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Are Your Call To Actions "Ransom Note Worthy?"

Note: This post was part of the “Marketing That Works” Ideas Contest, showcasing 20 of the most innovative marketing ideas from the blogosphere’s up and coming marketers. We’ve since picked a winner – check out this post for the details! 🙂

ransom note worthy call to actionsIf you’ve been blogging for long, you know that there are good days and better days. Sometimes great ideas are harder to come by, but sometimes with every stroke of the keyboard you spin gold.

Hidden within your website is this golden “best of the best” content. Why make your readers search for it?

Sometimes this can look a bit too much like searching for a lost kitten. Your readers have a problem you might be able to help them fix (their kitty “Mr. Poops” has been gone for 3 days and you have written the perfect post on how to find a lost cat), they might do some “searching” on their own around the house, look under the couch, ask friends what they would do, or eventually go to animal control since they are the authority on lost cats, after all.

It’s time consuming, labor intensive and often it’s so frustrating you just want to give up.

But what if there was a scrap of paper slipped under the door, a ransom note giving strict direction, a command, on what you must do to solve your problem? Suddenly all the advice, and searching that has been done thus far has very little to do with what comes next. The words on that note have your full and undivided attention and give you clear direction on what to do next.

“Download my e-book or the kitty gets it.”

So you rush to your computer, enter your email and download the e-book. As promised, “Mr. Poops” lands on your doorstep safe and sound.  Everyone lives happily ever after…

The end.

Now before PETA knocks down my door and takes me away for suggesting everyone with a blog goes out and steals a cat, let me explain how this relates to your internet marketing success.

As you have surely heard, lead generation is the engine that makes any internet based business work. Without an engaged audience, your undoubtedly brilliant content, found just beneath the surface of your site, will never be unearthed.

You might have a wonderfully thought-out email newsletter, a flawlessly executed free course, or a killer webinar series…but first you need compelling “ransom note worthy” call to actions in order to make your very best content stand out among the rest of your site so it can do what is was written for, to feed the lead generation engine with new subscribers.

So what exactly makes call to actions “ransom note worthy?”

 1. It’s personal

Now, I’m not suggesting that this needs to be quite as personal as our ransom note example, but it’s important to understand the motivation behind why your reader is viewing the page where your particular call to action appears.

For example:

  • If someone is looking at a price comparison page, a call to action like: “5 unorthodox ways to save on…” might fit the bill nicely.
  • Your “About” page might be a good place to include a call to action for samples of your product or even your employment page. Both are great ways to build your list.

 2. It shows unavoidable value

More importantly it draws on what is already valuable to the reader. This is just another way of saying that you must highlight your strongest benefits in your call to actions, not your products features. People want to feel good about themselves, eliminate a pain or problem, have more time to do what is important to them. How that is actually accomplished is certainly important, but always secondary.

For instance, if your site was in the business of helping the elderly use a computer.

Instead of: “10-tips to get you started with email”

You may want to try (and test): “Learn how to stay in touch with your kids with email: 10-simple steps”

The first one is not all bad, but by focusing in on the benefit to our target customer first, the second one follows strong headline writing technique. It shows the customer the real value they will get in return for giving you their contact information. This is critical for increasing your call to actions rates and website conversions.

 3. It creates urgency

Why should your reader take advantage of your offer right now? Will they miss out or experience some perceived “pain” if they don’t take action? You know that your product is amazing and that it’s a “no brainer,” but you must convince your readers of this. I like to try and imagine a million dollars ready for the taking, and that all I have to do is convince a stranger that I’m not crazy and that if they simply go get it in the next 10-minutes that we could split it. The only way to create urgency in others is to have at least the same level of urgency yourself, it will show through in the way that you convey your message.

There is a great quote by Brian Clark of Copyblogger that probably sums this up better than anyone:

“Never allow readers to question why they are bothering to pay attention.”


  • Don’t assume that they will take advantage of your amazing offer because it’s in their best interest to do so.
  • Be a little pushier than you might normally be. If your product is great your customers will thank you for it.
  • Use words and phrases that evoke urgency and action. You don’t need to be a sleaze ball to do this either. If your offer is limited, tell your customers to “click here now” or “call today.” When your offer ends tomorrow or your limited supply runs out, your customers will thank you for telling them to get in on your offer before it was too late.

Show your readers why it’s important they take advantage of your offer, why it’s important to them specifically, and why they should do so right now.  Think “ransom note” not “wedding invitation” and watch your call to actions conversion rates grow.

About Mike Cerio

Mike Cerio is managing partner of the inbound web design firm Juicebox Branding. He is offering the first 20 people who reply to this offer, by posting "yes please" somewhere in their comment below, a free one-on-one website conversion critique (normally $399) designed to quickly build your following.


  1. Matt says:

    How many times does this need to be said, know your customer avatar. This only comes from doing extensive research into who your best customer is. What is their pain points? What keeps them up at night? Do you know what they ultimately want? Are they motivated by gain or from fear of loss?

    The better that you know your customer, the more you can market to them with the message they want in the manner they want to hear in. Without knowing this, at best you are hoping that they buy from you. If you understand and have mastered this knowledge, you will quickly find yourself with at ton of people looking to buy from you.

  2. Brilliant. Well done Mike, great post and love your humour! Lots of good points, about being pushier than you usually might feel comfortable with. If you’ve written some great content (and we all have) why not blow your own trumpet.

    The part that resonated with me most was the end, about writing a ransom note and not a wedding invitation. Get rid of that vanilla, fluffy stuff and be much more specific and direct and tell people to read your great content.

    Good luck with the competition.

  3. Nick Kellet says:

    Storytelling and 3 key takeaways. Personal, Valuable, Urgent. Love it.

    I especially loved this quote Think “ransom note” not “wedding invitation”

    Great contrast and mental imagery.

    PS My cat hasn’t been seen since I read this post. Should I be worried:)

    1. Mike Cerio ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Haha. Thanks for the kind words.

      No offense to wedding invites, but I think a more common than we might like to think reaction to them is “how can I get out of this” not “Oh my God, I need to act on this” 🙂


    1. Mike Cerio ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hahaha very good.

      I have put you down for the conversion critique and will be sending out a bit of info on that after the contest has concluded.


  4. Mike Cerio ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi Carl,

    Thanks for taking time out of your day to read my post.

    I will be sure and contact you (as well as the others) about the site critique within the week.


  5. Tom Treanor ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi Mike,

    I love the creative angle of your post and I like the advice about being a little pushier than usual to get people off the fence. Thanks for writing it and good luck with the competition!

    1. Belinda Weaver ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I agree with Tom.
      Great tip about being a little pushier than usually. Much like your online personality, you’ve got to make it a bit bigger *jazz hands* so that you are giving people something they can identify with.

      I also love your example about getting started with email. It’s easy to get lazy about your call to actions and just stick to verbs but this is a great reminder to keep your readers’ motivation front and centre.

      Thanks Mike!

  6. Tanya ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi, Mike!

    This is an idea I just know I’ll find so useful, I’m going to have to take another look at my site now that I have these “calls to action” in mind – especially as I add more content. I particularly love this:

    “Instead of: ’10-tips to get you started with email’

    You may want to try (and test): ‘Learn how to stay in touch with your kids with email: 10-simple steps'”

    One of those things that’s so simple, you need a reminder about it. 🙂 I’m all for tailoring content to fit your audience, but I never quite thought about it in terms of the actual wording. A great post!

  7. Jacko says:

    Its true you should be solving an existing problem with your ebook if there is no problem then there is no reason for your ebook. A+ article.

  8. Mike Cerio ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Calls to action are not exclusive to “selling.” You might want to get more readers to subscribe to your RSS feed, read a blog post you are particularly proud of or to create a list now in case you have something to sell later that is a great fit for those who are interested in what you have to say.

    Thanks for the kind words…and I will be in touch about the site review!


    1. hypnodude says:

      As I said above, you’re right and this is a pretty useful post, I’d better tweet it and print so that I can study it well.

      And thanks for the review, very much appreciated. 🙂

  9. hypnodude says:

    “yes please” 🙂

    Actually this is a pretty useful post. I’m not that much into selling stuff, I have just one article with an affiliate link for now, but finding the correct way to call to action is definitely good in any field. As you said be it to joining a mailing list, leaving a comment, whatever.

    Maybe if someone is not so focused in his blog audience is a bit difficult to figure it out how to say what readers want to hear as a call for action but these are definitely good advices. The final tips are perfect together with the line “Download my e-book or the kitty gets it.” 🙂

  10. Jason Fonceca ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Heheh…a nice in-depth look at Calls To Action, and a big tribute to CopyBlogger 😉 Rockin’ stuff Mike (Did you create the ransom note image yourself?)

    1. Mike Cerio ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hey Jason,

      Thank you…and yes CoppyBlogger is something no online marketer should be without.

      The ransom note was created in about 10 seconds with a tool I found.

    1. Mike Cerio ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Very kind words…thanks again!

      Sometimes when we are selling something we know will benefit our customers…it’s only right to be a touch “pushy.”

      I know that this is very tough for me to do, and hoped maybe it could be of value to some of you folks.


  11. Stacy says:

    Hi Mike,

    That’s a great example of how we should create a sense of urgency! Thanks for sharing the critical tips for a call to action!


  12. Discover Auctions says:

    Your post brought to light some ideas that I have overlooked. There is a fine line between making a conversion and being too pushy. You have great tips on how to not cross the line, but also how to get to the line. “Yes please” Mr. Cerio, as I feel your information would definitely be of a benefit to me.

    1. Mike Cerio ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks very much for taking the time to read the post! You will be getting info in your email inbox about the site conversion consult this week.



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