, can they identify within 30 seconds your three most important calls to action? Or are they exposed to minor calls to action? If they are, the action they may well take is to hit the Back button.
"The days of Web users randomly surfing to Web sites are ending," according to Rand Schulman from WebSideStory, as quoted in Call To Action. "Now, more than ever, people know exactly where they want to go on the Web."
It's no accident that people have arrived at your Web site. Something they care about brought them there.
It all comes back to your content. The right words will drive people to action; the wrong words will drive them to distraction. "The goal of content is to expose business value and articulate it in a way that matters to the customer," Bryan and Jeffrey write. "Great copy persuades the reader to take action."
Great Web content is active. It lets you buy, subscribe, donate, apply, submit, contact, discuss, get help or support, or get involved. Every time you write a piece of Web content, you should also write at least one call to action at the end of that content.
A link is a call to action. Links are the essential difference between Web content and print content.
Think carefully about your links. Are they clear and precise? Are they making the right call to action?
Gerry McGovern (email@example.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest books are Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide.
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