Your Web Site As a Narrative Device, Part 2: Call to Action

Welcome to part two of “Your Web Site As a Narrative Device.” The basic theory behind this series can be read in my first column on the subject. Today’s discussion is on the call to action on your Web pages.

Lights, Camera, Call to Action!

A call to action is the desired thing you want your users to do next. Every Web page (and email newsletter) must be created with a specific call to action in mind. If you don’t know what the desired call to action is on a given page, neither does your user. This one fundamental idea is a large cause of drop-off rates on Web sites. Fellow ClickZ columnist Bryan Eisenberg agrees, adding page counts are more a reflection of your site’s flow than a gauge of users’ interests.

In the context of your site as a narrative, the call to action takes on a significant role: It keeps the narrative going. You need to collect and organize the pages on your Web site in a way that tells a story. But that’s only a start. The next step is making sure each page leads into the next. If the user clicks out of the narrative, its power is lost. Unless, that is, if the user clicks out of the narrative to proceed to the story’s macro call to action, the desired outcome of the narrative itself (buying a product or emailing for more information).

Sites offering product reviews are generally pretty good at getting the user to continue on to the next page in the narrative. Remote Central lays out the “chapters” of the review. Each page ends with a link to the next section. The link doesn’t merely say “Next,” but is named according to the next section’s content.

Too Many Links

One big deterrent to a clear call to action is too many links. Yes, the Web permits nonlinear experiences by jumping around via links. But people process narratives in a linear fashion. So resist linking to a million other things in your copy. It’s distracting. Very rarely do my ClickZ columns link unless I refer to an example or if that link is the call to action I intend.

Another myth of hyperlinks and Web design is every page on your site must to allow users to do everything that’s possible on the site. Look at Accenture‘s home page. It has too much stuff on it. It all blurs. I really have to search to find anything I might want to do.

Too Few Links

There is a point of diminishing returns. You certainly don’t want to link every page to every other page, but you do want to account for users’ needs beyond what you want them to do. This is most obvious in the checkout process for many online retailers. Although the intended call to action during checkout is to complete the process, it’s not the only need of a user. What if he suddenly remembers something else to buy? What if she needs more information about a product? What if he simply wants to go back to browsing?

At barnesandnoble.com, once the checkout process is started, there’s no escape. The top navigational tabs disappear. You move in only one direction — toward that virtual door saying, “Thank you. Call again soon.” Other than completing checkout, the only other option is to close the browser window. The only way back to shopping is to click the company logo at the top of the page.

Though unintuitive, it’s better than Amazon.com’s order page. While Amazon has crafted a one-page order process, there’s no way off that page. Its top navigation disappears too, and the logo isn’t clickable. These companies wonder why they have huge drop-off rates in the order process. Users can’t do anything else!

Talk to Me!

Do you have examples of sites you think have good narrative structure with clear calls to action? Let me know, so I can include them in upcoming columns in the series.

Until next time…

Jack

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