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Far too often, I come across small businesses that invest in creating content with the objective of acquiring customers, but leave out the single most powerful element in lead generation – the call to action (CTA).

A call to action is simply a statement that tells potential customers what action you would like them to take. It's the bridge that connects content to action.

Many people believe a CTA is just about pushing for a sale, but that is a very limited view. By changing your mindset on CTAs and broadening the understanding of what it can do for your business, you'll be able to take advantage of a variety of different results that it can create.

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If you are looking for ways to improve the quality of your site's visitors, increase leads or boost traffic, the key is correctly using a call to action.

Here are different ways you can use calls to action, and why you definitely need them on your website, in your brochures and anywhere else you have content.

Increase levels of engagement with blog visitors

Even a simple call to action on your blog that encourages people to comment will help your business in the long run. Any time that you can engage your audience and it engages back is an opportunity to further develop a relationship.

You do not have to look at CTAs as always having to lead to a sale. The action can simply encourage visitors to share their feedback, offer an alternative opinion or invite debate with other commenters.

Generate higher-quality leads

If you are relying on "buy it now" buttons or similar approaches, you are likely not getting the quality of leads that you need to fuel your business.

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Some customers respond better to less overt approaches. For example, using a call to action to introduce prospective customers to a free product trial or give them an opportunity to have you prove your worth through information that will be released over time offers an opportunity to warm them up to you and become a higher-quality lead.

This process of slowly warming up prospective buyers is called lead nurturing and can turn cold prospects or disinterested consumers into loyal buyers. If you are not using a call to action to trigger that process, you may never gain access to these customers.

Track progress and finetune your approach

In addition to creating leads and sales, you can also use calls to action to help track the current progress and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

Many marketing investments are made to increase brand awareness; while the reasoning is understandable, it doesn't mean that you should not also add a call to action that encourages downloading content or signing up for something free.

Why would you do that? By connecting a CTA to your campaign, you will have the ability to measure its effectiveness by comparing the number of downloads or free trials snatched up against a previous campaigns.

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This is called direct-response marketing and makes it much easier for a marketer to measure the effectiveness of a campaign and begin a relationship with an interested prospect.

To experiment with this approach, use blog posts as a testing ground for trying new CTAs and developing benchmarks before going to market with paid campaigns. By using your blog, you can make use of a safe channel that gives you the freedom to be creative.

Support big sales with smaller sales

Many businesses make the common mistake of pushing higher-ticket items and letting less expensive and smaller products and services slide a bit. However, if you start attaching calls to action to all of your products and services, you might  be surprised by the results you get.

The idea is not to ignore or downplay offerings that aren't significant revenue generators, but rather, make sure you communicate all the options that your organization brings to the marketplace.

For example, if you're a business consultancy, you may offer one or two main services that improve a company's operations or projects, which you readily pitch to everyone. However,you could also break those services down into components and offer project management, change management, value stream analysis, root cause analysis and many other services. If you had individual pages explaining the value and benefits of them, and calls to action to drive visitors to take action, that's better than keeping these products or services hidden somewhere offline in a sales deck.

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Never look at any product or service as unworthy of a call to action. Everything you offer needs to have a clear and compelling CTA attached to it.

Increase traffic

Most of us tend to think of a CTA as a "click here and give us your contact information." But there are several different types of calls to action that you could be using, and many have the potential to increase your traffic.

For example, by simply putting a share button up on your blog posts and making your call to action getting people to hit that button, you'll be attracting new visitors to your content who would then visit your website.

Alternatively, you could also use a CTA to encourage readers to e-mail your content to a list of people in a specific role that you display for them?. By encouraging this action, they can connect your content to a specific buyer that they may know.

By changing up your approach just a little, you will find brand new ways to get more traffic onto your site and the potential for even more leads.

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Try out several different types of calls to action and start tracking which ones work for you. You will be able to find the ones that produce the best results as well as invaluable information that will help you create even better ones in the future.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Ryan Caligiuri is the founder of Ryan Caligiuri International , a growth consultancy focused on developing programs that generate credibility, competitive advantages, leads/demand and new revenue streams for small to medium sized enterprises. Caligiuri is also the founder of The Growth Network a mentoring program that teaches entrepreneurs and marketers best practices, frameworks and strategies to become business growth generators. Engage with Mr. Caligiuri on Twitter .

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

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