Behaviourally effective websites, part 4: Asking for action

Last week in part 3 we tackled Creating a Pathway on your website that will lead your visitor through your sales funnel.

By this stage you have earned the right to ask them to explore your site because you’ve established confidence (part 1) and communicated that you understand the problem they are trying to solve (part 2).

Now your task is to get your visitor to actually do something – read, download, click, call, email and even eventually buy. Let’s look at how – and how not – to Ask for Action.

Buy! Buy! = Bye bye

Imagine you have strolled into a homewares shop in your local neighbourhood for the first time. You are about to start doing a lap around the shop when the shop assistant steps in front of you and asks, “So, do you want to buy now?”

“Ahh, no I’ve just arrived.” Awkwardly you slink past them and pick up a candle to look at.

“So, do you want to buy now?” they ask. By this stage you are getting angry and feeling harassed, so you slap down the candle and leave the shop as soon as possible.

We know that coming on too strong in a shop is a sure-fire way of botching the sale, so why do we do it online?

Here’s an example from the home page of an online survey provider. The chances a visitor will sign up for Pro before even understanding what it is are zero, so why confront them with the option? Having a clear pathway will resolve issues of Asking for Action too early.


Figure 1: Asking for Pro Signup at the wrong time

Avoid three mistakes when Asking for Action

There are three common mistakes when asking your visitors to take action.

1. Absent Call to Action

A surprising number of websites don’t include a Call to Action on every page, forcing the visitor to leave the page that had convinced them in order to click around the rest of the website in the hope of working out what to do. The following is an example of how not to set up a shopping cart – there was no way I could find to add the item to my cart!


Figure 2: I have no idea how to add to shopping cart

2. Unclear Call to Action

When a Call to Action doesn’t explain what happens when the visitor proceeds, it will create anxiety and reduce chances that they will go ahead.

The following example asks the visitor to “Grab your copies today” but does not provide any information as to whether “grab” means to buy, order, or download for free.


Figure 3: Unclear what CTA “Grab your copies today” means

Contrast this with an example from the author Michael Port, who asks his visitors to “Click here to get 4 free chapters now”. The visitor knows exactly what they will get if they add their name, email and click the button.


Figure 4: Clear CTA “Click here to get 4 free chapters now”

3. Too many Calls to Action

Trying to hedge our bets and with a desire to help, we can often fall into the trap of providing multiple avenues for the visitor to pursue. The problem is that we can overload them and they will instead do nothing. Known as the ‘paradox of choice’, people crave the freedom to choose but then get stuck trying to weigh options and worrying about if we’ve made the right decision. Here your role should be less is more. The following is an example of how to overwhelm and perplex your visitor.


Figure 5 Being helpful with multiple CTAs can actually be harmful

Asking for the right behaviour in the right way

Here’s the rule with Calls to Action: explain what the customer gets by doing what you ask. Sounds simple right? Then why are so many buttons labelled “submit” or “send”?

Instead, here is a gallery of examples that bring the request for a visitor to take action to life by being explicit about what happens next. Of course if you want to know more you can contact me or download for free my “5 Essentials for an Effective Website” guide from


Figure 6: Gallery of helpful Calls to Action

Next week we conclude this five-part series with a look at the Effort: Reward equation. I promise no maths is required and it will transform the way you think about your website conversions. Till then, remember to ask and ask nicely.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues. Bri is a presenter, consultant and author who you can find out more about at, via or by following on Twitter @peoplepatterns.







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