SEM: A Call to Action

What’s the most effective ad you’ve ever come across?

Think about this for a second. Not the best ad, which might encompass creative masterpieces, three-minute epics, or jokes and sight gags that still have you laughing a week later. These certainly get and hold your attention. But the true measure of an ad is its effectiveness in selling a product, promoting a brand, or otherwise driving action. For example, the long, drawn-out “wassup” from a Super Bowl ad long ago stills own a place in our vernacular (to be fair, mostly because “The Office” revived it), but can you recall the brand that created the ad?

The workings of billboards are intriguing. They have at most six seconds to get your attention, convey a message, and try to drive you to action.

Given the extremely short attention span of Internet users and the limited space that we often have to work with, these quick-view signs can translate easily to the online crowd. Steve Krug discusses this in his classic “Don’t Make Me Think,” which is a valuable read for all Webmasters and online marketers.

Along these lines, on my way home every day, I pass by two Dairy Queen storefronts. The one closest to my house uses a simple, but effective formula on their marquee:

Try a [insert product name here”.

That’s it. Two words and what amounts to an analog keyword insert. Their drive-through lane is always backed up into the street, and their parking lot is consistently full.

Granted, their core product is ice cream – who doesn’t want ice cream, especially in Texas? And it’s not like they’re trying to get you to spend thousands of dollars – at least, not at one time. It’s an easy sell. But those factors also make it such a compelling case: “Try it. It’s inexpensive, you might find a new favorite treat, and worst-case scenario you get ice cream.”

Seriously. That’s a win-win if I ever heard one.

And it’s why nearly every time I see it, my reaction to it – mentally, at least – is “Yeah, OK!” Judging by their parking lot, I’m not the only one. Their most recent posting for French silk pie blizzards hasn’t yet snared me, but it’s worked on an awful lot of people I know.

A call to action in your ads and your site, no matter how simple, is important. Getting your potential customers’ attention is important, but getting them to direct that attention to doing what you want them to do is an absolute – whether it’s getting them to sign up for an e-mail newsletter or purchase a six-digit-priced piece of equipment.

Online marketers should have this ad element top of mind and begin taking steps to get the gears in motion through the following ways:

  • Paid search ads: Your ads should contain some kind of call to action, be it in the headline (where it’s most prominent) or the description (where you have more room to work with). Even something as simple as “shop” or “browse” is enough to command a viewer’s attention and give them direction.
  • Title tags and meta descriptions: These two hugely important pieces of SEO function the same as your PPC headlines and ad copy on the paid side. However, while your meta description is ideally the copy that shows up as the description, depending on the keywords and the engine’s mood it could be anything on the page. So, if you can work it into the title instead of the description, you can guarantee that it shows up every time.
  • Display ads: Difficult given size and image limitations, but an opportunity nonetheless. Search marketers who think they have it hard with character counts should try writing for a banner ad.
  • Landing page: Push to have a call to action either in text or in a more forceful add to cart button on the page, preferably using the same language as you use in your other messages.

You can use your PPC performance (traffic and CTR) and analytics (traffic) to determine the best variants to use in your ads. Be sure to always keep intent in mind – product searches and pages should be more direct than category searches.

So, go forth. Use more calls to action in your ads and content. Give your customers direction and they will follow. And validate this message by Twittering or Facebooking this article.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York from March 22-26, 2010. Approximately 5,000 marketers and search engine optimization professionals attend SES New York each year to network and learn about topics such as PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more. SES New York will be packed with 70+ sessions, multiple keynotes, 100+ exhibitors, networking events and parties. Your customers, colleagues and competition will be in attendance – will you?

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